The Opposition to Sadiq Khan: Right-Wing Protest Hypocrisy

Unlike the moral outrage over the largely peaceful and legal action of Just Stop Oil, pro-Palestine rallies, and other causes they disagree with, Conservative voices are largely silent when it comes to the increasingly aggressive opposition being thrown at the creation of the largest clean air zone in the Western world.

Right-Wing Watch

With the clock ticking to the May 2 mayoral election, when Sadiq Khan hopes to be re-elected for a third term, the ULEZ-opposing right are ramping up their nasty and nefarious tactics designed to discredit the London mayor and his Ultra Low Emission Zone expansion policy. Unlike the moral outrage over the largely peaceful and legal action of Just Stop Oil, pro-Palestine rallies, and other causes they disagree with, Conservative voices are largely silent when it comes to the increasingly aggressive opposition being thrown at the largest clean air zone in the Western world. This, if we need reminding, is designed to combat the 4,000 deaths estimated to be attributable to air pollution in the capital every year.

While some may have genuine concerns about the additional £12.50 a day burden placed on drivers in Outer London, ULEZ expansion has become something of a political football. Sadiq Khan has become the baying mob’s whipping boy for a policy, let’s not forget, that was conceived by Boris Johnson when he was London mayor. Despite having come up with the idea for ULEZ, in July 2023, ahead of the Uxbridge byelection which saw the Tories clinch victory, Johnson used his column in the Daily Mail to attack Khan’s “bone-headed” ultra-low emissions zone. With such hostile narrative making its way onto the pages of the national press, ULEZ expansion has become a vigilante battleground, with Sadiq Khan the target. 

On the first day the expansion was announced, furious protests erupted outside No 10, with traffic cameras smashed and vandalised with spray paint. A group of anti-ULEZ vigilantes, who orchestrated the vandalism campaign, self-styled themselves as ‘Blade Runners.’ In January, a six-year-old girl was injured in a car crash after ‘Blade Runners’ cut down 10 cameras within a give-mile radius around Orpington.

Despite the disturbing consequences of these aggressive protests, ULEZ-opposing ‘Blade Runners’ are being given a glorified platform in the right-wing press. ‘ULEZ ‘Blade Runners’ strike again: Mobile enforcement van is smashed up and left with flat tyres in ongoing war against Sadiq Khan’s crackdown on motorists,’ splashed the Daily Mail in September.

The article seems to delight in informing readers how ‘Blade Runners’ have ramped up their campaign of vandalism ‘trashing yet another one of Sadiq Khan’s mobile ‘spy’ vans used to enforce London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone.’

Several months later, and the same newspaper ran an almost identical headline.

‘ULEZ Blade Runners strike again: Campaigners fighting hated CCTV enforcing Sadiq Khan’s £12.50-a-day eco tax attack another camera – and replace it with a Christmas tree,’ was a headline in January.

The article refers to an interview with TalkTV when a masked Blade Runner claimed to have wrecked 150 of the traffic cameras since the scheme was expanded across London boroughs on August 29.

“The father-of-three, aged in his forties, said he goes out in the dead of night several days a week to carry out what he calls ‘unpaid voluntary work’,” the report continues.

When reading this article, and others like it, thoughts of ‘Accused,’ a harrowing Netflix drama come to mind. The film looks at the uncomfortable reality of social media vigilantism and its consequences. But rather than a fictitious character being the victim of a witch-hunt for a crime he did not commit and stalked by masked vigilantes, it is the London mayor who is the target of the persecution, with the Conservatives and their right-wing media supporters cheerleading for their new folk heroes.

At the end of February, a People’s Question Time (PQT) event was due to take place in Richmond. The Greater London Authority (GLA) decided it would be held online. Conservatives were up in arms about the decision to digitalise the event, accusing Khan of ‘running scared of scrutiny’ and sending out a ‘damaging signal’ about community engagement.

‘Sadiq Slinks Away from Scrutiny,’ screamed right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes, claiming the PQT was ‘another event turned into meaningless self-congratulation for Khan…’

Of course, the real reason why the event was moved online was because of the intimidation and hostility the London mayor faced at the last event. In November, a public PQT meeting at City Hall turned rowdy, when it was disrupted by anti-ULEZ protestors. For security reasons, Khan and 16 assembly members sat behind a protective glass screen, amid chants of ‘get Khan out.’ One attendee, who allegedly shouted “400 years ago you’d be sent to the gallows” at the mayor, was forcibly removed from the building and given a penalty notice for disorder by the Met police.

