It came as no surprise to me to find out that – after the Queen and the prime minister – Sadiq Khan is the third most heavily guarded person in Britain.

The Mayor of London will have up to 15 heavily armed police officers on duty around him at any one time, men who are trained marksmen and skilled in emergency medical procedures.

The reason it didn’t surprise me is that I regularly make the mistake of looking at the replies Khan gets on Twitter. Almost anything he says, even the most innocuous, cheerful statement, is met with an incredible barrage of the most vicious, racist abuse you can imagine.

Forget the 15 armed guards, the police should have a team of at least 15 tracking the kind of people who abuse Khan on social media.

And the abuse isn’t just limited to Londoners, the angry white men who think Khan is ruining the city they love. It’s not even just angry white men from Britain. No. The abuse Khan gets is international and on a vast scale. Again, this didn’t surprise me.

Khan was elected mayor in 2016.
Khan was elected mayor in 2016.

Five years ago I found myself playing golf in California with two old American boys, successful businessmen from Kentucky. All was well until the talk turned to politics.

“Wow,” one of them said, “you’ve got a big problem in London with that mayor, right?”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, he’s allowed all these places to become no-go areas. They’re ruled by Sharia Law, right?”

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I spoke to this guy very slowly and carefully, so he would understand. “That’s all utter rubbish,” I said. “There aren’t any Sharia Law-ruled no-go areas in London. It’s not true.”

“But.. I heard it on Fox.”

That’s right, Murdoch’s Fox News had been busy stirring up hatred against Khan as far away as Kentucky. And this was five years ago – 2016. The year Trump was elected on an anti-Muslim platform. The year of Brexit and the rise of hate crimes in our own country.

Imagine how it must feel to be Khan. To sense the level of hatred and idiocy ranged against you from so far away. From everyone from east London football nutters to retired American businessmen from Kentucky.

Boris Johnson was Mayor of London between 2008 and 2016.
Boris Johnson was Mayor of London between 2008 and 2016.

And worse: constant death threats. Threats not only from white extremists but also from Muslim extremists who were driven into a rage by Khan’s support of same-sex marriage. His wife and children have been threatened and are under 24-hour police surveillance. There are bomb threats and staff in his office who are offered counselling to help them deal with the daily volume of racist abuse sent to City Hall in London. Of course, if the mayor of London were white and not Muslim, there would be none of this, as indeed there wasn’t when Boris Johnson occupied the position. I always thought it was impressive that Khan didn’t speak out about all of this much.

That he just seemed to get on with his job and take it almost as part of the deal that he had to cope with an incredible amount of hatred.

Now he has spoken about it. Last week he told a journalist that the reason he had been reluctant to talk about the racist threats and abuse he receives is that he didn’t want to discourage someone from his background who might want to run for political office.

Finally, Khan laid out the basic facts: “The mayor of the greatest city in the world needs 24-hour police protection because of the colour of his skin and the God he worships. That can’t be right.”

It’s incredible when you see it put that simply. And it blows away the illusion you sometimes allow yourself to believe in: that we have come a long way in combating racism in the last 50 years.

Rupert Murdoch's Fox News has regularly attacked Sadiq Khan.
Rupert Murdoch's Fox News has regularly attacked Sadiq Khan.

“Look,” you might argue, “the Mayor of London is Muslim. We must have come a long way.”

But have we come such a long way if that mayor must live constantly surrounded by heavily armed guards? Where you only need to glance at social media to see the kind of views being aired that we haven’t seen in this country since, well, since the early 70s…

Because it seems that there are many aspects of the Britain of the early 70s that the more extreme Brexiteers want to return to.

A time not only before the EU but a time when your racism could be loud and proud and out in the open.

As Khan said, that can’t be right.