Sadiq Khan is a worried man and can be beaten in the London Mayoral election in May 2020. So says Shaun Bailey, selected as the Conservative candidate as long ago as September 2018, but still generally regarded as the underdog.
In this interview, Bailey cheerfully admits he is indeed the underdog: “There’s no doubt about that.”
But he contends that Khan’s record, particularly on crime but also on transport and housing, is “so terrible it’s allowed us an opportunity.”
Bailey announces he will reopen all 38 police stations in London which have closed their doors to the public since Khan was elected Mayor in 2016.
He insists Khan squandered his long honeymoon as Mayor, and has at last been forced to admit that crime is the number one issue for Londoners.
The entry of Rory Stewart, once a Conservative MP and minister, into the race as an Independent does not appear to perturb Bailey, who counts on being able to mobilise large numbers of Conservative activists.
When ConHome pointed out that in parts of London Tories are thin on the ground, he replied: “Yes. But the entirety of London is where Rory’s thin on the ground.”
Bailey opposes the third runway at Heathrow, wants to set up Housing for London to build many more houses, but declined to promise to rebuild the Euston Arch, of which he had not heard.
He said that if elected Mayor, he will regard it as his “moral duty” to stand up for London against Boris Johnson, just as Johnson used to stand up for London against David Cameron.
The interview was conducted in the Union Theatre Cafe, beneath a railway arch in Southwark, and ends with Bailey’s account of how Gandhi helped to make him a Christian.
ConHome: “You’re looking perky.”
Bailey: “I suppose I’m in a perky mood because on Saturday we had what for us was a big moment of getting all the senior activists to come in and see what we have planned next.
“And you know it’s like throwing a party, you never know if anyone’s going to turn up. Well they came in their droves, they were super-constructive and really helpful, really behind the plan we’ve got going forward.
“And for all the glitz and glamour of politics, you know, can you get on ConHome, are you in The Standard…”
ConHome: “I don’t think ConHome is part of the glitz and glamour of politics. It has many solid qualities, but I think glitz…”
Bailey: “But ultimately it comes down to the activist base, and are they on your side. And Saturday was a massive demonstration that they are.
“The way I was selected was definitely the activists – to see they’re still on my side more than a year afterwards is nice, it’s gratifying, there’s a warm, cuddly feeling there.”
ConHome: “It’s a real marathon, isn’t it.”
Bailey: “I’ve had a bigger marathon than most, because they decided to select so early. But the marathon content of this has been Brexit, then Conservative leadership, then general election.”
ConHome: “So people haven’t really been focussing on the mayoral election. Also Sadiq Khan, he hasn’t somehow been commanding headlines himself.”
Bailey: “He had a very long honeymoon period, and I don’t think he used that to the best. So what he did, he pumped his profile, we all know who he is, but he didn’t deliver on anything.
“And I think people now are really beginning to hold that against him. He can’t reannounce things, because people are starting to scrutinise.”
ConHome: “But you’re still the underdog, aren’t you.”
Bailey: “There’s no doubt about that.”
ConHome: “Labour with 49 parliamentary seats in London and the Tories with 21. Losing Putney to Labour at the general election in December – obviously I’m not blaming that on you [laughter], but the conventional wisdom is that London is a Labour city and you don’t really have much of a chance.”
Bailey: “Two things I’d say about it. Let’s be clear, I’m the underdog…”
At this point a waitress asked us what we would like. Bailey ordered a cup of tea and an almond croissant.
Bailey: “So there’s no doubt, we are the underdog. But the point is, his record is so terrible it’s allowed us an opportunity. And people say London’s a Labour city, but Boris did it twice.
“If you look at Brexit, more people in London voted Leave than voted for Sadiq Khan.
“And I have a few advantages. I’ve never told anybody off for their opinion on Brexit. Your opinion is your opinion. He’s a great one for telling people off for that.
“And ultimately there’s a fight on now, and he senses that. He’s worried about it, and it’s made for a change in his behaviour. My team and myself accurately identified what most Londoners are speaking about, and that’s crime, and housing and transport.
“And more importantly we identified what they want to talk about in any of those given arenas. So we’ve been able to assault him quite clearly.
