Earlier this week the Financial Times ran a story entitled:
“Conservative doubts grow over candidate for London mayor”
The suggestion was that Shaun Bailey should be replaced as candidate. It added that Sajid Javid, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, had been “sounded out.” Appropriately enough for the Financial Times, the paper’s journalists had been talking to donors. The report stated:
“Some of the party’s most prominent financial backers are also sceptical of Mr Bailey’s chances and have told current co-chair Ben Elliot that he should be replaced.”
One “large Conservative donor” said:
“There is no way Shaun can beat Sadiq. He’s a nice guy but he’s barely broken 20 per cent in the polls. The year delay means we have the opportunity to reset the race.”
Another “large Conservative donor” said:
“Shaun just doesn’t have it. At every donor meeting he is wheeled out but he just fails to connect. Being a politician doesn’t seem to come naturally to him.”
The report claimed that “there is a view at Conservative party HQ that Mr Bailey was selected too soon”.
The exasperation is understandable. The Mayor of London has important responsibilities – for policing, for transport, on the housing supply. The Labour incumbent, Sadiq Khan, has failed on an epic scale on all of them. It used to be that knife crime was the most prominent. During the lockdown, the mismanagement of Transport for London has risen up the agenda. Yet Labour is so well entrenched in the capital that Khan’s position seems unassailable. In December’s General Election, the Conservatives won 21 seats out of 73 in Greater London.
A lot can change in a year. It was heroic of Boris Johnson to offer himself as a Mayoral candidate in 2007, despite all the sophisticated Party high ups patiently explaining to him that victory was impossible. The next year Johnson was triumphantly elected. But since then demographic change has made London even more difficult territory for the Conservatives. I suppose if Javid was the candidate then he could point out that Khan wasn’t the only one to be the son of a Pakistani bus driver. More seriously, he could point to his successful financial career before entering politics and his crime fighting credentials as Home Secretary. But none of that would transform the race – which Javid has the sense to realise, hence he has evidently rejected any supposed overtures.
So let’s stick with Bailey. Yes, the odds are overwhelmingly against us, but rather than moaning about that obvious problem, we should give it us best shot. But I do wish that Bailey would find his mojo. He needs to rediscover his voice as a passionate, unapologetic, independent-minded champion for Conservatism. That includes ridiculing and confronting all the virtue signalling gestures and political correctness of the current regime in City Hall. Most emphatically it does not mean “taking the knee”. Yet Bailey wrote in the Daily Mail
“Justice and policing in Britain still have a long way to go before they are perfect. That’s why it was so moving to see several police officers near Downing Street ‘take the knee’ yesterday, adopting the gesture that American footballer Colin Kaepernick created as a silent statement against racism. I want to cheer every policeman and policewoman who did that.”
Kaepernick “took the knee” during the playing of the US national anthem. The unpatriotic gesture was divisive and damaging. The vast majority of the National Football League – black and white – have not participated in it. Adapted over here the proposal seems to be that white people should do it on the logic that we share collective guilt for Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd. No. We are individually accountable for our actions. The Black Lives Matter campaign in the United States has promoted this racist doctrine of collective racial guilt (along with such extremist policies as “defund the police” and overthrow capitalism). It is thoroughly pernicious. The simple and clear response should be that all lives matter. Clusters of middle class white people on one knee might look ridiculous – especially when they combine this contrite posture with the defiance of a clenched fist, a gesture culturally appropriated from the “black power” movement. Yet the action is seriously misguided.
Of course, it does not follow that racism should be ignored. While the Conservatives are the party of law and order, the police should get no special exemption in this respect. Police officers behaving in a discriminatory way should not be accepted. It is also right to keep track of whether such matters are just problems with “one or two individuals” in an organisation or whether it is endemic. We can argue about the term “institutional racism” but certainly racism was widespread, even routine, in the Metropolitan Police around 40 years ago. That is much less so now. It is in the interests of all of us for the police to devote their efforts to catching criminals, not fitting up the innocent. Any police officer unable or unwilling to do their job effectively – whether due to prejudice, corruption, idleness, or incompetence – should be dismissed.
Bailey was on stronger form last night with a Twitter thread where he declared that the Mayor’s “hastily announced commission to tear down statues and rename roads across London is both a dangerous and divisive idea”. He says:
“London has historically been an international city, and that means we have an international history. I’m proud for example that Parliament Square hosts statues not only of British leaders, but international giants like Gandhi, Lincoln and Mandela….Communists as well as fascists destroyed historical artefacts, art and statues as their power grew. Why? Because when you control the past, you control the present. I for one, don’t feel comfortable with the Mayor of London engaging in the same behaviour. Living in a society built on history means living with the past….The answer to this issue isn’t for the Mayor to act like a dictator, seeking to erase large parts of London’s history. The answer is to build more statues, reflecting our present day values and role models….Because the alternative is mob-rule. Last weekend a mob were seeking to take down a statue of someone we can all agree was a detestable man. But what happens if next week’s mob is made up of the far-right, who decide to tear down Gandhi’s statue, or Mandela’s?…London’s black youth unemployment is 29%. Crime, which disproportionately affects poorer and diverse communities, is spiralling out of control. Public transport is bankrupt and the affordable homes the Mayor promised were never built. Real action is needed for a fairer and equal city, for everyone who lives here. That’s where the Mayor’s focus should be. Not appeasing the mob. Instead of trying to forget the past, we should be focused on the future.”
That’s more like it. We Conservatives in London must get off our knees. We should stop apologising. That doesn’t mean becoming a mouthpiece for the Government. But nor does it mean appeasing the Left by issuing unconvincing claims that we agree with whatever their latest demand might be. Socialist hegemony in our capital is a reality that will be hard to change. Selecting good candidates is important. However, more fundamental is fighting the battle of ideas – to apply our beliefs to the needs of London in a robust and coherent way. We can scarcely expect Londoners to accept the Conservative case until we start putting that case to them.