Susan Hall: ‘People are going on about my Twitter’

The Tory mayoral candidate on tackling crime, Ulez and ‘hurty words’
March 27, 2024

It’s 11am in Dagenham and my interview with Susan Hall, the Tory candidate for London mayor, is in danger of finishing before it’s begun. “Can we do this when Susan’s free at the end for 10 minutes? It’s totally interrupting our campaign schedule,” interjects a forgettable-looking, fleece-clad man with the vague yet unmistakable condescension of someone kicking you off a golf course.  

Luckily, Hall steps in. “I’m quite happy for him to come along,” she says. The man, who turns out to be Sam Holland, Conservative candidate for Dagenham and Rainham, looks peeved but flounces off. I thank Hall for accommodating me. “It’s fine,” she says cheerfully. “Don’t take no notice of him.” 

Susan Hall, 69, became the Conservative candidate for the mayoralty last July after narrowly seeing off Mozammel Hossain, a former barrister. The contest was meant to be a three-person members’ ballot but allegations of sexual misconduct forced Daniel Korski, a former Downing Street adviser, to drop out. Hall’s selection for one of the country’s key political roles subsequently prompted a singular and pervasive question nationwide: who? 

Susan Mary Hall grew up in Harrow stripping cars in her father’s garage before marrying a hairdresser and opening a salon with him. Before that, she worked various jobs to make ends meet. She stuffed pillows, operated a telephone switchboard and took shifts at the Wembley Greyhounds looking after a racing dog named Spiral Cindy. One afternoon, a teenage Hall lost control of Cindy who shot off into the stalls. “Can you imagine! I was in so much trouble.” 

Hall, who admired Margaret Thatcher as “a woman in a man’s world… [able to] lead from the front”, didn’t get into politics until she was in her fifties. She was elected to Harrow Borough Council in 2006 and rose through the ranks before replacing Kemi Badenoch on the London Assembly in 2017. A staunch supporter of Brexit and Donald Trump who applauded Suella Braverman when she decried “an invasion” of refugees, Hall is not an obvious fit for a Remain-voting, socially liberal city containing over three million immigrants. 

To be honest, I’m surprised that she’s agreed to meet with me. Hall’s recent press attention has been overwhelmingly negative after a string of, let’s call them, “blunders”. London mayoral campaign buffs may recall the Conservatives’ 2016 candidate, Zac Goldsmith, who claimed to be a Bollywood fan but was unable to name a single Bollywood film or actor at the Asian Awards—a ceremony he voluntarily attended. Susan Hall has trumped him many times over.  

She has, in recent years, reportedly claimed there was a “problem with crime” in the black community; replied to a post on X from Katie Hopkins describing Khan as “our nipple-height mayor of Londonistan” with the words “thank you Katie”; liked a tweet with a picture of Enoch Powell captioned “it’s never too late to get London back” and admitted she doesn’t know how much a bus fare costs. Recently, her campaign issued a press release claiming that she had been pickpocketed on the London Underground despite her wallet being returned to her with £40 in cash still inside. (Hall tells me the pickpocketing saga was the product of a rogue journalist breaking a press embargo).

Nevertheless, Hall has a plan to win over Londoners—one that can loosely be summed up in four short words: crime bad, cars good. She switches between these focal points depending on location. Within Zone 3, it’s more about crime, whereas in Dagenham, Hall is focused on cars—specifically the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez), which expanded across all London boroughs last summer. Scrapping this expansion is a fundamental Susan Hall policy: one that ties in to the Tories’ “war on motorists” attack line against Labour. London has the highest proportion of households without cars in England and Wales, but, even so, apparently this policy is proving popular in the suburbs. “If I am voted in, people know that I will stop the Ulez expansion on day one,” Hall says excitedly. 

Ulez has undoubtedly annoyed some Londoners. It was largely blamed for Labour losing a byelection in Boris Johnson’s former seat of Uxbridge last year. But it is also showing signs of effectiveness. Analysis suggested that, over the last year, it averted more toxic air pollution than is produced by the capital’s airports. Road vehicles are a leading cause of air pollution in London, generating half of the nitrogen oxides. In 2013, nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah from Lewisham died of a severe asthma attack, becoming the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death.

