Ross Clark Ross Clark

Wes Streeting should be ashamed of his white supremacist Tory jibe

Wes Streeting speaks to the press as he leaves the BBC offices (Getty Images)

Over the past few years Wes Streeting has established himself as one of the more open-minded and reasonable members of the shadow cabinet. Rather than nodding along with his party’s traditional worship of the NHS, and utilising the usual, false campaigning tool of trying to claim that the Tories have some secret plan to privatise the health service, he has been frank about its weaknesses.

A tweet put out by Streeting yesterday afternoon, however, points in a rather different direction: blatant opportunism. He wrote: ‘A win for Susan Hall and the Conservatives is a win for racists, white supremacists and Islamophobes the world over. Susan Hall’s campaign has been fought from the gutter with dangerous and divisive politics.’

Hall might be described as being careless in her use of Twitter

Streeting’s comments fit the standard Labour playbook: no matter what, Conservatives are always ‘pandering to racists’ and they are forever ‘drifting to the right’ (even when lumbering us with the highest tax rates since the 1940s). But is Susan Hall – a rather dull local politician, little known outside Harrow until the mayoral campaign – really a white supremacist?

The case against her seems to be based not on anything she has said during the campaign – which has revolved around mundane issues such as Ulez – but rather on tweets she has ‘liked’ and past comments she has made about the Notting Hill Carnival. In 2020, after observing the police operation at the carnival the previous year, she said ‘I don’t think the public realise just how dangerous it can get. Astonishing that we should put our police in this position every year and the cost to the taxpayers is eye-watering.’

Two years later, she reiterated her view that the carnival should be moved from Notting Hill. She has also described it as an ‘incredible event’, but said that it had become too big for the neighbourhood in which it is held. In reaction to this, Labour MP Dawn Butler wrote to the Conservative party chairman complaining that ‘your mayoral candidate seems convinced of the innate criminality of black people and has repeatedly implied that our community has a propensity toward violence and disorder’.

As for the tweets Hall ‘liked’, one suggested that Enoch Powell should be included in a set of playing cards featuring great British Prime Ministers (which of course he never was), and another described Sadiq Khan as ‘the nipple-high mayor of Londonistan’. In response, Hall has said that she engages with the public on social media without it implying that she is necessarily endorsing their views. The evidence seems less than convincing that Hall is a member of the ‘Enoch was right’ brigade, even if her apparent approval of him perhaps deserved better explanation. There was, of course, rather more to Enoch Powell than one speech he made in 1968, even if it is the only thing that many people associate with him now.

As for the ‘nipple-high’ comments about Sadiq Khan, they are certainly rude, and a gratuitous reference to Khan’s physical appearance, but liking a tweet using those words would hardly seem any worse than Angela Rayner calling Rishi Sunak ‘pint-sized’, direct to his face in the House of Commons. Does London deserve to be called Londonistan? There are two possible interpretations of that phrase: either that London has been overtaken by Muslims, or that London has become a nerve centre of Islamism. The first would be something of an exaggeration; the second isn’t totally unreasonable. Certainly not today: look at the protests in the capital every week. It is the linking of Londonistan to Sadiq Khan which is the problem – it asserting that Khan, who is course a Muslim, has something to do with promoting Islamism. There is no evidence for this.

Hall might be described as being careless in her use of Twitter – or X as it is now known. But to portray her as some demagogue whose unlikely victory today would be welcomed by some international ring of white supremacists is as unfair to her as it is to imply Sadiq Khan is promoting Islamism. Wes Streeting has demeaned himself by making such a claim.