Dave Hill: Susan Hall says she’s listening to Londoners. But which ones?

Dave Hill: Susan Hall says she’s listening to Londoners. But which ones?

First, let’s cut through the comedy, the confusion and the Donald Trump variety of truth. Conservative candidate Susan Hall launched her campaign to become Mayor of London in Uxbridge on Sunday, posing for photos in what looked like a car park. I know of no London politics journalist being invited. The Evening Standard mustered coverage based on a press release.

Labour’s Sadiq Khan, the Liberal Democrats’ Rob Blackie and the Greens’ Zoë Garbett have encouraged maximum media interest in their campaigns getting underway. Such occasions guarantee publicity for eager candidates. But Hall, representing the party of national government and seeking to lead the government of the UK capital, deliberately kept the media away. It is unorthodox. It’s also telling.

On Monday, a surreally dishonest campaign video appeared, in which it was claimed as a “fact” that London is a “crime capital of the world”. Security guards Transport for London has had to hire to protect vans monitoring streets for high-polluting vehicles were described as “terrorising communities at the beck and call of their Labour Mayor master”. A scene of subterranean panic turned out to be footage not of a London Underground station, but a New York subway. Khan was characterised as having “seized power” when, of course, the reason he is Mayor of London is that he’s won elections.

The kindest thing that can be said about this pathetic effort – which has since had the most clueless bits removed – is that it aspired to parody. A truer description would be ineptly disguised misinformation. The Hall campaign has said it wasn’t its work but that of Conservative Party national HQ. Yet that is where the Hall campaign is based and its message about London was no different from what Hall has been spreading – that, because of Khan, the capital is in the helpless grip of crime. It makes both her and her party look devious and absurd. What do they think they’re doing?

One conclusion is extremely tempting: the Uxbridge car park gathering shows that Hall wants to keep media scrutiny at bay. Given her succession of uncomfortable appearances on the radio show of Nick Ferrari, a host with whom she shares much common ground politically, it isn’t hard to imagine her handlers wanting to keep her well away from all but the very tamest journalists and any questions Hall might mess up answering.

It is also tempting to suspect that there are crossed wires in the Tory propaganda machine. Another weekend development was Hall’s online output being rebranded. Previous True Blue livery was expunged and the candidate’s association with the Conservative Party was mentioned only in the small print. Perhaps with the tradition of London Mayors being known by their forenames in mind, she is now being promoted through those channels as just “Susan”.

On the face of it, this is an attempt to distance Hall from her party. If so, it might be a wise move, given that the Conservatives are deeply unpopular in London. Yet it has now been undermined by the Tories’ latest attempt from national level to portray London as an undeserving fallen hellhole. Is it helpful to Hall if she is seen as being complicit in the denigration of the city she claims to love and aspires to lead? Certainly, Khan has been quick to take advantage.

Perhaps I’m over-thinking. Perhaps what will matter most between now and 2 May is Hall’s latest campaign slogan – that she is “listening” to Londoners, portraying herself as being alive to their concerns and Khan as arrogantly indifferent to them. But which Londoners is she listening to?

For 15 years Conservatism has been withering in the capital, losing ground at election after election and only breaking even in 2019 as Tories romped to general election victory across the rest of England. Throughout, a few London Tory voices have argued that their party cannot recover unless it gets better attuned to the priorities and values of most Londoners. Yet Hall herself and her campaign appear deaf to the London mainstream. Instead, they are closely resembling a branch of the Tory pre-general election national operation in a part of the nation that rejects it.

This is typified by Hall’s denouncing the so-called “war on motorists” that Rishi Sunak invented last autumn. Figures Hall herself has brandished show that as far back as 2022 only quite a small minority of car-owning London households would be adversely affected. Over 40 per cent of London households don’t have a car at all. Yet a significant feature of anti-ULEZ protests has been the adoption of the issue by the populist right, notably Reform UK mayoral candidate Howard Cox. He, in line with Reform national strategy, is scornfully attacking Hall. The Londoners Hall is listening to most are Cox’s fellow dwellers on the Farage fringe.

The same selective hearing applies with crime. Reform and its media allies have, for years, been depicting the capital as Khan’s uniquely “lawless London”, never mind that the reality is different. Hall’s London Assembly colleagues are now chanting the same slogan on her behalf. Hall’s ears are most attuned to voices echoing such claims. They belong to voters she’s afraid of losing and with them any chance of profiting from disillusion with Khan. Liberal Democrat candidate Rob Blackie, who will hope to gain from it, has detected that anxiety. And for all the now familiar caveats, the Labour Mayor looks well set for winning a third term. The way Hall has started her campaign suggests his prospects are becoming better still.

Support OnLondon.co.uk and its writers for just £5 a month of £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Threads: DaveHillOnLondon. X/Twitter: On London and Dave Hill. Image from Susan Hall campaign video.

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