Khan stresses ‘unity’ over ‘division’ at public meeting held online amid safety fears

City Hall said that the event had been moved online due to “unacceptable behaviour” at the last session in November, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Sadiq Khan (credit LDRS/Noah Vickers)
Sadiq Khan (credit LDRS/Noah Vickers)

Khan fielded questions from Londoners on Thursday night during an online People’s Question Time session.

The event was originally planned to take place in Richmond in front of several hundred members of the public, but was moved to a virtual format due to concerns over the mayor’s safety.

Khan faced criticism from the London Assembly’s Tory chairman Andrew Boff, who said Londoners deserved the opportunity to look their mayor “in their eye”. He added that Khan was demonstrating an “evasiveness” from the public by not holding the session in person.

City Hall said that the event had been moved online due to “unacceptable behaviour” at the last session in November, which “disrupted the event and put the safety of all those attending and staffing the event at risk”.

November’s session – which was itself moved from Westminster to City Hall for security reasons – was repeatedly interrupted by a small number of audience members, primarily opposed to the Ulez expansion.

None were thrown out of the chamber, but one man was given a fixed penalty notice by police for fixing an “offensive” sticker to a City Hall window. BBC London revealed that the sticker showed Khan “with a pair of testicles around his neck”.

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The mayor used his opening remarks on Thursday to stress the importance of “unity” over “division”. He questioned why senior Conservatives had not used the word “Islamophobic” when describing comments made about him by Lee Anderson MP.

Anderson had the Tory whip suspended last week after he refused to apologise for saying Islamists had “got control” of Khan – remarks which resulted in the mayor being targeted by death threats.

More than 1,100 people were said to have registered to watch the webcast. Those who only wanted to watch rather than ask questions could view the event on YouTube, but the livestream there appeared to have fewer than 100 viewers for most of its runtime.

During a question about support for London’s businesses, Boff accused the mayor of turning London’s nightlife into “the Willy Wonka Experience”, in a reference to the disastrous family event in Glasgow which has attracted ridicule. He also claimed that night venues in the capital were closing at a rate that would “make the Blitz blush”.

Labour assembly member Leonie Cooper countered that the mayor was working to increase footfall in central London by trialling off-peak fares on Fridays, which she argued would benefit the capital’s businesses.

People’s Question Time sessions are held twice a year, with Thursday’s event being the last before the mayoral election on 2nd May.

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