Knife crime and nights out: Misinformation narratives surrounding the London Mayoral Election

Knife crime and nights out: Misinformation narratives surrounding the London Mayoral Election

By: tori marland&
alexander smith&
May 1 2024

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Knife crime and nights out: Misinformation narratives surrounding the London Mayoral Election

(Source: REUTERS/Toby Melville)

London mayor Sadiq Khan heads to the polls on Thursday, May 2, seeking a third term in office, alongside 12 other candidates vying for the coveted position overseeing the U.K.'s capital city. The candidates comprise a mix of far-right figures, independents, and mainstream political parties, but it is widely believed that the election is a two-horse race between Labour's Khan and the Conservatives' Susan Hall, with Khan holding a 19-point lead over Hall as of April 19. 

Londoners face new rules at this year's ballot box. In previous elections, voters had a first and second preference – also known as a supplementary vote system – meaning candidates may not necessarily win on first preference votes. In the 2021 election, Khan picked up 40 percent of first preference votes, leading to a second round with the second leading candidate, ultimately being elected with 55 percent of the vote. 

However, this year, the mayoral election will now take place using the same system as that for general and other elections in the U.K. – first past the post (FPTP). There will be no second round, and only one vote for mayor. This, in tandem with new rules on voter ID, has led Khan himself to recognize it's going to be a tougher election this time around.  

But what are the issues and misinformation narratives at the heart of this year's vote? Logically Facts takes a closer look. 


The ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) has been a frequent target of misinformation, and Logically Facts extensively covered this last year, finding that much of the conspiratorial discussion is linked to COVID-19 narratives, misinformation about low-traffic neighborhoods (LTNs), climate lockdowns, and broader false information about 15-minute cities. Once formerly fringe online topics, ULEZ conspiracies, and resident displeasure at the scheme have transposed into real-world harm, with an elusive group damaging cameras across London. 

The ULEZ continues to be a bone of contention for almost all candidates. Many of those running for mayor this year say they would scrap ULEZ, either partly or completely, saying it makes travel around the city costly and inconveniences Londoners. Despite Khan's predecessor, Conservative politician Boris Johnson, announcing the policy in 2014, Conservative candidates have since run on anti-ULEZ platforms. Conservative MP Steve Tuckwell blamed Labour's loss in the 2023 Uxbridge and Ruislip by-election on the ULEZ, although the constituency has always voted Conservative since its inception, and Labour achieved its closest-ever result.

More recently, a Guardian and Greenpeace collaborative investigation revealed 36 anti-ULEZ Facebook groups. The closed groups were run by "Conservative party staff and activists," and some groups included prominent Conservative MPs and mayoral candidate Susan Hall. The investigation further reports that the groups "have been a forum for Islamophobic attacks on Labour's London mayor" and that "Other posts promote white supremacist slogans, antisemitic conspiracy theories and have encouraged the destruction of ULEZ enforcement cameras."

Hall did not respond to The Guardian's request for comment, but she has promised to overturn the ULEZ on day one in office. However, it is unclear whether she would have the power to do so. A recent bid by Conservative MP Gareth Johnson to reverse the expansion failed, and Hall may face the wrath of Transport for London if elected and makes good on her promises. 

In conjunction with attacks on the ULEZ, Hall has also claimed that Khan will implement a pay-per-mile (PPM) scheme, which is not the case. While he had previously considered such a policy to replace ULEZ entirely, he has categorically ruled it out, and no plans are currently being developed. Labour has written to the Crown Prosecution Service over a Conservative attack advert stating that PPM will be introduced if Khan is re-elected. 

A post on X by Susan Hall falsely claiming Sadiq Khan will charge drivers for every mile they drive in London (Source: X/Screenshot)

The ULEZ has, by all measurements, been a success, with one study showing that pollutant levels were declining faster in London than elsewhere in the U.K. The World Economic Forum (WEF) found that pollution levels had reduced by "more than a quarter," and currently, 95 percent of all vehicles are compliant with the regulations, up from 39 percent in 2017. 

Climate and environmental credentials 

Since 2016, Khan's environmental policies, particularly introducing the ULEZ in April 2019, have shown a measurable improvement in London's air quality. Following the positive environmental impact of the ULEZ, Khan plans to expand his green policies, saying, "We've made huge progress in cleaning up London's air, exceeding expectations. Now it's time to clean up our waterways too and build a plan to make rivers in London swimmable again within ten years."

However, the feasibility of the scheme has been questioned, as has the effectiveness of Khan's existing green initiatives.

Pollution in the U.K.'s waterways has been subject to criticism following the publication of data showing the high levels of raw sewage released by water companies, causing harm to wildlife and humans. The Thames was singled out as having the worst water quality in the U.K., containing high levels of the bacteria E. coli in some places. Khan's plans to make the Thames "swimmable" follows a similar initiative in Paris. Some critics, including Conservative peer Lord Moylan, state that future improvements to London waterways would be due to the opening of the Thames Tideway Tunnel, a high-capacity sewer that will commence operation in 2025, not as a result of Khan's policies.

Both Hall and Khan mention environmental improvements in their manifestos. While Hall plans to scrap the ULEZ expansion, her green policies include "[increasing] the number of electric vehicle charging points, expand tree planting and allotment maintenance, support car clubs with more parking spaces and standardized regulations, and take targeted action to reduce air pollution." 

A Greenpeace analysis of both leading candidates' green policies gave Khan a score of 23.5 and Hall a score of 7.5 out of a possible 45 points.

