On April 18th, May called a snap general election, surprising the country. Her stated reason for the vote, which would take place seven weeks later, was to gain a strong mandate for the upcoming Brexit talks, which were due to start in June. But she also had an irresistible target: Corbyn’s Labour Party was weak and drifting. May, who succeeded Cameron last July, had an untroubled first nine months in office, and she had the opportunity to win a landslide majority in the House of Commons. Ten days after her announcement, the Conservatives had a nineteen-point lead in the polls. Calling an early election also had the happy consequence of complicating Khan’s timetable for a return to national politics. If he serves two terms as mayor, the earliest that he could now theoretically become Prime Minister is 2027.
Once the campaign began, however, May turned out to be awkward and aloof. The Conservative Party manifesto seemed to take its voters, particularly the elderly, for granted. On May 22nd, with the election less than three weeks away, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the foyer of an arena in Manchester where Ariana Grande was giving a concert, killing twenty-two people and injuring dozens of others, many of them young girls. The attack, which was the worst in the U.K. since the 2005 bombings, unnerved the country, and focussed attention on Britain’s strained public services—its police and hospitals—which have had their funding squeezed by Tory-led governments for the past seven years.
Corbyn, by contrast, announced a series of popular policies, such as the cancellation of student debt. Khan campaigned almost solely in the capital, where he is Labour’s most popular asset. “I think you will find a lot of Labour candidates in London, the person they wanted on their leaflets was not Jeremy Corbyn but Sadiq,” an M.P. in the city told me. On the Saturday before the election, Khan was addressing volunteers for Dr. Rosena Allin-Khan, his successor as Tooting’s M.P., before heading to the east of the city to stump for candidates in Dagenham and Ilford.
In Tooting, Khan stood on a small table plastered with red-and-yellow placards to fire up a crowd of about a hundred Labour activists penned into the narrow courtyard of a local business center. “For those at the back, I am standing on a table,” Khan said. Big laugh. Khan is aware of what his supporters see in him, and of both the immediate and the international contexts of his mayoralty. Khan first clashed with Donald Trump last May, after Trump, as a candidate, proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States. In Tooting, Khan goaded the activists with memories of the populist victories of 2016. “You need to remind yourself how you felt when you stayed up during the night to watch the results of the Brexit vote. I want you to remember how you felt when you watched the American elections in November,” Khan said. “We don’t want to feel that way.”
Whenever he can, Khan travels by public transport. That day, he was accompanied by a single aide. He walked back toward the Tooting Broadway tube station, stopping every minute or so to shake hands, or to pose for a selfie. “Let’s do it!” he said each time, as enthusiastic as the last. A woman with a yoga mat said she wasn’t sure about Corbyn. “He’s not standing here,” Khan shot back. An elderly woman pushing a shopping cart raised a hand in greeting. “How is Father?” Khan called out. “Say hello to him from me, O.K.?” As we passed a brunch place on the other side of the road, Khan hollered to the waiting queue, “Have the sourdough and avocado!” At the station, he checked that this article would appear after the election and predicted that May would win.
That night, after breaking his fast, Khan was watching television with his wife when one of his aides texted. Just after 10 P.M., three men in a white van had driven across London Bridge, not far from City Hall, and mounted the sidewalk at around fifty miles an hour, attempting to run down as many people as possible. The atrocity replicated the tactics of the attack on Westminster Bridge, in March, in which four people died. But this time, when the van crashed, the men emerged armed with long knives, and slashed at people drinking in Borough Market, a popular hive of bars, pubs, and restaurants.
Eight people were killed in eight minutes before armed police arrived and shot the men. London went on high alert for what the British security services call an M.T.F.A.—a marauding-terrorist firearms attack—of the type carried out in Paris in November, 2015. Khan worked the phone from home. He once described to me the standard thoughts of Western Muslims upon hearing about a terrorist attack. “First thing is, Please let nobody have died,” he said. “Secondly, you think about the families, and you think, Oh, God. And then, thirdly or fourthly, you are thinking, Oh, please, God, let the person responsible not claim to be doing this in the name of Islam, because the fifth or sixth process is having to explain that this has nothing to do with your faith.”
I reached the emergency cordon at Borough Market at around noon the following day. The tide was high, and a black, high-powered police boat gunned around on the river. The market is a recognizable artifact of twenty-first-century cosmopolitan London. It is where I remember first trying chorizo.
In a small cul-de-sac of houses, a few hundred yards from where the attackers were killed, a middle-aged Muslim woman stood next to her plants. “One woman was stabbed fifteen times,” she said. “Can you imagine, a knife going through you fifteen times?” Her neighbor, a young Dutch economist named David Verdam, had been hosting a party the night before. As the crowds ran away from the market, he opened his door, and some Polish tourists took refuge. Of the eight people who died, seven were born outside the U.K. Verdam talked about the Brexit vote and the rising hostility toward immigrants, and worried about the possible impact on the election, which was four days away. In the way that it did in London this summer, it seemed hard to separate the violence from politics, and a sense of things coming apart.
Khan spent the morning with the emergency services and giving interviews. In a statement, he advised Londoners that there would be more police on the streets and urged them not to be alarmed by their presence. At noon, he was trolled by Trump. “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’ ” the President tweeted. Khan hadn’t slept. He was still mid-crisis. “The basic rule amongst politicians and amongst leaders is a sense of solidarity—it is almost like our version of NATO Article 5,” he told me. “So I was extremely surprised when the President of the U.S.A., our strongest ally, said what he said. It was disappointing, to be honest.”
When a spokesperson for Khan said that Trump had taken the Mayor’s words out of context, the President tweeted again, calling it a “pathetic excuse.” I asked Khan if he knew why he had got under Trump’s skin. “The short answer is I don’t know, but I can understand if we were both aged twelve years old,” he said.
At City Hall, there was only one flag, the Union Jack, at half-mast. From Tower Bridge, I looked back upriver. The city shivered with its usual slower Sunday rhythm: the river, the sky, a thousand moving parts. Except on London Bridge, where six red buses stood in a line, with the rest of the traffic stopped around them, frozen from the night before, like a stuck section of film.