INTERVIEWEE: ATMA SINGH
Q: What role did you have when you worked in City Hall in London?
Atma: I was lead Policy Adviser to the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, on Asian Affairs in the Mayor’s Office. In addition, I had responsibility for faith matters.
Q: Why were you recruited?
Atma: I had predicted the rise of Asian superpowers in China and India when all policymakers saw them through the prism of third world economies and unimportant to relations in Western or global economies. I also understood the rise of the Asian business and middle class in Western countries when policymakers saw them through the prism of race relations policies. I rejected the political correctness around at the time; the notion that Asians should be put in the ‘Black’ category. This was a big deal to challenge left wing orthodoxy.
Atma Singh (L) with London Mayor Ken Livingstone
Q: What was your attitude towards extremist Islamism?
Atma: I opposed Islamism in general because it was not progressive, attacked freedoms of people in Muslim majority countries and sought to destroy the freedom-based culture of the democratic West.
Q: What did you like about working in the Mayor’s Office?
Atma: I had a blank slate to turn my thinking into policy and seeing the reality of implementing it in London was very rewarding – London is one of the top cities in the world. I also had the privilege of working with all the top bodies in the UK across government, business, cultural and sporting fields. I also had the opportunity to host events in London’s City Hall and on behalf of London to promote London’s bid for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympics Games. I worked closely with many people across the world in different fields in their capital or top cities. It was a satisfying time.
Q: What was your role in London when the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place in America?
Atma: I was the lead in the Mayor’s Office for ensuring good community relationships in London following the 9/11 attacks. I spoke for the Mayor of London, including as a keynote speaker to one of the largest gatherings in London at the time in London Methodist Central Hall. I liaised very closely with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner receiving highly confidential briefings on the situation in London. I also organised London’s communications campaign with a high profile ‘Six Million People. One London’ message across the media and London’s institutions.
Q: You were in the Mayor’s Office during the actual attacks. What was your and others’ reaction inside the Mayor’s Office?
Atma: I watched the attacks unfolding while I was in my office as one officer had come into my office in the Mayoral corridor to inform me about them. Then, as the situation unfolded, I went into the Mayoral Press Officer’s room to watch the terrible events. I was disturbed to see a few people cheering the events. Others watched soberly and others talked matter-of-fact about the consequences for London.
Q: Celebrating the attacks?
Q: So how did 9/11 change your relationship with the Livingstone Administration?
Atma: 9/11 was a turning point for me. I became ardent in my defence of Western and global democracies against Islamic terrorism. 9/11 was an attack on the whole of America. The loss of life was truly horrific. The targets were business, defence and the government heartlands of America. I supported doing whatever was necessary to crush this terrorism. Looking back I was on the Left and I broke with the Left over this very issue.
Q: Are you saying that Livingstone and the Left took a different attitude?
Atma: Yes. Ken Livingstone and the Trotskyists drew the opposite conclusion. After the 2004 Mayoral election, they decided to form a major alliance with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood organisation. I opposed this in principle and in practice. I told Ken Livingstone that this would be electoral suicide. I was the right. One of the global spiritual leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Al-Qaradawi, was invited into City Hall. He was rightly attacked by a large coalition of groups for defending terrorism, gay killing and wife beating. The row over this resulted in Ken Livingstone losing a huge amount of support amongst his base in the diversity and opportunities coalition.
Q: What did you do about it?
Atma: I formally left the Livingstone Administration in 2007 after huge pressure and reluctantly agreed to speak up in the 2008 elections to the media about the inside story of Trotskyists and Islamist policy in the Mayor’s Office. It became one of the biggest stories in the 2008 Mayor of London election race and of course Ken Livingstone lost to Boris Johnson, his Conservative Party opponent.
Q: What was your role in the 2016 Mayor of London election?
Atma: I wrote two articles on what lessons needed learning from the Ken Livingstone’s dealings with the extreme left and Islamists for the Sunday Times and Telegraph newspapers. I examined the track record of Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayoral Party candidate, on these two issues. I thought that Sadiq Khan was the wrong candidate. He had nominated Jeremy Corbyn of the extreme left as leader of the Labour Party. At the same time, he welcomed the endorsement of himself as candidate from Ken Livingstone. So he got selected by the help of, and in a deal with, the extreme left. I discovered that Sadiq Khan had a dubious record on Islamism. He had been defending Islamist terrorists and extremists on civil rights grounds as a lawyer. I did not find this comforting for London. He went further in many ways. His relationship went beyond professional boundaries in some instances. He called Muslim moderates “Uncle Toms”. I was not at all satisfied that he had no relationship with extremist Islamism.
Q: Have your concerns been borne out?
Atma: The circumstances changed. Jeremy Corbyn’s people turned on Khan and described him as an enemy of the Labour Party. So he broke away from them and criticised Jeremy Corbyn quite strongly. Meanwhile, Ken Livingstone self-destructed with his “Hitler is a Zionist” comments. So Khan turned to Labour centrists to keep his Mayoralty. So on this I have not been borne out. But he may revert to his extreme left alliance yet if circumstances change.
Atma meeting President Bill Clinton
Q: What about Khan and Islamism?
Atma: On Khan’s relationship to Islamism, the alarm bells are ringing. The key incident has been the banning of the bikini advertisement on Transport for London sites. This is out of the Islamist handbook. Modesty in Islamism means women wearing bikinis are considered immoral and anti-Islam. The fact that political correctness is used for this censorship does not impress me. PC has become a censorship machine. This would not have happened on my watch. Worryingly, Khan wants to set up a censorship unit in City Hall to prevent and prosecute criticism of Islam. In the West, freedom to mock and criticise religion is an essential part of freedom of speech and expression. His policies are potentially very dangerous for London and the UK and an assault on freedom.
Q: Do you think Sadiq Khan helps the image of London or hinders it?
Atma: I think Khan is wrong to meddle in American politics. He backed the corrupt and criminal Hillary Clinton against Donald J Trump, now President Elect. He is Mayor of London. I know that this can be challenged as an abuse of the Mayor of London’s official position because he went to America on an official visit. Politically, Khan’s comments may damage London’s economic interests. Being viciously partisan is damaging to London’s global reputation. He backed the wrong horse on Brexit too. At best, he acts like a member of the metropolitan elite out of touch with UK people and globally. At worst, he is dividing London from the rest of the UK populus and internationally. People do not vote the way he wants in those places in national votes.
Q: Do you think Khan will last as Mayor for more than one term?
Atma: I hope not. My final point is that politicians are always accountable. Debating their conduct is healthy in democracies. Political correctness is losing its power to stop this critical thinking and debates in democracies. Sadiq Khan has built a career on using political correctness to win cases and stifle debate. He is increasingly playing with fire as the power of political correctness wanes. London’s reputation is at stake. Freedom matters to people. There are better potential Mayors of London out there which our old and great capital deserves.