At the same event, Matthew Goodwin-Freeman, a Tory councillor in Harrow and ally of Tory mayoral candidate Susan Hall, called on Khan to “resign.” He held up an Evening Standard front page featuring an image of Hall alongside the headline: “I can beat Khan.”

The aggressive public meeting followed months of anti-ULEZ sentiment simmering in London. In a People’s Question Time event in March 2023, protestors gathered outside the Town Hall with placards saying the expansion would be an “end of free movement,” and citing a “UN agenda.” One placard depicted Khan in an image including a swastika and a hammer-and-sickle symbol, which speaks of historical ignorance as much as anything.

The London mayor condemned the protestors as far-right. “Let’s be frank, let’s call a spade a spade. Some of those outside are part of the far-right. Some are Covid deniers, some are vaccine deniers, and some are Tories,” he said.

Reacting to the mayor’s comments, Conservative assembly member Peter Fortune, said: “You heard it, didn’t you? If you disagree with the mayor, he’s going to paint you as far right,” a comment which prompted cheers from some members of the audience.

Susan Hall, Khan’s Tory rival in the mayoral race, and then leader of the City Hall Conservatives claimed Khan “behaved appallingly at People’s Question Time, smearing people who have serious concerns about his ULEZ plans as far right, and being frankly dishonest about his record and the London Assembly members who scrutinise him.”

Instead of being reprimanded for her support of such protests, hypocritical of course given her track record of readily denouncing even the legal actions of environmental campaigners, Hall is given a column in the Express. ‘Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ enforcers are turning London into dystopian nightmare,’ the Tory mayor hopeful headlined in December. In case you are thinking some Dr. Who-type aliens had landed and were poised to take over the capital, Hall was referring to security guards who had been deployed by Transport for London to protect mobile enforcement cameras.

In May, the launch of Khan’s book ‘Breathe’ at the Royal Festival Hall was sabotaged by hecklers. Dave Hill, journalist and author at OnLondon, described the hecklers as creating a ‘malignant vibe’ which ‘brought back memories of covering English football thugs abroad.

“They are a travelling gang of rowdies, a troublemaking mob,” he wrote.

In September, yet another anti-ULEZ protest in London attracted a very low turnout. Despite this, it featured on the front page of two nationals – the Telegraph and the Mail. Among the protestors were Reform UK’s leader Richard Tice, and GB News host Nigel Farage. The widely-covered protest was organised by Action Against ULEZ Extension, which has questioned established climate science and promoted conspiracy theories about governments attempting to impose draconian lockdowns via green policies. Despite this, members of the group are regularly quoted by the mainstream media, with journalists frequently contacting the group on Facebook for quotes, as DeSmog reports.

But at the heart of the story is something even more sinister than opposition to climate change action. The intensity of ULEZ objection has given right-wing politicians like Susan Hall and her supporting media something of a patriotic license not to condemn the right’s thuggery in taking the law into their own hands. This raises deep and concerning questions about the right’s hatred of Sadiq Khan himself. Not just because he is a liberal/left politician with a genuine interest to look after the environment and the health of Londoners, but because he is Muslim.

The now suspended Tory MP Lee Anderson ignited such concerns by suggesting that ‘Islamists’ had ‘got control’ over Sadiq khan, sparking a wider debate about the scale of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, which is under mounting pressure about the issue.

This week, Labour demanded an apology from Khan’s Tory opponent over comments and actions that led her to being accused of Islamophobia and racism. Susan Hall’s candidacy has been dogged by her controversial stances, including her support for Donald Trump. Trump himself has repeatedly targeted Khan, once referring to him as a ‘stone cold loser.’ Hall has previously claimed that Jewish Londoners are ‘frightened’ of Khan, something that Labour described as a ‘divisive and Islamophobic dogwhistle.’ She also endorsed a tweet from a far-right figure calling Khan the ‘mayor of Londonistan,’ a well-known Islamophobic trope.

In a letter to Hall from the Labour party chair, Anneliese Dodds wrote:

“Until you have provided an apology and much-needed clarity on your past statements – and until you have issued a full and unqualified condemnation of Lee Anderson’s comments as ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobic’ – Londoners will be entitled to question your commitment to defeating not only anti-Muslim hatred, but all other forms of bigotry and racism.”