“He had an attitude of ‘Well, of course I’ll win’, and we’ve make him worry about that.”
ConHome: “How can you tell he’s worried?”
Bailey: “For instance, he’s very hard been trumpeting it’s only a two-horse race. Whereas beforehand, he wouldn’t even acknowledge our existence.”
ConHome: “It was a one-horse race.”
Bailey: “Exactly. He’s worried, and I sit in front of him regularly because I’m an Assembly Member, and he’s constantly now talking about crime, because we put it on the agenda.
“And if you remember, when he went and saw the Home Secretary, it wasn’t even on the agenda there, he didn’t even pick it up with the Home Secretary.
“He put out a survey for Londoners about what they were concerned about, and crime wasn’t even on there.”
ConHome: “Is crime your number one message?”
Bailey: “Crime is London’s number one message. From Kingston to Kilburn, Hendon to Harrow, everybody’s talking about crime, so that’s why I started to speak about it.
“We had to drag the Mayor onto this playing field that most Londoners are disappointed about.”
ConHome: “You’ve got an announcement about police stations?”
Bailey: “We’re going to reopen all of the police stations Sadiq Khan has closed. There’s no need for him to close them. There’s the money to keep them open.
“We’re in the farcical position that most of the 38 stations he’s closed to the public are still operational, but if you’ve been mugged you can’t walk in to one of them and report it.”
ConHome: “Has he saved a lot of money by shutting these front desks?”
Bailey: “No. He’s messed up City Hall’s finances so every penny for him now counts. He’s effectively saved in the region of eight million pounds.
“HIs defence has been that there was a 22 per cent reduction in reporting to police. But of course there was, because crime was going down.
“Since he’s come in, crime has gone up 40 per cent, and nobody has anywhere to report. That’s why we’re doing it.”
ConHome: “The rise in knife crime is a shameful thing. You wonder what the hell has gone wrong. What’s your answer to that?”
Bailey: “We’re going to take the tough and tender approach. So the tough end is a record number of police with money we already have in City Hall. Buying the infra-red technology so we can do stop and search on a much larger scale than we already do it.
“Backing the police politically, so they know that if they’re doing the right thing, it’s sometimes tough, I’ll back them as Mayor. I want to go back to higher police visibility.
“On the tender end, we’ll do things like a second chance fund. If you look at about a third of the people who’ve been involved in knife crime in London, it’s their second, third or fourth offence, they’ve been in and out, it’s a revolving door.
“I want to use that moment as a teachable moment, to get them into employment, into training etcetera. There’s lots of organisations that’ll do that across London. We need to fund them. so I’ll take some of the adult education budget and make a second chance fund, as long as they haven’t been involved in very serious offences.
“Often people talk to you about youth work, but I’m not up for table tennis and biscuits. I want the kind of youth work that develops young people, that gives them skills they can use in the work place.
“I’ve dealt with some of the toughest cases possible. Anything from young men who are homeless, who are in gangs, who deal drugs, down to children who just misbehave a little bit in class.”
ConHome: “You went through a period as a Cameroon moderniser, but not in this campaign?”
Bailey: “This level of government is much more practical. This is about what you can do. As Mayor of London you have £18.5 billion you can do things with.”
ConHome: “Did Sadiq Khan make a terrible mistake with Transport for London, creating a hole in its budget by cutting fares?”
Bailey: “One hundred per cent. You look at Crossrail, for instance. Crossrail is over two billion pounds over budget. And his response has been to blame the Government when he knows that TfL wholly own the project.
“He made that hole in the budget, what that meant was lay-offs, and a large part of the TfL staff that got laid off were the very people who were looking at Crossrail and whether it was going to work out.
“Ask anybody who lives on the Metropolitan Line, anybody who lives on the Bakerloo Line, the supposed extensions to the DLR, the Central Line – no new trains, all because he made a massive hole in the budget.”
ConHome: “And that was by his original fare cuts, was it?”
Bailey: “By his fare cuts, by his poor running of the whole situation.”
ConHome: “What effect does Rory Stewart’s candidacy have? Is it a two-horse race or is it a three-horse race?”
