Dave Hill: Susan Hall’s blanket Tory loyalty is a gift to Sadiq Khan

Dave Hill: Susan Hall’s blanket Tory loyalty is a gift to Sadiq Khan

There’s been no opinion poll for months. The next one might provide a less miserable snapshot of Londoners’ electoral leanings from the point of view of Susan Hall.

For one thing, they could hardly be worse for the Conservative mayoral candidate: the three most recent, all published in November, gave Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan leads over her of 25, 20 and 27 points respectively.

For another, at this stage in the 2021 mayoral election race Khan was enjoying similarly luxurious advantages over his previous Tory challenger, Shaun Bailey, who, just as Hall is now, was an easy object of ridicule. Yet Bailey finished in a much closer second place even than anticipated by the (for him) less ominous polls published closer to election day.

Then throw in factors completely new to this mayoral contest likely to assist Hall: one, the Tory government’s brazenly self-interested imposition of the first-past-the-post system for all mayoral elections, which can only help their candidates at the expense of Labour’s; two, the equally self-serving introduction of Voter ID which, while it might have backfired on them elsewhere, could penalise Labour in London, as Christabel Cooper has shown.

Add to these the drag effect on any politician seeking a third leadership term of voter apathy, boredom and disillusion, and you can see that Khan may have good reasons as well as tactical ones for warning that the result on 2 May is far from certain – and why I am still not ruling out a Hall victory.

However, late last year, amiably but insistently pressured by friends, I predicted a Khan win over Hall by between five and ten percentage points. After they’d twisted my arm up behind my back, they pinned me down to eight. Talk about a mug’s game. But I’m still as comfortable with that forecast as I can be in the circumstances. That’s because those circumstances crucially include Hall continuing to conform to her floundering party’s strategy, no matter how much at odds it puts her with most Londoners.

You’d think she was running to be Mayor of Maidenhead. Does she support the tragic-comic Rwanda policy supposed to deter illegal migrants? “Absolutely,” she told Nick Ferrari. What is her view about legal migration from overseas? “Legal immigration is a good thing,” Hall said, “because we need the workers in London” but at the same time “we need to reduce that as well”.

She applauded incoming government measures to stop overseas migrants bringing their dependants to the UK. City Hall calculates that those measures as a whole will have adverse effects on half a million Londoners and damage key sectors of the London economy. Hall could have said she’d try to persuade the Home Secretary to adjust the rules to allow London to attract the workers it needs, citing the national interest in having a strong London economy. But no. For her it was a case of my party’s policies, right or wrong, even if they’re wrong for London.

Hall has embraced Rishi Sunak’s post-Uxbridge by-election wheeze of resisting the so-called “war on motorists”, continuing to denounce the latest ULEZ expansion despite polls indicating that opposition to and support for it are roughly equal, and despite figures Hall herself has brandished showing that even back in 2022 quite a small minority of London households have been directly affected by it.

Like the Prime Minster, she seems to believe that July’s narrow Uxbridge win, which happened before the expansion came into effect on the back of a disingenuous local Tory campaign, opened some kind of window on the nation’s soul, fully-embracing London, where over 40 per cent of households don’t even have a motor vehicle.

What does Hall feel about Boris Johnson these days? For months, perhaps years, her X/Twitter profile was adorned with a photo of “Boris” standing at her side. It stayed there right through Partygate and beyond, only replaced – with a photo of City Hall – after she’d she made up her mind to seek to become the Tory candidate.

Ferrari asked her in December what she thought Johnson ought to say to the Covid Inquiry. He didn’t get much of an answer. Would Hall welcome Johnson supporting her mayoral campaign? Hall revealed that the ex-Mayor had phoned to offer his help. Would she take him up on that? “I may well do at some point,” she said of a man whose favourability rating at the time he was forced by his own MPs to exit Number 10 stood at a depth-plumbing minus 53.

Brexit? That referendum outcome Johnson campaigned for but 60 per cent of Londoners opposed and probably even more regret today? Don’t worry, Hall still identifies as “a Brexiteer”. Those past social media endorsements of Donald Trump and other extremists? She still hasn’t mustered a proper apology or accepted she was at fault.

With Tory support nationally at around 25 per cent and probably lower still in London, nailing her mayoral colours so firmly to her party’s mast and, on top of that, still carrying a political flame for “Boris”, seems at best unimaginative and at worst rather bizarre.

Does she ever look at how Andy Street has won and retained the West Midlands mayoralty for the Tories, picking his moments to break rank and put his region’s people first? Has it crossed her mind that at least trying to create a bit of distance between herself and a party that is in-fighting its way ever further into UKIP territory might be a good idea in a city that favours Labour so strongly?

The answers look so obvious it seems almost unkind to ask them. Meanwhile, a Tory gossip site says Conservative Campaign HQ has drafted in people who helped Sunak in his losing leadership contest with Liz Truss – whom Hall applauded for her catastrophic budget, by the way – with orders that she should keep on talking about crime, which is logical, but also about the ULEZ, which will keep her marginal, and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, which boroughs have installed and she would have no powers to remove.

Elsewhere, it’s been reported that Paul Scully, the now former minister for London who was bewilderingly excluded from the Tory candidate shortlist, has considered running as an Independent, and that Hall’s endeavours to this point have become yet another thing for her party to fall out about.

There seems to be a default view among Conservative and some other pundits that Khan’s mayoralty has been hopeless and unpopular, and that he would be eminently beatable by the right sort of challenger. I think they’re telling themselves stories to keep their spirits up.

Just the same, the slim hopes of any Tory mayoral candidate could only be improved by he or she demonstrating at least some awareness that their party is in the pits in the capital, showing some humility, and approaching the election accordingly. Doing the opposite is Susan Hall’s ongoing gift to Sadiq Khan.

Dave Hill is the editor and publisher of OnLondon.co.uk. Support the site and its writers for £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Threads: DaveHillOnLondon. X/Twitter: OnLondon and Dave Hill. Photo from Susan Hall video.

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