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‘Londoners deserve a new kind of politics’

The SDP’s Amy Gallagher on why she is challenging Sadiq Khan in the London mayoral elections.

Joanna Williams

Joanna Williams
Columnist

Topics Politics UK

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‘With Sadiq Khan as mayor of London, everything is political. Even New Year’s Eve. Londoners just want really great fireworks, not lectures about Black Lives Matter or welcoming migrants. If I was to become mayor, the only message would be “Happy New Year!”.’

Amy Gallagher, a young woman still employed as a nurse, will be challenging Khan in May’s London mayoral election. She will be standing for the SDP, the Social Democratic Party – an old party reborn that rejects both the woke left and the neoliberal right. A born-and-bred Londoner, she is refreshingly free from the ideological baggage that haunts both Labour and the Conservatives. She speaks with a frankness that is beyond professional politicians and their clipped clichés.

Gallagher might be new to politics, but she is acutely aware of the problems facing London. ‘My work means I travel across London on public transport and when I’m on shifts that can be late at night or early in the morning’, she tells me over coffee. ‘Over the past few years, I’ve begun to feel less safe. It feels like there are fewer staff around stations, and buses and Tubes are often delayed or hit by strikes. But if you are trying to get home at night, you really need that train to be there. London just doesn’t seem to be working as well as it used to do. It’s scarier, less reliable.’

Driving wouldn’t make things any easier: shift workers with older cars can end up paying the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) charges twice if their work falls either side of midnight. ‘In the SDP, we want to scrap ULEZ because it doesn’t just make it more difficult for everyone to travel, it also hits the poorest hardest’, she says. She questions whether it is even necessary: ‘Especially when you get out to the suburbs, air quality is actually better today than it was in the past… The Tube is more polluted than our streets and yet Khan doesn’t seem so keen to mention this. It ends up feeling like there is an anti-car agenda.’

Gallagher sees London’s problems as being down to the mayor’s warped priorities, rather than a lack of resources. Take policing. ‘It feels like we’ve got two-tier policing at the moment with some groups being treated a lot more leniently than others’, she argues. ‘At the protests following the death of Sarah Everard, we saw some women manhandled. At the lockdown protests, I saw an elderly woman pushed to the floor by police officers.’ But it’s a completely different story for the ‘pro-Palestine’ marches that now happen every Saturday in central London. ‘You don’t see the same heavy policing there’, she says. ‘This makes people begin to question whether the police have a political agenda.’

Gallagher wants to take the politics out of policing and concentrate on serious crime. ‘Making the streets safer would be one of my top priorities’, she says. ‘Knife crime has gone up but Sadiq Khan doesn’t seem to be able to get a grip on it.’

Gallagher’s dad was a black-cab driver and she describes herself as coming from a very working-class background. She ‘worked really hard at school’ and went on to study English at the University of Sussex. ‘I loved literature’, she tells me. But when she got to Sussex, she realised that her ‘course was not just political but extremely one-sided… I was being told what to think’. After graduation, she thought briefly about going into teaching but rejected this option because she ‘just wanted to get away from politics’.

This was the first of many similar experiences. Time and again, Gallagher found herself confronted with political agendas in institutions that were supposed to be apolitical.

This desire to get away from politics led Gallagher to train as a nurse. ‘I went into nursing because I assumed it was just helping people. I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with ideology. I’m just going to be caring for people and that will make me happy.’ For the first few years, this was indeed the case. But as time has gone on, Gallagher has noticed that ‘the ideology I tried to get away from in my degree has now crept into the NHS and even into nursing’.

This politicisation of healthcare became most obvious to Gallagher when she began training in forensic psychology in September 2020. The course was at London’s Tavistock clinic, notorious for its now discredited work with children struggling with their ‘gender identity’.

But it wasn’t the Tavistock’s embrace of gender ideology that initially raised Gallagher’s hackles. It quickly became clear that she and her colleagues were all expected to go along with critical race theory. They were made to attend lectures on ‘whiteness’ and ‘white privilege’. Lecturers told her that ‘whites don’t understand the world’ and that ‘Christianity is racist because it’s European’. ‘I pointed out that not everyone thinks this way and that, crucially, our patients might not think this way. They might even find it offensive’, she tells me. ‘I didn’t think that was unreasonable.’

What followed changed the course of her life. ‘I got called into a meeting straight away and the instructors told me that I had spoken inappropriately. It felt like they were accusing me of being racist’, Gallagher recalls. She told them that she took a colourblind approach to people and her work – treating everyone the same, regardless of their skin colour. But the higher-ups insisted that this was discriminatory. ‘They weren’t saying, “You can have your view and we can have ours”. They were saying I was wrong. They kept on pushing it until eventually I submitted a complaint.’

Gallagher’s complaint was investigated, but her superiors concluded that more ‘anti-racism’ training was the answer. ‘They wanted to have more policies about interrogating whiteness. From that point onwards, I felt like a marked woman at the Tavistock.’ They accused Gallagher of being ‘traumatising’. They wrote to the Nursing and Midwifery Council to complain about her, but it defended her right to hold a different opinion. Nevertheless, she says she was ‘bullied and harassed until I left the course’. ‘This was one of the most stressful times of my life.’

In 2022, Gallagher initiated a lawsuit against the Tavistock, alleging discrimination on the basis of race, religion and philosophical belief, as well as victimisation and harassment. The case, the first of its kind in the UK against critical race theory, is expected to come to court next year. The need to raise money for legal fees forced Gallagher to go public with her story. There was press coverage and podcast appearances. This led to her receiving lots of supportive emails, many of them from fellow health professionals. ‘That was amazing’, she tells me. ‘But it also made me question why I was the one having to make a stand. It’s really stressful to go through a lawsuit and I don’t have much money.’ For the first time, Gallagher found herself in the public eye and she began to think again about politics.

‘The whole experience made me wonder why ordinary people have to go through this and bring about their own individual challenges when there are people in power who should be doing more to stop gender ideology and critical race theory coming into institutions… It seemed to me that we needed political change and I became more interested in finding out who was fighting back against these ideas. I started reading around the subject. But the more I did, the more disillusioned I became with both Labour and the Conservatives.’

It was at this point that Gallagher came across the SDP. She met the SDP’s leader, William Clouston, at an event. ‘It was just really refreshing to speak to someone who was against the woke stuff I’ve been challenging, but also seemed to understand the importance of economic issues to people from working-class communities like the one I’m from’, she says. ‘I felt that this balance, between being culturally conservative but economically on the left, aligned with my outlook.’

Our conversation steers back to the London mayoral campaign, and it becomes clear how much Gallagher’s experience at the Tavistock has shaped her political outlook. ‘We would aim to defund woke projects as much as possible, especially money that’s meant for policing or transport and ends up getting spent on virtue-signalling’, she says.

This is about more than just freeing up cash. Khan’s so-called inclusivity, Gallagher tells me, ‘makes London feel more divided and more hostile if you don’t share the views being promoted. It’s so important to have some areas of life that are not political, where we can just come together and let our guard down.’

Gallagher is upbeat about the prospects for politics going forward:

‘It feels like an exciting time to be involved in politics. So many people have lost faith in the two main parties and it will be good to see the growth of new parties like the SDP. I think more people really want a new kind of politics. I think we just have to be a bit bolder and pin our colours to the mast a little bit more.’

When it comes to bravery, Amy leads the way. With her moral clarity, London would be a city transformed.

Joanna Williams is a spiked columnist and author of How Woke Won, which you can order here.

Picture by: www.badlawproject.com.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK

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