While Hall recognises that Londoners are worried about this, she contends it’s far less of a problem in the outer areas. “If you look at Bexley, Crawley, Croydon,” she says, “we’ve got about two hundred farms in London, it’s green open spaces… So if I thought that taking [Ulez] away would cause massive air pollution here, I’d think twice about it. But outer London is so different from inner London.” 

The other key plank of Hall’s plan is tackling crime—something she feels passionately about. “Women feel scared walking along the streets,” she says. “Shopkeepers, who are on very small margins, are losing that margin because everything is being taken off their shelves… gangs are marauding through the streets with machetes.” When I ask what she’d do about this, her first answer is: “We need far more police on the streets and a return to borough-based policing.” 

This is a complicated issue. Londoners do worry about crime. In 2023 the rate here was 31 percent worse than the UK average. But they also worry about policing, especially non-white Londoners, who are shown to be disproportionately affected by tactics like “stop and search”. A 2023 report by Baroness Casey found the Met guilty of institutionalised racism, misogyny and homophobia. Hall acknowledges these concerns. “We’ve got to sort out things within the police force,” she says. “I’ve spoken to the commissioner recently. They’re trying to weed out the people that are the wrong’uns.” 

I suggest to her that, according to Casey, the problem is bigger than a few “wrong’uns”. “No,” she says, “it’s a low percentage… I think there's 34,000 frontline officers, about 10,000 staff, that work with me. So you're looking at a massive organisation, the majority of whom are good people.”

For all her ambition, Hall is not the favourite to win the mayoralty. She is currently trailing the Labour incumbent, Sadiq Khan, by 25 points. However, recent Conservative voting reforms may buoy Hall’s campaign. The imposition of a first-past-the-post system for all mayoral elections has led to concern amongst Khan’s team, and so too has the introduction of voter ID, which has backfired on the Tories in some areas but is likely to help them in London. 

Hall supports these reforms, particularly voter ID. “Labour are complaining about it,” she says, “but if you go into the Labour conference you’ve got to have an ID.” I reply that cases of voter impersonation offences in the UK are vanishingly low (just 13 in 2022), and that, while UK citizens don’t have a right to enter the Labour conference, they do have a fundamental right to vote. “Well, given that it’s a fundamental right,” she replies, “surely it’s fundamental that you prove who you are.”  

Finally, we get to some of her controversial online comments. These have had a negative impact on her campaign. Last year, a poll from the anti-racism campaign, Hope Not Hate, found that six in 10 Londoners believe the Tory party should suspend and investigate her. We begin with Enoch Powell. I ask why she liked that tweet. 

“Well first of all it was a ‘like’ and I apologise if it offended anybody.” 

“But it’s Enoch Powell?”  

“It was 2020… I spent too much time on Twitter.” 

“I spend too much time on Twitter and I’ve never liked a picture of Enoch Powell.” 

“Well you might have done something that I wouldn’t agree with…” 

I move on to Islamophobia. At the time of our speaking, Lee Anderson had just been suspended from the Tory party for alleging that Khan was under the control of Islamists. I ask what she thought of his remarks, particularly in light of her own platforming of Katie Hopkins’s ‘Londonistan’ tweet.  

“I didn’t agree with what he said… But do you know what, everybody can go on about those tweets. The truth of the matter is, we are looking to elect a mayor that will put London right… People [are] going on about my Twitter because it’s the only thing you can go on about.” 

I press her on this. In reposting Islamophobic tweets, Hall has, even if inadvertently (a flimsy excuse at best), made a jarring endorsement that will alarm Muslim Londoners. “I’ll tell you what’s jarring,” she says. “Jarring is the fact that poor people are having to pay £12.50 a day [the Ulez charge] that they literally cannot afford. That is real. And that isn’t just hurty words.”