Tom Hunt was a European Parliamentary candidate for East of England in 2014 and is a local councillor from East Cambridgeshire.
Rightly, the focus of Conservative Party activists is on the general election. This is the most important and uncertain election in a generation, and will determine whether Britain continues on the road to recovery or regresses into chronic economic uncertainty under an Ed Miliband-led Labour Government.
However, shortly after it ends attention will turn to the selection of the Conservative and Labour candidates for the London mayoral election of 2016. Already, the London papers are filling up with stories covering the respective movements of people from both parties who are looking to have a crack at the mayoralty.
Policies and personal stories are being told by all of them as each tries to create momentum for their campaigns. Virtually all of the potential Labour candidates appear to be sitting politicians in London with experience of running winning political campaigns in London. Whoever they select within their Party will have strong links to activists, campaign teams, and a clear idea of the political and campaign strategy that they want to run to win.
The backdrop against which we will be contesting this election is likely to be challenging. Currently, we are trailing ten per cent ot so behind Labour in the polls in the capital, and Labour are firm favourites to win with most bookies. Moreover, we also trail amongst the young and ethnic minority voters, two groups that are overrepresented in London in comparison with the rest of the country.
Within the Conservative Party, a number of names have been banded around and discussed. My fear is that a celebrity candidate dropped in at the last minute would not command the loyalty of party workers. Moreover, the public would likely be suspicious of such a choice.
However, there’s one outstanding candidate whom no one appears to have mentioned: Syed Kamall. I have no idea whether or not he would be interested, but am genuinely surprised that London Conservatives have yet to start a ‘Draft Syed’ campaign to persuade him to throw his hat into the ring.
I am from Cambridgeshire and not a Londoner, but stood recently as an MEP candidate where I got know Syed and worked with him closely as he led the Conservative European campaign. At first hand, I can bear witness to his strong leadership, campaigning and personal skills.
Syed loves London and represents everything that is great about it. He would make an outstanding Conservative candidate for Mayor and, if elected, would be a great successor to Boris Johnson.
Syed is a conviction Conservative, has been a member of the Party since before I was born and has held a number of positions within the voluntary Party from Association Chairman to PPC. He can mobilise the activist base immediately because he knows the Party inside out: Syed has campaigned many times side by side with activists on those long cold winter nights. Let’s face it: whatever
the outcome of the May election, it is going to take quite a bit to get our supporters back up, motivated and focused on the next battle ahead. Syed can do this.
The extent to which Syed is held in the affections of London Conservative members was demonstrated clearly in the summer of 2013 when he topped the London Conservative MEP candidate list, beating two other popular London MEP’s in the process. The candidate selected by Labour will have strong links to London Labour party workers, and will be able to motivate activists all across London. Therefore it is all the more important that we select a candidate who is able to inspire the same enthusiasm and commitment.
Syed has experience in representing the whole of London and, as chairman of the European Conservatives & Reformists Group in the European Parliament, Syed is a political heavyweight.
An essential skill for the Mayor of London is an understanding of business, and this is a skill that Syed gained before going into politics. Equally important are political skills, acumen and clout. Syed has all of these qualities.
Syed currently leads the the third largest grouping in the European Parliament and he played a key role in moving it from the fourth to the third largest grouping, a shift that is particularly significant at a time when Britain’s relationship with the European Union is a key political issue. In keeping together a political grouping comprising over 70 MEP’s from over 20 different countries, Syed could not have done more to demonstrate very clearly his immense political skills and capacity to take people with him.
While there is a certain stereotype that rightly or wrongly some voters think represents Conservative politicians, it is clear that Syed in no way fits this stereotype. In mayoral campaigns the personality plays a key role in determining the outcome of an election alongside the party affiliation of the candidates. Having a good back story helps and Syed has one.
His father came over to this country from Guyana during the 1950s to start a new life as a bus driver. Syed often speaks about the influence that his father has had on him, one quote from Syed that I remember from the European campaign was: “If someone tells you, you can’t do something, if they tell you there is no point in even trying, they are exposing their own limitations not yours”.
Syed used this to illustrate just what might be achieved by Conservative attempts to achieve significant reforms, to change Britain’s relationship with the European Union and to silence doubters of our strategy.
However, this quotation also sums up why London, the great city that it is, would be proud to have the son of a bus driver as its Mayor. The quote speaks to the aspirational, it speaks to those who believe and fight for meritocracy, it speaks to those who believe that, no matter what your background is, it is where you are going that counts. This is just the group of voters that the Conservatives need to win over if we are have a hope of holding London against a strong Labour challenge.
The fact that Syed, as a Muslim, represents London’s diversity and multiculturalism will undoubtedly be an asset, he will be able to reach into parts of London seen as no-go areas for many other Conservatives. If Syed were to be the candidate, without a shadow of doubt, there would be voters who by voting for Syed as Mayor would be voting Conservative for the first time in their lives.
However, Syed’s religion is not what defines him as a politician. What I believe marks him out most is his character. At a time when the public are sick of the same old politicians trotting out the same lines in the same tone, Syed represents a refreshing change. He speaks directly to people, is plain speaking, genuine and authentic. He will appeal to Conservative and non-Conservative voters across London and, if successful, would then speak for the whole of London.
Whatever happens in May this year, the 2016 London Mayoral election will be a tough fight, but with the right candidate we can win. As a member of South East Cambridgeshire Conservative association I will not have a vote in this selection, but if I had one, I can’t think of a better candidate than Syed Kamall.