Despite the hate-filled tactics deployed by the right, Sadiq Khan is set for a third term, at least according to the polls. A YouGov survey published in the London Standard this week showed that Khan has a 25-point lead over Susan Hall. The Labour candidate is on 49 percent and his Tory rival 24 percent. Green candidate Zoe Garbett is on nine percent, Liberal Democrat Rob Blackie eight percent, and Reform UK’s Howard Cox seven percent. But – and there had to be a but in the London Standard, which isn’t known for its support of Sadiq Khan, and has previously been described as a ‘Tory mouthpiece’ for showing bias towards Conservative candidates – only a quarter of Londoners say they are satisfied with him.

Whether Khan will make a third term becomes more questionable when we consider the realities of the last mayoral election. Stephen Bush, columnist and associate editor of the Financial Times, recollects how in the 2021 London mayoral vote, the opinion polls overstated Khan and understated his Tory opponent Shaun Bailey.

In reference to Labour’s Uxbridge byelection defeat last summer, which Keir Stamer claimed had been lost because of ULEZ, Bush wrote:

“The Conservative vote has shown a great deal of resilience in Outer London, not least by the Uxbridge byelection. We may be about to witness another earthquake in the capital.”

Hall, however, with her past controversies, is a weaker candidate than Bailey. A third term for Khan might be the likeliest outcome, but, as we have seen time and time again, the polls don’t always get it right. But surely, the thuggery of the right in opposing Khan and ULEZ will backfire instead of paying off? It would be a very sad day if it didn’t.

Right-Wing Media Watch – History repeats itself with Mail on Sunday getting excited about another Lord Ashcroft ‘unauthorised biography’

Angela Rayner, a northerner from a working-class background who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, has long been a target of the right-wing media. Who can forget the infamous ‘Basic Instinct’ scandal, when the Mail on Sunday accused Rayner of a ‘Sharon Stone’ ploy to distract Boris Johnson? It was a story which I always thought said a lot more about Boris Johnson than it did Angela Rayner.

The national has been up to its old tricks this week, with another unfounded gripe at the deputy Labour leader. This time it involved her council house.  And, as so-often with sensationalist tabloid smears, the nonstory has dragged on all week.

‘’Hypocrite’ Rayner’s £48k profit on council house sale,’ splashed the Mail on Sunday’s front page on February 25.

‘Starmer’s deputy used Maggie’s flagship policy to buy discounted home – but now she threatens to cut subsidy for others,’ the ‘exclusive’ continued.

The article notes how the purchase of Rayner’s former council house in Stockport, with a 25 percent discount in 2007, was revealed in a new book by Lord Ashcroft. The book will be ‘serialised exclusively in the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday next month.’ A volume entitled ‘Red Queen? The Unauthorised Biography of Angela Rayner,’ apparently raises ‘other questions’ about the ‘outspoken MP’s living arrangements.’

No doubt it will, given who the ‘Unauthorised Biography’s’ author is.


We can all remember ‘Piggate,’ involving David Cameron, his penis, a dead pig, and a university initiation ceremony.  The anecdote was reported by Lord Michael Ashcroft and right-wing journalist Isabel Oakeshott, in their unauthorised biography of Cameron, Call Me Dave. The authors attributed the story to an anonymous MP who was allegedly a contemporary of Cameron’s at Oxford University. In September 2015, extracts from the book were published in the Daily Mail, prior to its publication.

Like the ‘Basic Instinct’ scandal and, this week, the ‘council house’ furore, which the likes of the Telegraph are now even claiming that Rayner could face a police probe over the row, within minutes of the Mail’s article, ‘Piggate’ was trending.  

Cameron later denounced the claims as ‘false and ludicrous.’ It is not clear what made Ashcroft and Oakeshott make such allegations in their unauthorised biography. It has been suggested that it was cooked up by Ashcroft for revenge at Cameron not giving him a Cabinet job. Whatever the reason, it certainly succeeded by giving the pair’s book plenty of publicity.

It seems history has repeated itself this week, with Rayner being the target of an unauthorised biography by the same author, and with extracts being sensationally reported prior to publication by the Mail on Sunday.

