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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Ross Lydall

Critics warn Sadiq Khan virtual question time event will 'send damaging signal' to Londoners

A row has broken out after Londoners lost their final opportunity to question Sadiq Khan in person before the mayoral election.

A People’s Question Time (PQT) event should have been held in Richmond in front of several hundred members of the public on Thursday evening.

But the mayor is instead expected to answer questions – some of which were submitted two weeks ago - from his City Hall office after security concerns caused it to be switched to an online event.

These concerns pre-dated threats against the mayor after now-suspended Tory MP Lee Anderson claimed in a TV rant last Friday that Mr Khan had “given our capital city away” to Islamist “mates”.

This resulted in Mr Khan, who already requires police protection, being targeted by death threats at the weekend, the Standard revealed on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Mr Khan declined to confirm where he would be during the Thursday evening event for “security reasons”.

The decision not to hold Thursday’s People’s Question Time event in person was taken, against the wishes of the “vast majority” of members of the cross-party London Assembly, after “unacceptable behaviour” at the previous PQT last November.

That had been switched from a venue in Westminster to City Hall, which has airport-style security, due to the hostility faced by the mayor at a prior PQT in Ealing.

One senior member of the London Assembly said arrangements for the latest PQT had become a “farce” and expressed concerns that City Hall was becoming less accountable to Londoners.

Last November’s event was repeatedly interrupted by a small number of audience members, primarily people 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 the small sticker showed the mayor “with a pair of testicles around his neck”.

A spokesperson for the GLA said: “Unacceptable behaviour at the last PQT meeting disrupted the event and put the safety of all those attending and staffing the event at risk.

“The decision has therefore been taken to host February’s PQT online, allowing the event to go ahead safely so that Londoners can pose their questions to the mayor and assembly members.” 

Emma Best, chairman of the Greater London Authority oversight committee, last month warned Mr Khan that, while security remained paramount, holding the final PQT of his mayoral term online “would send a damaging signal to our constituents about our commitment to direct engagement”.

It is understood that the event, which starts at 7pm, will be chaired by Tory assembly member Nick Rogers sitting alone in the City Hall chamber, two floors below the mayor.

Other assembly members will tune in remotely from home. More than 1,100 people have registered to watch the webcast.

Live questions can be asked via a “chat” function but that depends on Mr Rogers spotting them and putting them to the mayor. A number of questions have already been pre-recorded, it is understood.

Mr Khan wanted the event to be chaired by a “professional compere” rather than Mr Rogers. Under City Hall protocol, the event is chaired by assembly member representing the part of London hosting the event.

Nick Arlett, from the campaign group Action Against Ulez and the War on the Motorist, said the sticker was just a “joke and a caricature”.

He told BBC London: “If you are a five-year-old you might find it offensive. There was nothing threatening about it whatsoever.”

Neil Garratt, leader of the City Hall Conservatives, said: "The mayor has used minor and unrelated incidents as a pretext to cancel People's Question Time and dodge public scrutiny.”

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