Dave Hill: Susan Hall – a portrait of what her party has become

Dave Hill: Susan Hall – a portrait of what her party has become

There are number of reasons why a car repair shop in Bexley was an apt location for the launch of Susan Hall’s London Mayor manifesto.

One is that it highlighted a feature of the biography the Conservative Party candidate has presented to the London electorate: learning how to strip down an engine in a garage owned by her father.

Another is that a counter-offensive against the so-called “war on motorists” spearheads her attacks on Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan.

A third, if we’re being impolite, is that certain events on her campaign journey have attracted the description “car crash”, such as live radio appearances in which she was unable to state the price of a bus fare and unraveled her own excited claim to have been a Tube pickpocket’s victim.

With just a few days to go until the election on 2 May, Hall’s chances of victory, always slim, show only limited signs of improving as more Londoners pay attention and consider whether they’d like a change at City Hall.

That said, there are significant factors about this contest, London’s seventh for a Mayor, that could bring about a close result: voter fatigue with Khan after eight years; resulting differential turnout assisting Hall; the possible impact of Voter ID; the Tory government’s imposition of First Past The Post, a move widely seen as a ploy for improving Tory mayoral candidates’ chances.

But whatever the outcome, due to be declared on Saturday, the nature of Hall’s campaign and its showcasing of her political character have provided vivid insights into the condition of the Conservative Party, the direction it has taken in the last few years and where that could leave London and Londoners.


Hall’s campaign ignored On London’s request for her date of birth, but Wikipedia says she was born in March 1955. Assuming that’s correct, she’s 69. The newborn Susan Mary Cole was of Irish descent on her father’s side and entered the world in Willesden, nowadays part of what is sometimes termed “middle London” but at that time, before Greater London had been invented, was in the county of Middlesex.

In 1977, while still in her early twenties, she married a hairdresser, Gerald Hall, with whom she had two children. The couple ran a salon in Wealdstone called Enhance, which reportedly at one point employed up to 20 people. They later divorced. During a June 2023 candidate selection hustings, Hall said of the business that she had “started it from scratch”. Hairdressing remains, at least potentially, a source of income for her – in her City Hall register of interests Hall describes herself as self-employed, trading as Enhance.

Hall became a politician quite late in life, being first elected to Harrow Council in May 2006 by which time she would have been 51. Before that, she had been a member of local regeneration body. She was encouraged to get involved by Navin Shah, a Labour ex-contemporary on both the council and the London Assembly and a customer at Enhance. He now takes joking credit for the latest phase of her career in politics. “Susan becoming Tory candidate for Mayor has been one of my greatest gifts to my party,” he says.

The Conservatives won a solid majority in the year Hall was first elected and she rose quickly through the ranks. In 2007 she was appointed to the cabinet and given responsibility for the environment and community safety. The brief encompassed, and also linked, street cleanliness and anxiety about crime. The year after that, 2008, Hall became deputy council leader. It was also the year Boris Johnson was first elected London Mayor.

In November 2009, Hall brought forward a scheme called Neighbourhood Champions, described in cabinet papers as “a network of volunteers” who would be helped and encouraged to report “street problems such as litter and fly tipping”. Noise nuisance and “anti-social behaviour such as drug dealing or street prostitution, petty vandalism and criminal damage” would also fall within Neighbourhood Champions’ scope.

Here was an early manifestation of Hall putting into policy effect convictions about the maintenance of order in London public space being derived from and reinforced by grassroots activism – in hindsight, a sort of prequel to the door-knocking, leaflet-distributing “listening” version of her that’s been presented to the wider London electorate during the current mayoral campaign.


Hall was unable to put her programme into effect for long. At the next borough elections, held in May 2010, Labour regained control. However, Hall was elevated to the leadership of the Tory group, placing her at the head of council opposition.

She was assisted in her work by a Labour civil war. In May 2013, nine Labour councillors broke away, including the then council leader. He was kept in that position thanks to Hall’s Tory group’s support. But that September, the arrangement reversed, enabling Hall to become leader of a minority Tory administration.

From the off, she displayed a radical zeal some admired and others thought rash and headstrong. Hall took the unusual step of abolishing the post of chief executive, thereby saving the salary that came with the job.

The report of the council scrutiny committee on the decision described Hall as telling its members that “she is a strong leader who does not need the level of support from a chief executive which other leaders might”. It observed that she has “a management style that has been honed by running her own business”.

