Shaun Bailey is a member of the London Assembly and the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London
Seventy-five years ago today, years of planning culminated in the most significant seaborne invasion in world history. In the early hours of June 6, 1944, over 150,000 troops stormed the beaches of Normandy to free Europe from Nazi domination.
It was a little-known London unit – the Westminster Dragoons – that was part of the British Army contingent that stormed Gold Beach that fateful morning. As the advance element of the British invasion force, the Dragoons were amongst the first British troops to land on French soil, swinging into battle in their experimental minesweeping flail (a.k.a. crab) tanks.
Under enemy fire, the heroic men of the Westminster Dragoons cleared Gold Beach of mines to allow the rest of the British Army to land men and material. Had this London unit failed in their duty, the British landing on D-Day might never have succeeded.
Given we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of D-Day, you would think the Mayor of London would be leading the charge to promote the heroism of a London-based unit. Instead, Sadiq Khan used the occasion to launch a political attack on the President of the United States, likening him to the fascists the Dragoons fought all those years ago.
Now, I’m no fan of Donald Trump. How could I be, given his nasty attacks against black people and other minorities? I prefer a leader who can bring people together, not push them apart. And while Trump might be divisive, he is not a fascist. To call him one is to chase a headline (and cry wolf).
You know something is truly rotten in our politics when members of the political class would rather play petty political games on historic occasions than honour the memories of the men and women who gave their lives so that we could live ours. I am disappointed with the opportunism and hypocrisy of politicians like Khan. If this is about principle, where was Khan’s outrage when human rights’ abusers, Mohammed bin Salman, or Xi Jinping, came to visit? Nowhere. He took a swing at Trump because he knew it would get covered.
But here’s the thing: London’s values aren’t under threat from this President or any President. We set our course, not the Americans. This visit was never about the President as a man; it was about celebrating a relationship deeper than any one leader, along with honouring the shared memory of our fallen heroes.
Sometimes leadership means turning the other cheek and being the better person, not landing the first blow. Kicking off a row is undoubtedly good for the Mayor politically but it does nothing to advance London or the country’s interests.
As the Mayor of London, Khan’s first and only thought around D-Day should be honouring and promoting the Londoners who fought in Normandy, like the Westminster Dragoons. He needs to represent the families of the Londoners who fell that day, or who fell in the weeks and months that followed the historic invasion.
Because it’s the heroism of the Dragoons that represents the very best of London. It was these men who stormed the beaches of Normandy under long odds along with armies from, the U.S., Canada and Australia. Not to mention units of free Polish, French, Norwegian, and Czechoslovakian soldiers who all landed with the allies that day. This multicultural armada – a precursor to modern London – helped to secure the future of our nation. Why doesn’t the Mayor focus on this unity, rather than singling out a leader he doesn’t like, in a cheap stunt?
Let us never forget that the men of the Westminster Dragoons – London’s adopted sons – who took up arms to ensure the triumph of the values to which all noble countries aspire: humanity, dignity, freedom, and democracy. Alone, as the Dragoons were on Gold Beach, it would have been these values driving them on. It is these values we still honour 75 years later.
How many of us today have the courage of Eric Pennington, a 19-year-old Dragoon mortally wounded at Normandy? How many of us would give up our lattes, good jobs, and Netflix accounts to stand a post and defend London’s values?
I don’t know how I would react if called upon to be the first person to land on hostile shores to clear an enemy beach of mines using an experimental weapon. I hope I would find the courage. But I can and will always honour the sacrifice each and every one of our past heroes has made, regardless of the faith, colour, or creed.
On this day, the President of the United States represents the sacrifice of over six thousand American men who died on D-Day, seizing the Utah and Omaha beachheads. I respect their sacrifice and wish the London Mayor would recognise the families and friends of these men by treating their memory, and more importantly the office that represents that memory, with the dignity it deserves.