Bob Neill is MP for Bromley and Chislehurst.
Overall, we Conservatives can be proud of Boris Johnson’s record as Mayor of London. Of course our capital faces challenges, but after almost two terms we can confidently say that London is a far more open, dynamic and enterprising city than when Boris came to power.
Much of the credit for this upturn in London’s fortunes must be laid at the door of hard-working, community-minded Londoners themselves. But it would not have been possible without the enterprising approach that Boris has taken.
We need that legacy to continue for London to go on being an open, global, trading hub.
That is why I signed on yesterday to Syed Kamall’s campaign to become London Mayor, and I am incredibly proud to have been asked by Syed to become his Campaign Chairman.
Syed and I have been old pals for many years – however, I am not just supporting him through friendship or loyalty, but because I believe he is both the right man for our Party to field, and the man capable of seeing through what Boris began, and bringing the benefits of his legacy to all Londoners regardless of their background.
London has prospered under a Conservative government and a Conservative Mayor, but, as recent elections have reminded us, it is not necessarily a natural Tory city. Our candidate needs to be able to reach out beyond the traditional Conservative mould, not just when looking at electoral calculus, but also when looking at who walks and talks like a Londoner, and who understands what it is like to grow up and live a ‘normal’ London life.
Syed is all of these things. His father worked on the buses, and taught him the value of hard work. Nothing has been handed to him, apart from the message that if you work hard then you can achieve anything.
One of my favourite Conservative posters is from the 1992 election. It asks, ‘What does the Conservative party offer a working class kid from Brixton? They made him Prime Minister’. What can we offer a working class kid from Edmonton? We can make him Mayor.
Syed also has the experience. In Brussels he has fought with success to get a better deal for Britain and London, whether that’s getting stuck in on specific pieces of EU law affecting the City (where MEPs now have – like it or not – significant powers), or leading the ECR Group from one success to another, winning elections and growing this voice for EU reform. We are an international city, so we need an internationalist Mayor whose breadth and humanity means he is as comfortable talking to Jean-Claude Juncker or the King of Spain as he would be to his next-door neighbour. I’ve witnessed him talking to powerful people in the past seemingly not caring about their status but just wanting to get something done.
And European politics has a different approach to that of Westminster. In the Commons our culture is one of confrontation, but in Brussels the game is about building consensus and coalitions around ideas. If you want to get your way then you need to bring people together. In London, the same applies to the complex relationship between Mayor, Assembly and London Boroughs – as well as between Mayor and government.
Here is Syed’s greatest skill: he will not sit in an office and issue diktats. He will get out into the communities and work alongside the thousands of community groups, gang projects, youth clubs and jobs clubs. Syed believes passionately in the power of communities, and their capability to solve our problems that far exceeds the dead hand of the state. He can bring them together with the funders and partners that they need to be a success.
He has an impressive record of supporting London’s charities whether through helping them fundraise, introducing them to people who can give the right advice, or just giving a group of teenagers a talk on how if he can make it in life then so can they. He chose not to launch his Mayoral bid in a flashy conference centre, but in one of the many community-based charities that he has championed in London.
We cannot afford for the next Mayor to sit in City Hall thinking he or she has all the answers. We need a Mayor who can help our communities to solve these challenges themselves, knowing that the Mayor’s office, resources and will is backing them up.
So I will be campaigning for Syed because I want someone who can build on Boris’s pro-enterprise approach, who can represent London with humility and strength on the world stage, and who can unleash the power of London’s communities. Syed epitomises all that London and the Conservative Party are about: aspiration, enterprise and community.