London's nightlife 

You might think that London, a cosmopolitan city of almost nine million people, would have no arguments about its nightlife. But it depends who you ask. One popular graphic cropping up regularly on social media – shared by local branches of the Conservative Party – claims that Khan "is destroying London's night time economy." It shares two pictures for comparison, stating "Before Khan" and "After Khan." However, the photo on the left was shared online in 2020, when Khan was mayor, and depicts New Row in London. The picture on the right was originally shared on March 13, 2024 – a Wednesday night in King Street, London, which has no pubs or nightclubs.

The owner of G-A-Y late blamed building works as one of the reasons for the closure along with safety fears and lack of policing, and Printworks – which closed due to the end of its temporary six-year licence – could reopen in 2026

A misleading X post claiming Sadiq Khan has destroyed London's night-time economy (Source: X/Screenshot)

It is true, however, that London nightlife has been dissipating at an alarming rate. Travel and listings magazine Time Out featured an unofficial survey that analyzed U.K. cities, basing its research "on several factors, including the average price of a pint, the average hotel cost, and the number of pubs and bars per 10,000 residents." It concluded that London came dead last, primarily due to the expensive nature of a night out in the capital. 

But London's flailing nightlife isn't just a recent problem: in 2018, GQ observed that "Since 2007, London has lost 40 percent of its live music venues and half of its nightclubs" and also points to new legislation introduced in 2014 – before Khan took up his post – that holds venues responsible for crime, forcing nightlife to become more restrictive. 

But what are the candidates planning to do about it? Since Khan's tenure, London has had a "night czar" in Amy Lamé, a role which has attracted ire over her salary, her "globetrotting," and what is seen as a poor track record in protecting London's nightlife. Lamé defended her role, suggesting that people are cutting back due to the cost of living crisis gripping the U.K., and the ongoing recovery following both Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Khan's manifesto claims he will "create a new London Nightlife Fund, and convening a London Nightlife Taskforce that will examine and address the issues facing our city's night-time hospitality and culture." His main rival, Hall, who has repeatedly criticized the night czar, says she is "undecided" whether she would retain the post if elected. Her pledges to improve London's nightlife include extending the night tube and making streets safer

Policing and crime  

Posts from Susan Hall and Brian Rose stating that violent crime has increased in London, though other areas have seen sharper rises (Source: X/Screenshot)

The much-criticized and beleaguered London Metropolitan Police has also come under attack and scrutiny by proxy of its connection with the London mayor, who "was given a direct mandate for policing in London in 2011, as part of the Police and Social Responsibility Act. As such, the Mayor is responsible for setting the strategic direction of policing in London through the Police and Crime Plan." 

Many point to what they see as a rising crime epidemic in the capital, particularly knife crime, with the Conservative party coming under fire for misinformation, including a video showing New York instead of London. However, as Logically Facts recently reported, while crime has increased in London, this broadly reflects a U.K.-wide trend. Both Hall and London Real candidate Brian Rose have suggested a steep rise in knife crime since Khan became mayor, but in reality, other areas have seen sharper increases, with offenses in Wales nearly doubling over the same period. 

Rose dedicates a large section of his manifesto to crime, claiming he will put 10,000 more police officers on the streets – a far greater figure than other candidates, suggesting this is likely unfeasible – and will work towards addressing the causes of crime, including poverty. It is true poverty is a leading driver of crime, with "40% more crimes [overall] recorded in the most income-deprived areas in 2023," according to Trust for London. Meanwhile, Hall and Khan both pledge similar numbers (1,500 and 1,300, respectively) of additional police officers to help tackle crime in the city.  

Immigration and Housing

Candidates have also made misleading claims about the effectiveness of Khan's affordable housing policies in an effort to sway voters with inaccurate information.

Most of the candidates mention increasing the availability of affordable housing within London, mostly by increasing the number of homes built, with Hall prioritizing the building of homes on former industrial land known as brownfield sites. Howard Cox stated he would build on land owned by Transport for London.

Hall and Cox both criticize Sadiq Khan's progress in building affordable housing throughout his tenure as Mayor, stating that Khan has consistently overpromised and missed targets.

A post on X by Susan Hall criticising Sadiq Khan on housing (X/Screenshot)

In May 2023, Khan announced that his targets for starting new affordable housing builds had been exceeded. However, an independent review ordered by Housing Secretary Michael Gove showed in February 2024 that Khan had made just 2.8 percent progress in meeting targets. 

X (formerly Twitter) posts by Susan Hall and the Tottenham Conservatives claimed in April 2024 that Khan has in fact only achieved 4 percent of his affordable housing targets. According to data from the Greater London Authority, 874 houses were started in the last three quarters of 2023-24 to Q3 against a target of 23,900 to 27,100 starts. Analysis by London Labour shows that London boroughs run by Labour councils build more houses on average than those in Conservative-run boroughs.

Sadiq Khan's record on housing has come under attack in posts on X (X/Screenshot)

Some candidates, such as Britain First's Nick Scanlon, blame the high cost of housing in London on mass immigration. According to the BBC, Scanlon says "until the issue [of mass immigration] is properly addressed then affordable housing will remain out of reach."  

This post on X refers to the Great Replacement conspiracy theory (X/Screenshot)

In April 2024, Scanlon reposted an X post from RadioGenoa, an X account known for spreading misinformation, writing, "The reality is, areas of London described as the most ‘diverse' are in fact, by far the most homogenous. Diversity is merely code for zero or next to zero white people. #TheGreatReplacement." The Great Replacement is a conspiracy theory that claims white Europeans are being replaced by people of other nationalities.

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We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before