New Years’ Fireworks Display

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 8th February 2021.

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Photo of Peter Whittle Peter Whittle Brexit Alliance

Is the Mayor happy with the public’s response to his New Yearsfireworks display?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I am incredibly pleased with the public’s heartfelt response to the New Year’s fireworks, drone and laser display. 2020 was one of the most challenging years in living memory for both our city and the country as a whole. I am very pleased that whilst we could not gather together as we usually would to welcome in the new year, we were able to help the public unite from the comfort of their own homes through this spectacular show. The eyes of the world turned to landmarks across our capital to reflect on the defining moments of 2020 and look in hope to the new year. This included paying tribute to our NHS heroes, who continue to work tirelessly to save lives, and heroes like Captain [Sir] Tom Moore, who lifted our spirits and helped to raise millions of pounds for the NHS.

It also included recognising the importance and impact of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement on millions of people’s lives. Racism continues to affect the lives of many Londoners and we have all seen this year how COVID disproportionately impacted people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities. I am glad we could show that London always stands together against racism.

There were a record-breaking 19 million views of the show live, with more than 39 million views overall. The public’s reaction, whether from London, from across the country or from around the world, has been overwhelmingly positive. Londoners have always stood together in the face of adversity. I was very pleased that we could reflect how this spirit carried on through 2020.

Photo of Peter Whittle Peter Whittle Brexit Alliance

Thank you for your answer, Mr Mayor. A belated happy new year to you, too.

Can I ask a couple of questions to begin with? Can you confirm that the amount of taxpayers’ money used on the fireworks was, as has been reported, £1.5 million?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I do not have the exact figure, but that sounds about right. I can send the Assembly Member the accurate figure once we have that in.

Photo of Peter Whittle Peter Whittle Brexit Alliance

Thank you. Also, is it correct that you had final sign-off on the display even though it was done with the BBC?

Photo of Peter Whittle Peter Whittle Brexit Alliance

I see. Mr Mayor, my problem is this. A lot of people tuned into the fireworks, like I did, only to be terribly disappointed by the politicisation of what should be, basically, a very uniting and harmless event, ie fireworks at the end of the year and at the beginning of the year. What happened is that they were confronted with, as you mentioned there, BLM. They were confronted with the very recognisable symbol now of the BLM movement.

Mr Mayor, this movement believes in defunding the police. It believes in deconstructing the family, history and capitalism. Why did you celebrate it?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

The Assembly Member is in danger of confusing individual organisations with a movement and the causes behind the movement.

What the movement is about in this country in particular is about highlighting and fighting against the racism, inequality and discrimination that still exists particularly against black people. Over the course of the last year, one of the defining moments was the horrible killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the United States. That is what has led to a groundswell of Londoners and people across the country coming together, uniting against racism, inequality and discrimination. That is what it is about, not the other issues he has referred to.

Photo of Peter Whittle Peter Whittle Brexit Alliance

Mr Mayor, that is disingenuous of you. The BLM movement, as it was celebrated with that fist in the middle of a fireworks display, has very particular aims which they are very clear about. They are not resiling from them. They are very clear about them. I am surprised that certainly, for example, as the chief policeman in London, you would agree or celebrate a group that believes the police should be defunded.

Can I ask you this? When you worked out the display, did you know that BLM had in October [2020] already applied to become a political party?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Again, he is in danger of conflating individual organisations with the movement and the cause. I am quite clear. One of the defining moments of 2020 was the world uniting against racism, inequality and discrimination against black people all across the globe, including in London. I am not apologetic at all for being antiracist. I am not apologetic at all for being a supporter and an ally of the BLM movement.

Photo of Peter Whittle Peter Whittle Brexit Alliance

I am not surprised, Mr Mayor, but the implication that somehow or other to be antiracist you have to support the BLM movement is one that I reject. It is absolutely not true. The point is that this movement has applied and is still being considered to be a party and so you could end up facing them in the forthcoming election.

Can I say also one thing? You talked about the images you used in this display. No display should have images that basically divide people, anyway, but one of the most important images of last year was the desecrated statute of [Sir Winston] Churchill. It was everywhere. It happened during a BLM demonstration.

Photo of Navin Shah Navin Shah Labour

Can you ask your question, please?

Photo of Peter Whittle Peter Whittle Brexit Alliance

Mr Mayor, do you think it might have been a more healing thing to have had an image, for example, of that statue but not desecrated?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I agree that the statue of Churchill is really important and it is really important that it is not desecrated. It is really important that there is not graffiti or vandalism taking place of Winston Churchill’s - or others’ - statue. He was our great wartime leader. He was the leader of our country and the allies in defeating fascism across the globe. I am really proud that there is his statue in Parliament Square. It is really important that we do everything we can to protect that statue. That is why the police took the steps they did last year to protect the statue. All of us should be outspoken in our views in relation to making sure we stand up to anybody who thinks it is okay to denigrate the statute of Winston Churchill.

Photo of Peter Whittle Peter Whittle Brexit Alliance

That would have been a very good way to have maybe illustrated that point by putting it in the display instead of the BLM logo. Anyway, my time is up, Mr Mayor. Thank you.