Tories threaten boycott of London Evening Standard over ‘malicious’ photo of mayoral candidate

Top Tories have threatened to pull the London Evening Standard‘s access from future events in a spat over a front-page photo of the party’s mayoral candidate, Susan Hall.

Ms Hall, a London Assembly member and Liz Truss ally who has previously expressed sympathies for Donald Trump, was picked on Wednesday to challenge Labour’s Sadiq Khan in next year’s mayoral election.

She won 57 per cent of the vote in the internal Tory battle against Mozammel Hossain, a criminal barrister who was largely an unknown entity in the party – after a scandal forced a third candidate, Daniel Korski, to withdraw from the race.

Mr Khan remains the overwhelming favourite to win a third term next May, despite a backlash in outer London boroughs over his planned expansion of the city’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez), which imposes a pollution levy on some petrol cars made before 2006 and some diesel cars made before 2016.

But top Tories reacted with anger on Wednesday after the Standard published a front-page photo of Ms Hall with her hands raised in the air, above the headline: “And the winner is?”

Tory deputy chairman Nickie Aiken said she had written to Standard editor Dylan Jones, who joined the paper last month from GQ, claiming the photo used had a “whiff of misogyny”.

In the letter, she said: “Your choice of photo of Susan Hall is a clear mockery, and it is contemptible – especially as the first female candidate for London mayor from either of the two main parties.”

She claimed that Ms Hall was “heavily encouraged to pose with her arms up in the air, despite expressing reluctance” during a photocall with photographers from the Evening Standard and Press Association.

Ms Aiken added: “It therefore appears to me that this photograph was chosen with malicious intent.”

She said that the Standard photographer “was granted special permission to attend this event” as a “goodwill gesture,” adding: “I cannot imagine that CCHQ will be willing to provide such overtures to your paper in the future, which is disappointing as they were hoping to have a good working relationship with you over the course of the long London mayoral campaign.”

Greg Hands, Chairman of the Conservative Party, added: “Nickie is right. This is extremely disappointing from the Evening Standard.”

The Standard is owned by wealthy Russian businessman Evgeny Lebedev, who was handed a life peerage by Boris Johnson in 2020. The newspaper has endorsed the Conservatives in every general election since 2010.

Ms Hall is also a Harrow borough councillor. On Wednesday, she said: “He (Sadiq Khan) goes on trips while young people get stabbed on our streets.

“He’s more interested in selling his book than he is helping Londoners with the cost of living. When things go wrong, he hires an army of spin doctors to convince you it’s actually not his fault.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

She said she did not apologise for supporting former prime minister Ms Truss’s mini-Budget, adding: “I’m a low-tax Tory which is why I supported her, things did not go as they should have done, and I accept that unreservedly.

“I don’t apologise because I wasn’t a part of it, and I will never apologise for being a low-tax Tory because that’s what I am. The implementation of what [Ms Truss] said she was going to do was not right, and I fully accept that.”

Rishi Sunak’s press secretary said on Wednesday that Ms Hall has his “full support” – despite refusing to back all of her views.

Asked whether the Prime Minister agreed with Ms Hall’s assessment of the mini-Budget, the press secretary said: “He has made the point that unfunded tax cuts and increased borrowing would fuel inflation.

“Since he has been Prime Minister, he has taken a different approach and has done the right thing, and you can see from the statistics today that the plan is working.”

Pushed on whether Mr Sunak agreed with Ms Hall’s comparison between Donald Trump supporters storming the Capitol to Remainers refusing to accept the result of the Brexit referendum, his spokesperson said: “I don’t think the Prime Minister would characterise it in that way.”

Mr Sunak has not met Ms Hall recently but the press secretary said “I believe he has” met her in the past.

Last year, Tory London mayor candidate Susan Hall received criticism for stating at City Hall that the black community has “problems with crime”.

StopWatch, a charity which aims to address disproportionate police stop and searches, said: “Ms Hall’s myopic focus on the black population is at odds with a huge and swelling body of research proving that stop and search has no significant impact on crime and that the vast majority of stop and searches result in no further action and nothing found on the person.

“Her obsession with using stop and search to rescue young black people from a life of crime conveniently sidesteps the growing numbers of those suffering from the traumatic effects of the Met’s racist use of the tactic.

“But the over-policing and under-protection of black people across the capital is of no concern to Ms Hall, and she has nothing to say about adopting anti-harm policies targeting the real driving factors of knife violence, namely social and economic inequalities.

“Black Londoners’ faith in the police is already at its lowest ebb. Susan Hall’s approach to criminal justice will simply bury it for good.”

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