Cllr Daniel Moylan represents the Queen’s Gate Ward on Kensington and Chelsea Council.
Sadiq Khan has swept into City Hall with the bountiful good wishes of a relieved Labour Party and its broader chorus of sympathisers. There is no doubt that he and the formidable London Labour machine deserve congratulations for an effective campaign, well fought and professionally carried through.
There are, of course, elements in the Conservative firmament that are having huge fun tearing into Zac Goldsmith’s campaign. But when their soundbites have faded, those of us who have to live with a Khan Mayoralty will realise that, carping apart, they have so far offered not a single practical suggestion as to how Conservatism in London can weather the next four years.
The facts are that we hold about a third of London’s parliamentary constituencies, a third of borough council seats, fewer than 30 per cent of borough councils and only a quarter of the capital’s MEPs. In London, we poll well below what the party achieves nationally and we have relied in many ways, politically and administratively, on the comfort blanket of our hold on City Hall during Boris Johnson’s eight-year term. We will find the winds blowing very bitterly at us with that bastion now in Labour’s hands.
So here are a few practical proposals that cover just the basics.
1. In the coming reshuffle, the Prime Minister must appoint a Minister for London, ideally located in the Cabinet Office or the Treasury, with the right to attend Cabinet and all relevant Cabinet Committees. A Minister for London existed happily alongside the Mayor from 2000 to 2010, under a Labour government. The Government needs a perspective and a focus on London that is not simply that represented by Sadiq Khan’s City Hall.
2. The London Conservative organisation must be brought out of its zombie-like catalepsy. While activists worked their socks off on the ground for Zac, it is a terrible indictment that practically no-one can name the chairman of London Conservatives. Is there such a person? There should be and it should be someone who can speak for the Party in London with authority and vigour, while helping to build up the activist base and reforming a constituency association structure that in parts of the capital needs fresh blood and greater effectiveness in campaigning. The Chairman of London Conservatives should be there to power up the party politically and as a campaigning force, much as Sadiq Khan was able to do for Labour in his recent campaign.
3. London Conservative MPs need to put more heft into their informal grouping, chaired by Stephen Hammond, Wimbledon’s MP. They need in particular to forge an active link with colleagues in the boroughs, forming a political platform that can speak with one voice on London policy matters and articulate a pan-London message and a narrative that meets Londoners’ needs and matches their experience of life in the capital. Ministers who represent London seats should be as obliged to involve themselves as backbenchers. All London MPs should be measured in part by their commitment to this common effort.
4. Assembly Conservatives offered effective opposition to Livingstone but their Labour counterparts, after early efforts, rather gave up bothering to attack Boris, perhaps when they realised they were no match for him. The Liberal Democrats and Greens have been more energetic in assailing the Mayor than Labour in recent years. The new Conservative Group on the Assembly must emulate their fellows from 2000-8 and not allow themselves to think that the pattern set by Labour under Boris is the one to follow.
5. Assembly members and London MPs (and the handful of Tory peers with London experience) should also work more closely together, meeting jointly, deciding jointly on major topics to pursue, co-ordinating questions to the Mayor with questions in Parliament, sharing research.
Khan has said that you win elections by “offering something to everybody” and his campaign commitments certainly do that, many of them in direct opposition to each other. Most obviously, he has yet to explain how he can take large sums out of Transport for London’s investment budget to fund a fares freeze and still deliver to the same timetable the improvements so many hard-working Londoners are relying on.
As a boxer, he has got through life on skilful dodging and fancy footwork. If Conservatives allow that to continue unexposed, he will only be all the more formidable when he achieves the next step in Project Khan and jettisons the capital for the Westminster office of the Leader of HM Opposition.
We owe it to London and the country to keep him to account. We can only do that with clear messages, recognised voices, single-minded focus, and feet on the ground.