As Paul wrote last week, we Tories have been incredibly fortunate in the line-up for the London Mayoral candidacy. All four finalists have brought imagination, enthusiasm and a palpable love of London to the table – and not for the first time the blue shortlist compares favourably to the red equivalent, highlighting the depth of talent available in the modern Conservative Party.
Faced with Sadiq Khan as the main competitor in next year’s election, and the wider national threat of a Corbyn leadership, London Tories are gearing up to fight hard to retain control of City Hall. The General Election wasn’t a triumph for Conservatives in the capital, but the troops on the ground are battle-hardened, and I’m sure whoever wins the nomination will have their full backing.
Over the weekend, I received my electronic ballot, and mulled what to do with it. The four candidate statements presented the choice – most starkly, Zac Goldsmith’s went strongly and solely on the polling that shows his potential to win. That’s fair enough – politicians who shun their own strengths are foolish, and Conservatives don’t indulge in the Corbynista’s misguided dismissal of the value of winning.
But I don’t share the opinion, which headlines that same statement, that “only one candidate can beat Labour’s Sadiq Khan in London”. Zac could certainly beat him, but his ability to do so does not preclude others from being able to do so, too. We should obviously seek to select a winner, but we are in the fortunate position of having a strong platform of would-be mayoral candidates – so we should seek to pick a winner who would be the best possible Mayor, too.
For me, that person is Syed Kamall.
Can he win? Of course he can. He is a politician with a record of campaigning right across London, with an easy charm and an ability to connect with people of all backgrounds and from all areas. His name isn’t as well known as, say, Goldsmith’s – that’s one reason I think the Party would have helped itself and run a fairer contest had it carried out this candidate selection in 2013 or 2014 rather than now – but there is still time to change that. Sadiq Khan isn’t a celebrity candidate, and if anyone can hit the ground running it’s Kamall, a man who whenever I see him is coming from one speaking engagement or campaign day and heading to another, with a few more in the diary before the day is through. Energetic is an insufficient adjective.
He is a strong eurosceptic, a believer in the power of enterprise to unlock human potential and a supporter of liberty. His backstory is, as he would say himself as a meritocrat rather than an enthusiast for positive discrimination, less important as mood music than in the way it has informed his politics and his compassion. His life story is an illustration of Conservative values in action, but it is also a reminder that he understands the value of opportunity for all – and a guarantee that as Mayor he would seek to extend it.
We don’t agree on everything. Unlike all of the mayoral candidates, I think we should get on with a third runway as soon as possible. Part of being in a political party is accepting that a battle of ideas is the best way to do things, and that we are stronger when united by the things we have in common rather than divided by our disagreements on other topics.
I can accept that Syed’s view on airport expansion is different to mine – to demand total agreement in my fellow Conservatives would reduce the Conservative Party to a membership of just me - but he, too, accepts that others hold a different view. Rather than insisting on one personal preference or another, he is promising a referendum of all Londoners to decide once and for all. After decades of dithering and delay, with politicians pinned down by the crossfire from all the competing interest groups, this would finally lance the boil on London’s airport debate. He has confidence in the people – a value which is all too rare among the politicians and bureaucrats who have singly failed to resolve this crucial issue.
Next year, I will be out in all weathers knocking on doors and delivering leaflets to support the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London. I’ll do that whichever candidate might be selected – but I hope it’s Syed Kamall.