This article was originally published on my personal Substack site on 17 September 2023. Since then, Susan Hall has dismissed her past social media “likes” and reposting of extreme far-right opinions as unimportant, and in a radio appearance today has struggled to defend them. So far, senior Conservatives, including party chairman and London MP Greg Hands, have continued to defend her. Dave Hill.
The Conservatives have replaced a candidate for London Mayor before, though the circumstances were particular: in November 1999, Lord Jeffrey Archer, bon viveur purveyor of various kinds of fiction, dropped out of the very first race for City Hall after it emerged he had asked a friend to lie for him during a 1987 libel case. Is the party pondering removing Susan Hall as its candidate for 2024?
It doesn’t look that way. The day after it was disclosed that in recent years Hall has “liked” an X (formerly Twitter) social media post invoking Enoch Powell as an example of how to “get London back” and reposted (with thanks) the far-right provocateur Katie Hopkins describing Sadiq Khan as the “mayor of Londonistan”, Tory national chairman and London MP Greg Hands took to X to say it was “great” to have Hall out street campaigning with local activists.
This might be no surprise coming from Hands, whose three wise monkeys act in the service of keeping his party in power – and himself in his fairly marginal seat – would make Comical Ali blush. But it still raises questions about the ideological character of the Conservative Party today and its readiness to accommodate and even actively endorse people expressing views that would once have made it queasy.
The selection of Hall as Conservative candidate in first place demonstrated that, even in the capital, where Tories in general are held to be more liberal than counterparts elsewhere, the party hierarchy saw no problem with shortlisting a politician whose very hard-right opinions she had made no attempt to hide. And the comfort with which she won, albeit after the embarrassing departure of the more impressive of her original two rivals, indicated that London rank and file Tories weren’t worried about them either.
It is important to keep the more perturbing of Susan’s enthusiasms in perspective. I have always characterised her as “hard-right” rather than “far-right”, although Sky News, reporting the lurid yield from the latest trawl of her social media back catalogue, thought the latter label fitting for her views. I’ve seen and heard no evidence that she deserves to be called racist or Muslim-hating either, notwithstanding her backing for others who unquestionably do, notably Donald Trump.
Perhaps I am too kind. Or perhaps what matters more is that Hall personifies how difficult it has become to draw clear distinctions between the Conservative Party, until quite recently thought of as representing the mainstream, often moderate centre-right of British politics, and the spectrum of further and extreme right parties and tendencies.
We see these overlaps everywhere: in the aggressive populism of Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson, who Hall has praised on X; in the oleaginous pseudo-journalism of GB News host Dan Wootton, his Hall-flattery (see picture) matched only by that of his Talk TV counterpart Mike Graham, who recently proclaimed on his show that “immigration has ruined this country”; in the unchallenged description of Khan on Wootton’s show as a “lying, corrupt racist” by Reform UK leader Richard Tice, who, by the way, was long-listed to be the Tory mayoral candidate for 2016.
Terminology is now evolving to try to capture this blurring of dividing lines between Brexit-diehard, “Boris” loyalist, culture war-mongering Tories (Hall is all of those), Faragists mining new seams of discontent now that their leader has pronounced Brexit a failure, and fringe nationalists of the most sinister kind.
What some call the New Right or National Conservatism – there was, of course, a conference of that name, where cabinet ministers mingled with like-minded commentators, including the one who popularised the term “Londonistan” – dream openly of a great purge of everything about modern Britain they don’t like and a renewal aligned with the presumed longings of True Brits. Much of the Tory press is firmly onside, eagerly feeding the fears and prejudices of the shires.
That is why it will take a lot for the Conservatives to jettison candidate Hall. Enoch Powell himself, of course, was sacked from the Tory shadow cabinet for his notorious “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968 (and has been a martyr for the far-right ever since.) Hopkins is an inflammatory fanatic. Yet Hall, so far, has expressed no contrition and provided no explanation for any of the social media activity that has attracted unfriendly coverage. And if the Tory top brass has raised the matter with her, no one is saying so.
Hope Not Hate, an organisation dedicated to combatting far-right extremism which unearthed the latest Hall social media activity, has sent an open letter to Greg Hands asking for Hall to be suspended and “a full investigation into her conduct and candidacy” to be undertaken.
It will be very surprising if that happens. For the Conservatives, it would be an embarrassing admission that their London candidate selection process, already mocked as inept, had been a complete catastrophe. Worse than that, from their point of view, it would prompt a backlash in their own ranks, exposing bitter divisions Hands, like Rishi Sunak, is desperate to manage and conceal.
Most of all, it would dramatise for the capital’s voters – and indeed the whole nation – that Susan Hall’s selection as candidate for London Mayor was not an aberration but an accurate expression of what the Conservative Party has become – a party already well on course to be thrown out of government before long.