The committee felt that the “current circumstances” of the council, by then swallowing its portion of local government austerity under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, meant that, if anything, the need for a senior independent manager to “identify strategic direction” might have increased.

The Local Government Chronicle, noting that Hall had written to the Daily Telegraph defending the then Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to award his barber an MBE, highlighted the contrast between running a hair and beauty salon and being in charge of a local authority with around 5,000 employees and a £540 million annual budget.

Did Hall know what she doing? Her deputy leader was Barry Macleod-Cullinane, who had been the Harrow Tory group’s political adviser since before Hall became a councillor and gone on to do the equivalent job for Conservative borough leaders at the influential cross-party body, London Councils. As such, he was highly qualified and experienced in London local government.

Macleod-Cullinane worked closely with Hall on budgets and reshaping the organisation she now led. A favourable take on her changes is that they were bold but not outlandish. Hall was seen as capable and hard-working. Enhance was still in operation, but politics, the way contemporaries see it, had become the great passion of her life.

Long-term Harrow colleagues of both parties confirm that Hall has always been someone who “speaks her mind” (or “shoots from the hip” as her Assembly colleague Andrew Boff put it when standing in for her at a recent hustings). There is less consensus about whether that tendency is an asset to her, to her colleagues or to the London public.

Political opponents, including on the London Assembly, regard her as diligent, respectful of competence in members of other parties and, in the words of one, “not a nasty person”. She has been known to send fellow AMs get well messages if they get ill. Yet she is seen as sometimes lacking in compassion. Navin Shah’s Labour councillor daughter Aneka Shah-Levy has made very clear her feelings about Hall’s attitude to her when she was enduring a difficult pregnancy and new to motherhood.

David Perry, currently the Harrow Labour group leader, has had dealings with her going back ten years. He sees her as better at criticising than governing: “She’s a very good opposition politician – much better than when she’s in control.”

He also draws attention to the fact that Hall, who advertises herself as a “low tax Conservative” and has attacked Khan’s Council Tax hikes, has not rebelled against Harrow twice doing the same by the maximum permitted 4.99 per cent since her party won the council back from Labour two years ago.

Similarly, Perry observes that Hall has not publicly recoiled from her council colleagues’ plans to increase the money it raises from car parking fines by moving its penalty charge notice level from Band B to the pricier Band A (set out at pages 512 and 513 in February budget papers).

Tory Harrow also intends to increase its income from fining motorists by installing more “school streets”, a form of Low Traffic Neighbourhood, and more CCTV to detect infractions. Perhaps Hall doesn’t mind the “war on motorists” as long as fellow Harrow Tories are waging it and the camera weaponry isn’t labelled “ULEZ”.

Harrow Labour circles have talked of a default “bolshy” Hall being at the heart of tensions in the Tory group, including among its senior women. When asked, current deputy council leader Marilyn Ashton denied this, though someone else with long experience on the Tory side said it was a generally-held view that Hall “doesn’t get on with other strong women”.

A similar observation was sometimes made of Margaret Thatcher. It is tempting – perhaps too tempting – to see in Hall’s admiration for her father, one of 13 children, something similar to Thatcher’s famed reverence for her alderman dad.

“My father influence me quite a lot,” Hall said at the June 2023 candidate hustings (below, 1 hr, 46 mins). “He didn’t come from a Conservative home, but he started his own business.” She then revealed that he had died when she was just 16, before continuing: “And then, of course, I had Margaret Thatcher. What a role model!”

Other initiatives of Harrow leader Hall caught the eye, not least that of the by then second-term Mayor Johnson.

Hall took action against landlords flouting rules to cram tenants into sub-divided properties, a phenomenon labelled “beds in sheds”. She described this as a “resurrection of East End tenement overcrowding in suburban London with levels of exploitation to match”. It was also, she characteristically pointed out, a drain on council resources, as the exploited tenants were beneficiaries of council services but paid no Council Tax because the council didn’t know of their existence.

Under Hall, Harrow Council enforcement techniques included the use of thermal imagining technology to detect overcrowding. This won the approval of Johnson, who told London Assembly members (AMs) he applauded Hall and that her lobbying on the issue had helped ensure that London “received the lion’s share” of local authority funding for tackling it.

Also under Hall, Harrow and Transport for London announced that they would look into the finances of installing lifts at Harrow-0n-the-Hill station. Johnson heaped praise on Hall for this too, but was criticised by Navin Shah for failing to acknowledge the long-running campaigns of disabled groups and others for the station to be made step-free.

