Keith Prince is the London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge and former Leader of Redbridge Council.
Very sensibly, CCHQ has opened the selection process to choose the Conservative candidate for London Mayor at the 2020 mayoral election. In contrast to last time, when Zac Goldsmith was selected just 7 months before the 2016 election, our 2020 candidate will have over 19 months in which to convince Londoners that they should be sent to City Hall to improve London’s transport, help ensure the houses we need are built, cut crime, improve air quality and represent London to the rest of the UK and to the world.
Those of us already at City Hall have seen first-hand the complete and utter mess that Sadiq Khan is making of running London. In terms of transport, housing, crime prevention and improving London’s air quality he is letting down Londoners. Six months ago, I still met people who thought that our current Mayor was doing a reasonable job. Very few people try to tell me that Sadiq Khan is doing a good job today.
Selecting our Mayoral candidate creates a major opportunity that many commentators seem to have missed. Our candidate will represent the Conservative Party to Londoners in a way that a single politician rarely does. Those who canvassed in the 2008 and 2012 elections will recall that there were plenty of voters who were willing to vote for Boris who had never previously voted Conservative. He was able to reach out to voters who did not consider themselves Conservatives and helped us to win London twice. Unfortunately, it is hard to deny that we, as a Party, did not fully capitalise on that situation. Many voters were simply marked as ‘C’ on our canvassing sheets with no note that their vote was really for Boris. At the 2010 local elections, many canvassers were in for a shock when people we had down as definite Conservative based on their last known voting intention told us they would not do so.
Now, imagine if across London, proper notes had been taken on voters who were ‘Boris Johnson Conservatives’. After the election, all those voters could have received letters from Boris thanking them for their support. They could have been visited by local Conservatives primed to start their conversations by asking them about Boris’s record. They could have then been sent another letter by Boris ahead of those local elections asking them to vote for their local Conservative councillors. There could have been an active plan to convert Boris voters to Conservative voters.
The purpose of this conjecture is not to lament what didn’t happen, but to emphasise the opportunity of what could happen. Selecting the right Mayoral candidate gives us the opportunity to cut through to the public in a way that few other measures can. When we choose our candidate for London Mayor, we, as a Party, are making a huge statement about who we are. We are saying to nine million Londoners that our candidate is the representation of the Conservative Party in the Capital.
So what sort of candidate should we be seeking? We need someone who is likeable and competent, someone with experience of running a business, someone who is comfortable in the modern world and excited about the opportunities that the future holds for London. Our candidate should be willing to stand up to the Government when it gets it wrong, but avoid the pathetic blame shifting that has become the hallmark of Sadiq Khan’s approach to the Mayoralty.
The received wisdom is that London is a Labour City, but this is only half right. It is true that London has moved away from the Conservative Party over the last four or five years but there is no inevitability about this process. There is no reason why we cannot win those voters back. But a key part of that will be changing Londoners’ perception of the Conservative Party and selecting the right Mayoral candidate is our best opportunity to do that. Let’s not waste it.