Bailey: “I remember very early on, people said, ‘Are you worried about Rory?’ Not particularly, because there’s two major things I have. The party structure, and most importantly, volunteers. I can go to a rainy night in Harrow and be accompanied by 30 volunteers.”
ConHome: “There are some bits of London though where the Tories are very thin on the ground.”
Bailey: “Yes. But the entirety of London is where Rory’s thin on the ground. Where the voluntary party have really shown they’ve got stamina is the bits of the ground where we’re thin, they’ve sent people over from where we’re strong.”
ConHome: “What about Heathrow? Are you pro or anti?”
Bailey: “I’m anti. In 2007 I believe I met with the then chief executive of Heathrow along with Greg Hands, and I was very new, and afterwards I turned to Greg and I said, ‘I know I’m new at this, but it sounds to me as if he wants £10 billion to grow his business.’
“And Greg said, ‘I think you may be right.’ I’ve always thought it was a poor idea. I think we need a different solution.”
ConHome: “Could Boris Island rise from the dead?”
Bailey: “I haven’t given that the great amount of thought it would need. But let’s just say Boris Island is on the correct side of the city.”
ConHome: “One of the things Boris Johnson did from time to time as Mayor was to defy the central Conservative Government and show he was on the side of Londoners. Now Johnson is the person you’ll have to defy in order to stick up for London.”
Bailey: “Would I stick up for London? Anybody who knows me knows I’m independent, if I’ve got something to say I’ll say it, and being the Mayor of London gives you the right, the platform, the need and the moral duty to do that.”
ConHome: “I remember Johnson as Mayor appearing on television with David Cameron and turning to him and saying, ‘You will be supporting Crossrail, won’t you?’
“Will you be playing the same trick on him? Crossrail 2, now.”
ConHome: “He might avoid public appearances with you.”
Bailey: “He might have to. Crossrail 2 is vital.”
ConHome: “What about housing? It’s so expensive that many people with children are having to move out of London.”
Bailey: “Housing in London’s been broken for probably 40 years. We’ve added two million people to our number and only 200,000 homes.
“We need a new system. So what I’m going to do is start Housing for London, in much the way that TfL does transport. It will be a City-Hall-backed, centralised developer whose sole goal is to develop the appropriate housing in appropriate numbers across London.”
ConHome: “Are we going to get some proper houses with gardens?”
Bailey: “Yes. The last time we built serious housing in this country publicly was under Harold Macmillan. This is roughly the same thing.”
ConHome: “A lot of what Macmillan built was of rather poor quality.”
Bailey: “He didn’t have modern building regs, did he. I have modern building regs that I have to comply with.”
ConHome: “The late Gavin Stamp, distinguished architectural historian, could not forgive Macmillan for knocking down the Euston Arch, an act of grotesque vandalism.
“Can we have the Euston Arch back? Personally I will definitely vote for you if you promise me the Euston Arch back.”
Bailey: “I don’t know what the Euston Arch is, I’ll have to find out.”
ConHome: “It looked like a temple, and was knocked down at Euston in December 1961, despite tremendous protests by conservationists. You’ve got to go for beauty as well as…”
Bailey: “One of the things when you grow up on estates as I have, you quickly realise the built environment is important, and the beauty of the environment means the people around it will own it. It cuts crime, it cuts vandalism as well.”
ConHome: “How important is your Christian faith to you?”
Bailey: “I’m a card carrier. For me it’s my community as well as church. One of the things conceptually that I enjoy most about this country is the right to free worship.
“You can worship who you like. I live next door to a guy from Afghanistan. My neighbour across the road is from south India. We all come together, we all celebrate each other’s festivals.
“My daughter and son particularly like Diwali because he likes fireworks in the street.
“For me it’s just part of who I am. I became a Christian about 16 years ago, as an adult, it was something I investigated.”
ConHome: “Did you have a conversion experience?”
Bailey: “No. I’ve always tried to spend my time helping people, and one of the people I admire most in history is Gandhi, and it’s interesting to hear a Hindu man speak about Jesus, and it made me think maybe I should reinvestigate, because my family are Jamaican, they’re definitely Christians.
“If a Hindu man could speak about our God in that generous way, maybe it was time I had a look.”