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OPINION

London Mayoral election: Why a vote for Susan Hall is a vote against cycling

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The Conservative candidate has pledged to scrap the ULEZ expansion and rip out protected cycle lanes – in this opinion piece, long-time road.cc contributor and London resident Simon MacMichael tells us why he thinks cyclists should steer clear tomorrow

A vote for the Conservative candidate Susan Hall in tomorrow’s London Mayoral election would be a vote against active travel including cycling, threatening to undo more than two decades of efforts to make the capital safer and easier to navigate for those of us who choose to get around its streets by bike, as well as reversing progress made in improving road safety and tackling air pollution that benefit all who live and work in the city.

Pledging to reverse the expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) on her first day in office if elected (but without revealing how she intends to make up the multi-million pound shortfall in revenue that would result), Hall has also said that she will scrap segregated cycle lanes which she claims wreak “havoc” on the city.

Echoing the words of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the wake of what many saw as a surprise Conservative victory at last year’s Uxbridge & South Ruislip by-election following a campaign that centred on the then-imminent expansion of ULEZ to outer London, Hall has vowed to bring an end to the so-called “War on the Motorist.”

> ‘The War on the Motorist’ deconstructed — looking at the truth behind the myths

That includes doing away with 20mph speed limits on main roads, as well as promising to support “any group” that wants low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) in their area to be removed – both measures that are proven to reduce road traffic casualties especially among vulnerable road users, including children.

Hammersmith Bridge (copyright Simon MacMichael).JPG

Throughout the campaign leading up to tomorrow’s election, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, seeking an unprecedented third term in office, has held a commanding lead over Hall, his closest and only realistic challenger – but the latest opinion poll reveals that it has narrowed to just 10 percentage points, the closest margin yet between the pair.

Expectations are that Khan,  will prevail, with the Evening Standard reporting that the poll by Savanta for the Centre for London puts him on 42 per cent ahead of Hall’s 32 per cent, with Lib Dem candidate Rob Blackie a distant third on 10 per cent, followed by the Green Party’s Zoe Garbett with 8 per cent of the vote.

The bookies agree. Khan is at best a 20-to-1 odds-on favourite, while the shortest price on Hall producing a shock win is 8-to-1 against.

The result, however, could be even closer than that latest poll suggests, for a variety of reasons. Many Londoners remain undecided who to vote for, while others are unaware that the election is even taking place.

Visit a city in France, Italy or Spain in the run-up to local elections and you can’t help but notice posters on every street urging you to lend a particular candidate their vote. Here, away from social networks and the established media, you’d be hard-pressed to find any sign that polling day is almost upon us.

Then there is the introduction of voter ID, anticipated to boost the Conservative vote and take support away from Labour, as is the change to the voting system to first past the post, replacing the former system which enabled voters to select a candidate as their second preference (and which in the last election, three years ago, resulted in Khan extending his margin of victory over the Conservative challenger Shaun Bailey with many Lib Dem and Green Party voters selecting the incumbent mayor as their second choice).

The 2021 result was, however, closer than the opinion polls had suggested, and a last-minute surge for of support for Hall could see a much tighter contest than most pundits would have expected even a week ago, in much the same way that the leave camp won the 2016 Brexit referendum despite consistently trailing in the polls for almost the entire campaign – and perhaps not by coincidence, just today some users of X, formerly Twitter, have noted a surge of tweets in support of Hall and against Khan.

While turnout for the pivotal 2016 vote was a record high at 72.2 per cent, historically it is much lower for Mayoral elections, at just 42.2 per cent in 2021 – so a late flurry of people deciding to vote for Hall, perhaps swayed by messaging they have seen on social media, could be influential.

Cyclists in London 1 - copyright Simon MacMichael

According to the opinion polls, Khan’s lead over Hall is strongest in Inner London, but narrower in the Outer London boroughs. In part, that is a reflection of historic Labour and Tory voting patterns, in turn determined to some extent by the demographic make-up of individual boroughs as well as factors such as income and type of housing tenure.

But with motoring and efforts to restrict unnecessary car use and promote greener alternatives identified as a “wedge issue” – one that can be used to divide voters and thereby harness support for a particular position – following the Uxbridge & South Ruislip result last summer, it won’t be lost on the candidates’ respective parties that Hall’s support is greater in the boroughs that have higher levels of car ownership.

> Whose ULEZ is it anyway? Political chicanery as clean air zone set to expand to outer London

That by-election in north-west London last year was triggered by the resignation of Boris Johnson, who during his time at City Hall from 2008 to 2016 oversaw the introduction of the city’s cycle hire scheme (initially proposed by the Liberal Democrats and set in motion by Labour’s Ken Livingstone) and also launched the initial wave of Cycle Superhighways, the original lick-of-blue-paint design superseded by high-quality physically protected infrastructure following the appointment of Andrew Gilligan as the capital’s first cycling commissioner.

Johnson, who during his time as Mayor was regularly spotted riding his bike to and from appointments across London, was widely seen as a politician who ‘got’ cycling and understood how it and active travel could help transform our cities – something he would follow up on once Prime Minister, with cycling and walking put at the centre of plans to recover from the impact of the coronavirus, and councils across England invited to apply for funding for LTNs and temporary cycle lanes.