Shah likened Johnson’s behaviour to that of a member of a “Susan Hall fan club”. Rebuking Shah, Hall said she and Johnson would “ensure this long overdue work is completed”. By the time it was, in March 2022, a great deal about British politics had changed. One thing that hadn’t was Hall’s admiration for Johnson. He may or may not be a member of her fan club. She is unquestionably – and tellingly – still very much a member of his.


Hall’s tenure as council leader did not last long. In May 2014, nine months after she had taken the reins, the borough again returned to Labour control. But that brief period of power now forms the basis for her current claim to be an ace crimefighter.

Despite the political turmoil of the middle months of 2013, council business continued. That May, a couple of weeks after the Labour group split, a list of upcoming major decisions was published. It included approval of a new community safety plan to cover the financial years 2013/14 to 2016/17.

The previous month, a new borough commander for Harrow, Simon Ovens, had taken up his post. In June, Ovens pledged to make Harrow the safest borough in London. It was reportedly the seventh safest at the time as measured against yardsticks set in Johnson’s police and crime plan, published in March 2013.

The new Harrow community safety plan adopted Johnson’s targets of reducing the number of “key crimes” and increasing public confidence in the police while reducing spending by the police, all three by 20 per cent.

It was considered at a meeting of the cabinet held on 13 September 2013 and recommended for approval by the next full council meeting, to be held on 14 November. This duly occurred. Hall took over as Harrow’s leader during the intervening period. The new community safety plan was therefore part of her inheritance from the imploded Labour administration.

Along with becoming Harrow’s leader, Hall awarded herself the environment and safety portfolio she had previously held as a cabinet member. In this dual capacity, she re-embraced her Neighbourhood Champions baby and in March 2014, with the council elections looming once more, announced the one thousandth recruit to their ranks.

Labour re-gained power on 22 May 2014, winning 32 seats to the Tories’ 27. But later that month Ovens wrote in his local newspaper column that in the previous month of April, just prior to the elections, “Harrow had the lowest amount of crime per 1,000 population on the whole of London”.

He hailed this statistic as demonstrating that the borough was “well on track” to achieving the goal he’d set himself a year before. And in October he said it was official, giving some credit to Hall in the process: “The volunteer ethos in this borough, including Neighbourhood Champions, but also my police cadets and voluntary officers who really put the hours in, has helped us get to where we are.”

Screenshot 2024 04 29 at 13.55.09

This appears to the basis for a Hall mayoral campaign leaflet which proclaims “crime went down when Susan was in charge of Harrow Council”. And so it did, at least according to the criteria set by Johnson. The critical question, though – as when any politician takes credit for reductions in police crime statistics – is whether Hall or, for that matter Johnson, had much, if anything, to do with it.

The levels of crime recorded by police can rise and fall for a variety of reasons, some of them unpredicted and, at least initially, outside of the control of police and politicians alike. In the case of Harrow, Ovens had become the borough’s commander five months before Hall became its council’s leader and the new community safety plan had already been drawn up.

Moreover, as Navin Shah points out, Harrow had historically been a borough of low crime rates compared to the other 31 and the council had been producing community safety plans since before Hall was even a councillor.

And he is not alone in taking exception to Hall’s crime leaflet promising “no more police station closures” when under Johnson, the Met, urgently selling property in order to fill its own austerity-created budget gap, shut over 50 front counters – far more than have gone under Khan.

By March 2015, Johnson was declaring that most of his 20 per cent neighbourhood crime reduction targets had been achieved across the capital, with Labour-run outer London boroughs Hounslow, Waltham Forest and Harrow’s next door neighbour Brent doing just as well as Harrow.

This is not to say that Hall’s efforts were not relevant. But were they as transformational as her mayoral election literature makes out?


Despite ceasing to be council leader, Hall’s political career kept prospering. In 2016, that fateful year, she was placed fourth on the London-wide list of Tory candidates for the London Assembly, and just missed out on winning a seat that May. A few weeks later, the UK voted narrowly to leave the European Union, thanks in part to the campaigning of Johnson. His successor, Khan, was a passionate backer of Remain.

Then, in June 2017, one of the Tory “list” AMs, Kemi Badenoch, became the MP for Saffron Walden. Her rise to the Commons created a vacancy on the Assembly that Hall automatically filled.

A trawl through the new AM’s early questions in her scrutiny role reveals some now familiar keen interests – crime, “bed in sheds”, why one police station had been earmarked for closure rather than another – and also Khan’s Night Czar, Amy Lamé, whom Hall in her mayoral campaign has targeted with venom.

