An ally of Sadiq Khan facing a re-selection battle has confirmed he will fight to keep his City Hall job, saying he is “relishing the opportunity”.
Dr Onkar Sahota, London Assembly Member (AM) for Ealing and Hillingdon, was last week told by the party that local Labour members have voted to put him forward for ‘full selection’.
It means he will have to stand against other party figures in order to stay as the party’s candidate for the west London seat in next year’s City Hall election.
Dr Sahota – currently the Assembly’s deputy chair and one of its longest-serving members – is the only Labour AM in the 11-strong group to have been ‘triggered’ for re-selection.
His support for the mayor’s Ultra low emission zone (Ulez) expansion – in a constituency where Labour suffered a parliamentary by-election defeat after a Tory campaign focused on the issue – is thought to have caused some local activists to lose confidence in him.
But in an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the AM insisted it was the right thing for Mr Khan to have done.
“The Ulez is a good policy – there are sound public health reasons [for it],” he said, though he acknowledged the argument that it places a financial burden on people at an already difficult time.
“There’s never a good time, so you need to do it. But we are mindful of the fact that this is a hard cost of living crisis… and that’s why we’ve, at an unprecedented level, put £160m to help people,” he added, referring to the mayor’s scrappage scheme.
Dr Sahota said other factors may also have influenced members’ thinking, with some potentially feeling that the role “is not a job for life”. Having now held the seat for 11 years, he said some may feel it’s time for a fresh candidate.
“We shouldn’t just look at this as a referendum on the Ulez. This is about the representation of this community, and the hard work I’ve done,” he said, highlighting his successful campaign to protect key services from closure at Ealing Hospital.
On top of his Assembly duties, Dr Sahota works two afternoons each week as a GP in Southall, the area in which he grew up and still lives.
He said he does so in order to keep his licence to practice as a doctor, but also to keep in touch with issues encountered by his patients.
“As a frontline doctor, I know the impact poor housing, poor transport, the cost of living, poor air quality and climate change has on the lives of people,” the AM said.
The ‘full selection’ process will take place over the coming days and weeks. Dr Sahota said he is “relishing the opportunity to engage with the 4,500 Labour Party members in my constituency regarding their priorities for the next mayoral term”.
Ealing and Hillingdon is the most marginal Labour-held constituency on the Assembly. In 2021, Dr Sahota won 40.8 per cent of the vote, with the Conservatives close behind on 36.9 per cent.
Until 2012, the seat had been held by Tory Richard Barnes, who was a deputy mayor during Boris Johnson’s time in City Hall.
Dr Sahota admitted: “Winning here has never been easy but we have defied the odds before. The choice the members have to make is who is the best person to beat the Tories and represent them beyond May 2024. I believe that person is me.”