The Conservative candidate for mayor of London will be chosen this summer, during a three-month campaign culminating in a selection in time for the Party’s annual conference, ConservativeHome can exclusively reveal.
The newly-agreed timetable provides for nominations in June, hustings and other campaigning during July and August, followed by a vote in September.
The decision to select sooner rather than later is both welcome and wise. Last time round, against this site’s advice, the selection process was left far too late, with Zac Goldsmith only being chosen in the September before the election itself. That hobbled his campaign (long before its other problems) and also constrained the choice available to Party members in the capital, some of whom felt compelled to vote for the candidate with the greatest name recognition because there wasn’t much time to establish a less well-known candidate in the public’s mind.
The London mayoralty is unduly shielded by the fact that the Assembly system offers little opportunity for a Leader of the Opposition to take on the role of Shadow Mayor. There are no one-on-one set-pieces like Prime Minister’s Questions, and the media do not give the office of GLA group leader the very top billing, as they know the mayoral candidate and the group leader normally aren’t the same person.
So it makes good campaigning sense to select a mayoral candidate now (or even before). Having that candidate in place will offer the grassroots, the media and the voters a clear focal point for the campaign to unseat Sadiq Khan in 2020, and the longer run-up means the selection contest doesn’t have to simply be based on each candidate’s pre-existing profile. Whoever wins the nomination, they will have time to develop their platform and to communicate their message about their plans for the mayoralty.
We’re pleased that the Party has recognised these benefits and taken up ConservativeHome’s view – we hope that it now makes the most of the opportunity to hold a broad and open contest,
On a cautionary note, the ballot in 2015 was struck by a series of problems arising from VoteSource and the Conservative Party’s decentralised membership system, resulting in a deeply unsatisfactory battle to ensure members got the democratic say they deserved. VoteSource has come on a lot in the almost three years since that mess, and I’m told that the membership data held by the central Party has also been checked more closely – but officials must bend over backwards to ensure that there is no repeat of the issues which blighted the race last time. We don’t yet know the full details of how the ballot will take place – I’m told the formal rules governing the race will be published next week.
The only question then remains: who will be in the running? No candidates are yet declared, though both the FT and City AM have recently taken a look at some of the possible runners and riders. While unseating Sadiq Khan will be no mean feat, the not-as-bad-as-feared local election results and the Labour mayor’s falling approval ratings (he has lost nine points in a year) both suggest that it is not an impossible task. That will pique the interest of familiar and perhaps unfamiliar faces. We will bring ConservativeHome readers the names of those who are putting themselves forward as soon as we learn them.