Shaun Bailey is a member of the London Assembly and the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.
For better or for worse, the place you grow up in shapes the kind of person you become. When I look back on my childhood years, spent in a council house in Ladbroke Grove, I can see that the very best and the very worst of London were right there on my doorstep. And I can see how that shaped me and my friends.
At the time, Ladbroke Grove was a working-class community with a big racial mix. Between Moroccans and Poles, Irish and Nigerians, we looked like a Dulux colour palette of races; but there was very little racial tension. We were a real community, friendly with neighbours, helpful to those in need. There’s no doubt that these were some of the best aspects of London: multiracial, inclusive and welcoming.
But things changed as I got older. I don’t really know why. Maybe I just started to notice the other side of things. But whatever it was, crime and drugs became real problems. Gangs formed and started feuding. Houses were broken into. Cars were stolen. Friends got caught up in dealing.
This was the worst of London. Kids who couldn’t see a way up or a way out. Parents struggling to make ends meet. An area that was being left behind, forced to deal with problems by itself. Physically, we were only two and a half miles from South Kensington; but our realities were separated by much more than distance. And this is something we still see today in London.
It’s a reminder that one of London’s strengths is our diversity, the people of all backgrounds and nationalities who call this city home. But one of London’s biggest problems is rising crime on our streets. And we all know what crime does. It leaves innocent victims frightened, it drives communities apart, and it wastes the potential of every kid who gets caught in the vicious cycle.
I’ve seen it with my own eyes. At least twelve of my immediate peer group ended up in prison. And I’m pretty sure those kids would never have turned to crime if they’d grown up in better circumstances. So I was lucky to have my mum around. She kept me busy and on the right path. And she helped me to see that those kids often had the same potential I had: they just didn’t have anyone to help them make the most of it.
That’s why I decided to become a youth worker. I wanted to help bring out the potential of young people from areas like mine. When I ask myself how Ladbroke Grove shaped me, I can honestly say that the place where I grew up inspired me to do good. But more often than not, growing up in an area full of crime leads to a life full of crime.
So we need to do better. We need to build a city that’s safer, fairer, and more affordable. A city that our children deserve to inherit. But that means we need a Mayor who will deliver it. And it’s clear that Sadiq Khan won’t. Knife crime has reached historic highs. Good homes are unaffordable. Transport is overcrowded. The cost of living keeps rising. And Sadiq Khan blames everyone but himself. In fact, the only policies he’s announced in the last few months are an increased congestion charge, a plan to defund the police by £110 million, and a commission to decide which statues to tear down.
I can’t see how any of these proposals will help to build a better city. The congestion charge increase makes life more expensive for everyone: from businesses who need to get around to families who are now taxed for going to church. The plan to defund London’s police will make officers’ jobs that much harder — if they even manage to survive the cuts.
And it’s more obvious than ever that Sadiq Khan’s statue commission is a big mistake. During Black History Month, we should remember to think about the future as well as the past. And the future looks difficult for too many black Londoners. Young black men in London are half as likely to be employed as young white men. There are more FTSE 100 CEOs called Steve than CEOs who are black. How will tearing down statues fix these problems?
Our responsibility is to build a better future, not destroy our past. And that will be my priority as Mayor. Hiring 8,000 more police to make our streets safer. Working with the Met to improve relations between officers and the communities they serve. Reversing Sadiq Khan’s congestion charge hike on day one. And introducing a mentoring programme for Londoners from deprived communities, so they get expert advice on how to achieve their goals.
The only thing standing in the way is Sadiq Khan. So next May, I’m counting on ConHome readers get out and vote for the city they know Londoners deserve. Together, we can build a safer, fairer and more affordable city. Together, we can shorten the journey from Ladbroke Grove to South Kensington.