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Zac versus Sadiq: the fight to become London mayor by Dave Hill 

Reviewed by Peter Murray 

[This review appeared in the Journal of the London Society, edition 470. More details here.] 

Dave Hill is one of the most perceptive and passionate chroniclers of London and this book, completed 10 days after the mayoral election, is not just a tale of two politicians fighting over one of the best (or, at least, most high-profile) jobs in the business, but a succinct summary of the London issues that politicians find important, or think that we find important.

Hill writes in his introduction: 'The book is about what the contest revealed about the city, about its people and the sort of place it is and could yet be.' Hill’s love of city, his acceptance of it foibles and contradictions, comes through in the rapidly written text: '[London] is not simply my home but a source of infinite fascination: an urban kaleidoscope of deep complexity, unending variety and enthralling change.

In terms of environmental issues, clearly housing is number one, with Zac struggling to find ways of supporting Government policies and Sadiq pushing?his 50 per cent affordable pledge. They both take the safe route of opposing expansion of Heathrow and they both say they won’t permit development on the Green Belt; that, and a feeble debate about the congestion charge, illustrates the inevitable superficiality in so much campaigning, generally. 

In my view, Goldsmith’s heart was never really in it. I remember seeing him at the start of campaigning at the Centre for London conference. His lacklustre performance was reminiscent of Ken Livingstone’s prior to his defeat by Boris Johnson. There was none of the vim and vigour exhibited that day by Khan. Hill perfectly describes Goldsmith’s manner in an LBC interview: 'His eyes frequently dropped and slid away as he spoke, even though his speech was confident and fluent.

The most depressing part of the story is the role of fear-factor campaigning, a strategy that led us to Brexit and led to Zac Goldsmith employing dog-whistle racism in his attempts to appeal to Islamophobic elements of London’s electorate. Hill’s text suggests that Goldsmith was uncomfortable with Crosby’s strategies, but he still went along with them. The fact that the electorate ignored such siren calls says much for the city. 

As a Guardian writer, Hill admits that Goldsmith was not his preferred candidate, yet he provides us with a balanced tale. He is currently writing a book on Boris Johnson’s term as Mayor. In Zac vs Sadiq he describes the current foreign secretary as 'an unprecedented blend of comedian, conman, faux subversive showman and populist media confection. His was a dazzling act.'