Under Khan and his active travel commissioner, Will Norman, London’s cycling infrastructure has continued to expand although perhaps not at the pace campaigners would want to see – partly due to the funding crisis at Transport for London brought about by COVID-19, although notable achievements include the completion of Cycleway 4 from Tower Bridge to Greenwich and Cycleway 9 from Olympia to Kew Bridge, and which is currently being expanded to Brentford.

That latter route would of course benefit from a protected stretch running along Kensington High Street to link with Cycleway 9 at Hyde Park, thereby creating a safe cycling route across the capital from east to west – but the Conservative-run Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea has refused to allow such permanent infrastructure on the road, and a temporary cycle lane installed in late 2020 was ripped out after a matter of weeks.

> Campaigners lose High Court case against council over “premature” cycle lane removal

And other policies aside – this piece is after all focused on active travel – that’s a hint of what Londoners will get should Hall win tomorrow’s election.

Cycle lanes torn out. LTNs removed. 20mph speed limits on main roads dispensed with. The ULEZ expansion scrapped.

Some, to be sure, would find cause for celebration in all of that – but for most inhabitants of the city, it would be very much to their detriment.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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43 comments

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Bill H replied to Rendel Harris | 2 months ago
5 likes

Probably the second worst, since at least Susan Hall has worked out where the electorate live. Shaun Bailey, previous Tory mayoral candidate, campaigned in places like Brentwood Essex where no one had a vote!

 

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OldRidgeback replied to Rendel Harris | 2 months ago
4 likes

She's a terrible candidate for sure. But you should have a look at some of the other random collection of nutcases standing for mayor. My sons are thinking of voting green but I keep telling them that anything but a vote for Khan could enable the Tories.

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Bill H replied to OldRidgeback | 2 months ago
6 likes

That's why changing the voting system on the fly has pissed me off. I don't want the current mayor but I dare not vote for my preferred candidate for fear that Susan Hall might sneak in.

I would like to see any new national administration switch the system back from FPTP but I'm not holding my breath.

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Eton Rifle replied to Bill H | 2 months ago
3 likes

Typical bastard Tories. Unable to win an election under the current system? Simply change the system to favour your own party. #ToryScum

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LordSandwich replied to Eton Rifle | 2 months ago
1 like

They're doing their damdest to try and rig the election, and they're still going to lose! 😂

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ktache replied to OldRidgeback | 2 months ago
3 likes

The madman Fox failed to fill in the form correctly...

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hawkinspeter | 2 months ago
8 likes

The Tories remind me of a death cult. They're just looking for more and more ways to get people killed.

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 2 months ago
3 likes

Could be a winning strategy if they can preferentially kill off those unlikely to vote for them - or to fund their party?

Fortunately since - as we hear - "cyclists are running the place" and there's a war on the motorist - that could never happen.  The immense active travel lobby and the vast wealth of the entrenched "live lightly and locally" industries will ensure politicians can never be swayed from an overarching commitment to public safety above private profit or personal driving convenience.

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hawkinspeter replied to chrisonabike | 2 months ago
6 likes

chrisonabike wrote:

Could be a winning strategy if they can preferentially kill off those unlikely to vote for them - or to fund their party?

Fortunately since - as we hear - "cyclists are running the place" and there's a war on the motorist that could never happen.  The immense active travel lobby and the vast wealth of the entrenched "live a lightly and locally" industries will ensure politicians can never be swayed from an overarching commitment to public safety.

That's why I was confused about their COVID strategy of discharging patients into care homes - Tory voters tend to be the older folk.

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 2 months ago
8 likes

Indeed - but costly folk*.  Perhaps they also were concerned that those who were really frail wouldn't actually get to the polls, or would forget which colour to put an x by?

* Some will have been on a state pension for a long time.  Plus obviously they need lots of expensive medical and social support which often the state ends up paying for.  And our young people aren't keen to do that especially for rather low pay, so we have to get immigrants in to do it, which many of the voters don't like...

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hawkinspeter replied to chrisonabike | 2 months ago
7 likes

chrisonabike wrote:

Indeed - but costly folk*.  Perhaps they also were concerned that those who were really frail wouldn't actually get to the polls, or would forget which colour to put an x by?

* Some will have been on a state pension for a long time.  Plus obviously they need lots of expensive medical and social support which often the state ends up paying for.  And our young people aren't keen to do that especially for rather low pay, so we have to get immigrants in to do it, which many of the voters don't like...

So, more of a balance-sheet-death-cult then? Once your balance sheet goes into the red with no chance of redemption, they'll be coming for you. I bet Truss would be up for that kind of late-stage captitalist dystopia.

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 2 months ago
6 likes

hawkinspeter wrote:

So, more of a balance-sheet-death-cult then? Once your balance sheet goes into the red with no chance of redemption, they'll be coming for you. I bet Truss would be up for that kind of late-stage captitalist dystopia.

Don't fear the reaper!  Fear the actuary.

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jaymack replied to chrisonabike | 2 months ago
4 likes

Always, always, always fear the actuary.

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