Sadiq Khan has received a wave of social media abuse, some of it racist, after newspapers incorrectly reported he might block a new statue of the Queen, days after the London mayor warned some media outlets were “monetising” hatred.
The story, initially reported by the Telegraph under the headline, ‘No room for Queen Elizabeth II statue on Trafalgar Square’s fouth plinth, rules Sadiq Khan,’ was printed despite a statement saying this was not the case.
The fourth plinth in the square is occupied by a rolling series of sculptures and artworks, currently a statue of John Chilembwe, a Baptist pastor who led a revolt against the British in what is now Malawi in 1915, in which he was killed.
The longstanding programme for the empty plinth, organised by a commission answerable to Khan’s office, has been set out for the next four years, leading some newspapers to say this meant a statue of the late Queen could not be placed there.
But in a statement, the Greater London Authority, which covers the mayoralty and the city’s devolved assembly, did not rule this out, saying the location of a statue was a decision for King Charles III and the royal family.
It added: “A statue of the Queen at a suitable location in London is a matter for the royal family to consider, and of course the Greater London Authority stands ready to support them in their wishes.”
A later statement from Khan’s office said he was happy to support the royals in what they wished, which “includes using the fourth plinth if that is the royal family’s preference”.
There is, currently, no indication that the royals have asked that the plinth be used for a statue.
While the headline of the Telegraph story was later amended, the idea of Khan supposedly blocking the statue was picked up by a series of other mainstream outlets, also trending on social media.
Many social media messages accused Khan of not being patriotic, contrasting what they saw as his decision over the Queen with the presence on the fourth plinth of artwork by a Malawian sculptor, Samson Kambalu. A number used racist slurs.
It comes less than a week after Khan, speaking at the Labour conference, said analysis showed there had been 230,000 racist tweets about him sent since he took the role in 2016.
At the event, Khan said the hatred was often stoked by inaccurate reporting in the traditional media, who had realised that stories demonising him, even if misleading, received lots of views.
“What we’ve realised now is that when you use my name, it’s good clickbait for traffic,” he said. “It’s a trickle-down tone being set by the mainstream media. It’s good for business” he said, adding: “Hate has been monetised.”
Dawn Butler MP, the Labour MP for Brent Central in north London, said the press had “a responsibility to ensure their output, including headlines, is fair and accurate”.
She said: “It’s no secret that using Sadiq’s name online guarantees clicks and generates income. That’s particularly true if there’s a way the headline can be used to suggest Sadiq is not truly British – as it gets picked up and widely shared by the far right and racist trolls online.
“Inaccurate headlines of the kind we’ve seen this week are designed to be inflammatory and go viral – to be shared not read – and it is clear they were shared widely.”
Speaking last week, Khan blamed his Conservative opponent in the 2016 mayoral election, Zac Goldsmith, for having “mainstreamed and normalised prejudices” with a campaign widely criticised for being racist in the way it highlighted Khan’s Muslim background.