Whatever Ashcroft’s motives, the MoS’s publishing of the nonstory came as almost every other publication marked the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or the turmoil in government. As far as media distraction tactics go, the latest jibe at Rayner was low, even by the Mail’s standards.

Smear of the Week – Lee Anderson’s smear campaign against Sadiq Khan shines light on Tory ecosystem that has allowed Anderson to flourish

Lee Anderson’s comments that ‘Islamists’ had ‘got control’ over Sadiq Khan, blew up into a huge and long-overdue debate about Islamophobia within the Tory party.  The truth is that while Anderson may have been suspended as Tory MP for the comments, the wider Tory ecosystem is responsible for enabling him to flourish.

Anderson has, for years, been given a platform to spout his radical views about poor people, immigrants, ‘thieves,’ and, most latterly, the London mayor, on the pages of the Sun, Daily Mail, and TelegraphGB News pay him £100k a year for a reported eight hours’ work a week hosting his own show.

Anderson’s extreme views are shared within the Tory party. A Hope not Hate survey of Tory party members found that 57 percent of party members had a negative attitude towards Muslims, with almost half believing that Islam is “a threat to the British way of life”. Additionally, 58 percent believe “there are no go areas” in Britain where Sharia law dominates, and non-Muslims cannot enter.

No doubt feeding such prejudice are the high-profile Tory figures who unabashedly promotes an anti-Muslim rhetoric.

In a recent column in the TelegraphSuella Braverman claimed ‘Islamists are bullying Britain into submission.” The Conservative party has been unable to explain clearly why these comments did not merit suspension, but Anderson’s did. In a much-condemned interview with far-right US commentator Steve Bannon, Liz Truss agreed that George Galloway is running in the Rochdale byelection on a “radical jihadist” ticket. Robert Jenrick meanwhile told Parliament: “We have allowed our streets to be dominated by Islamist extremists.” While Oliver Dowden refused to say that Anderson’s comments were Islamophobic on the Kuenssberg show.

Then there’s the Palestine issue, with many Tories and their media using the conflict as a wedge to stir up Islamophobia. “Lefties are calling absurdly for the head of Suella Braverman, who dared suggest police were cowed by shows of force,” splashed the Sun following the pro-Palestine rally on Armistice Day.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric extends well-beyond the current Tory government. Boris Johnson had made Islamophobic remarks for years. In a newspaper column in 2018, he referred to women wearing burqas as “going around looking like letterboxes” and likened their appearance to bank robbers. In 2021, the former PM issued an  apology for offence caused by his past remarks about Islam in a report that criticised his Conservative Party over how it deals with complaints of Islamophobia. The report itself was criticised however for focusing on internal processes rather than addressing prejudice itself. “[The report] ignores the cultural issues amongst grassroots members, and how a number of members are able to make Islamophobic comments, and are aided and abetted by a complaints system not fit for purpose,” wrote Hope Not Hate.

Johnson meanwhile got off scott-free, and negative attitudes towards Muslims within the party have gotten worse.  When Hope Not Hate polled Conservative party members in 2020, they found that 47 percent thought Islam was a threat to the British way of life. Now 58 percent do.

While a handful of brave Conservatives have called out the prejudice on display and challenge the party’s actions, including former MP and Theresa May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell, former justice minister Robert Buckland and the former home secretary Sajid Javid, the party, broadly, seems incapable of saying both antisemitism and Islamophobia are vile. As Manchester mayor Andy Burham noted on the Kuenssberg show last Sunday:

“Rightly, they take a very tough line of antisemitism, as Labour has been doing. But you see ambivalence when it comes to Islamophobia…”

In truth, the right-wing media have been stirring racial prejudice up for over 100 years. The Mail and co were whining about Jewish immigration at the turn of the 20th century, which no doubt helped lead to the Tory Aliens Act 1905. Declaring that ‘undesirable immigrants’ would be denied entry to Britain, the Act was considered a thinly disguised effort at anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant electioneering by the Conservative government.

Opposing the Aliens Act, a young Winston Churchill left his father’s Conservative party and crossed the aisle to become a Liberal Democrat. He famously said that the Act would ‘appeal to insular prejudice against foreigners, to racial prejudice against Jews.’

One wonders if there would have been as much racism if it had not been stirred up by the right-wing media. Sadly, nothing has changed.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch

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