We see a sustained pursuit for GLA group budget details, plainly intended to help Hall build a case about “waste”. She even asked how much the Met spent on postage.

In November 2018, Hall alighted on the enduring Tory bugbear of TfL “nominee passes” – free public transport travel for friends or family members of TfL staff. She was told there was no “cost” involved because in the context of daily ridership the number of free journeys taken was so small.

But last April she secured coverage for finding out that 54,000 people were benefiting. On the basis that each nominee was getting the equivalent of a £3,000 annual Travelcard, a figure of around £160 million in lost revenue can be produced. Hall has promised to scrap the scheme and put the money saved towards the £200 million extra she has been promising the Met.

Her maths, however, rest on two large assumptions: one, that journeys to the same value would be taken by erstwhile TfL staff nominees if they had to pay for them; two, that the resistance of transport unions to losing the long-standing perk in the form of industrial action wouldn’t render the policy less than cost-effective.


It is interesting to compare the Susan Hall of the London Assembly – the one on frequent public view berating the Labour Mayor at City Hall – with the less well-known version who at Harrow Council shouldered the responsibility that goes with power.

That is particularly so because her City Hall job has coincided with the post-Brexit rise in her party’s national fortunes at the 2019 general election and its subsequent fall into a mire of scandal, incompetence and populism.

In 2022, rebelling against “partygate” and the culture war-driven Right-wards direction his party was taking, Barry Macleod-Cullinane urged Londoners to vote Labour. These days, he campaigns for Khan.

Hall has gone in the opposite direction. A diehard Brexit-backer, she has stridently aligned herself with all the subsequent causes and grievances of the wider Leave spectrum, from “woke”, to the Rwanda deportation scheme, to the supposed “war on motorists”.

Unlike some on this new Tory hard Right, though, she drew the line at opposing lockdowns during the pandemic. To have criticised those would have been to criticise “Boris” of whom, somewhat ironically, she remained a fan even after his lockdown violations destroyed him. Her removal from her Twitter profile of a photo of Johnson and her together and its replacement by one of City Hall was a big smoke signal that she’d be seeking to run for Mayor.

Twitter, now X, has notoriously revealed her at her most incautious and extreme, from egging on Katie Hopkins and Donald Trump, orchestrators of dangerous hatred of Khan – indiscretions for which she has shown little regret – to cheering on Suella Braverman and Liz Truss from her party’s angry UKIP fringe. In Hall’s world, GB News is not a vehicle for self-reinforcing radical Right misinformation but a broadcasting bastion of “common sense”.

Her tone is often one of scolding disapproval, quick to brand something or someone an “absolute disgrace”. As an Assembly member, some of her more preposterous reproaches have been of Lyn Garner, chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation, for failing in the fiendishly difficult task of selling naming rights for the London Stadium, home of West Ham United. The Tory group often sounds like a mouthpiece for the club’s boss, Karren Brady, but Hall’s upbraidings of Garner smack of overconfidence. It as if she thinks that if she were in charge of the Olympic Park, global brands would soon be knocking down her door.

And what has become of Harrow cabinet member Hall, the woman who recruited Neighbourhood Champions to cleanse the blight of petty villainy and antisocial behaviour? All over outer London, vandals continue to damage ULEZ enforcement cameras. But these months of organised delinquency have brought barely a peep of disapproval from Candidate Hall. Instead, she has chosen to portray the security guards TfL has had to hire to protect its enforcement vans as the sinister presence on the streets.

The same goes for her party’s attitude to London. During Johnson’s time as Prime Minister and all through the pandemic the capital became a routine target for ministerial slights, snipes and top-down micromanagement, often for the purpose of scoring performative points against Khan. It was strange way to behave for a government that had pledged an end “Whitehall knows best” attitudes. Again, not a murmur from Susan Hall.

Perry sums her up as “a very, very loyal Conservative politician” who never acknowledges any shortcoming from those at the top of her party. “But national decisions have local consequences,” he warns. “Councillor Hall will never say that.” He contends that if Hall becomes Mayor, “she would put politics ahead of the people of London”.

Would they be the politics of a moderate, consensual Conservatism or something closer to the type that seems to be winning today’s battle for the Tory soul? With Susan Hall of late, all the evidence points one way.

Support OnLondon.co.uk and its writers for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Threads: DaveHillOnLondon. X/Twitter: On London and Dave Hill. Photos are still from Evening Standard film footage.

Categories: Analysis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *