Tom Hunt was a European Parliamentary candidate for East of England in 2014 and is a local councillor from East Cambridgeshire.
In a week when Labour is quite rightly being pilloried for the paucity of talent on display in its Leadership and London Mayoral selections, the Conservatives can perhaps afford themselves a pat on the back at the serious field of candidates emerging to seek the unenviable task of succeeding Boris as London Mayor.
Zac Goldsmith announced today, and the likes of Stephen Greenhalgh, Andrew Boff and Ivan Massow are people of substance. But the news that London MEP and Leader of the ECR in Brussels, Syed Kamall, is to run offers a new and exciting dimension.
As many readers may remember I wrote a piece in March suggesting that he would be a strong candidate. At the time I had heard rumours that he was considering running but had heard nothing concrete.
I am delighted that this has now changed and it was a pleasure to read last Friday’s Evening Standard.
I don’t want to simply repeat my call to arms, but instead to talk more about the political strategy that I think we ought to follow in London over the next year, and how the candidate we choose to be Mayor will feed into this.
The one thing Labour won’t have seen coming is a grammar school boy from Edmonton whose father came to England in the 1950s to drive a London bus.
Arch-sceptic MEP Dan Hannan once described Kamall “as the last person Labour can have wanted to lead the Conservatives into the Euro-election”. And he’s probably the last person Labour would want to see contest the London Mayoralty either.
Quite simply, much of their class-based, politics of envy narrative simply wouldn’t work.
It will be a challenge though. We are the Party in power and we will have to make a number of tough but necessary decisions over the next year. What is more, even though the General Election was by and large a success story for the Conservative Party, the results in London, particularly the results in seats where our main challenger was the Labour Party, were not so good.
The view that the Conservatives need one strategy for the UK, and a separate strategy for the capital, has some truth to it.
A significant reason why, for much of the past few years, Labour’s lead over the Tories in London polls has stretched to double digits is because two groups of people are represented far more in London than in the rest of the UK: the young, and ethnic minorities.
Unfortunately for the Conservatives in London, they don’t have a track record of voting Tory in vast numbers even when their socio-economic position suggests they might be likely to do so.
Clearly, if the Conservative Party is going to turn around its fortunes in London relative to Labour, it needs to confront its electoral problems with these two groups.
The problem is not going to go away. According to a recent report by Middlesex University, between 2008 and 2011 the percentage of the population of Inner London that is defined as “BME” rose from 45.7 per cent to 61.6 per cent. In outer London it went from 37.3 per cent to 50.8 per cent.
Who knows, four years after the last census, where the figure currently lies?
The report analyses census figures to show that there are ten different communities within that “BME” population of more than 125,000 people each. Understanding that the term “BME” is dramatically over-simplistic is key to meeting the electoral challenge.
The party will need to fight this election with a multitude of objectives in mind. One is, of course, winning the Mayoralty.
Another is ensuring we have a candidate who can broaden our support to reverse a trend of decline north of the river, particularly in the east of the city.
Elsewhere, Ealing & Hillingdon (currently held by Labour at GLA level) and Croydon & Sutton (held by the Conservative Steve O’Connell at GLA level) play host to both marginal GLA seats and Parliamentary seats.
As much as anything else, a key feature of this Mayoral campaign needs to be in ensuring that an effective “BME” strategy is at its very heart, both to hold on to the vital GLA members who have done some fantastic work under the leadership of Andrew Boff as well as winning the Mayoral election, and leaving a positive legacy to sow the seeds for a Conservative revival in the capital in 2020.
What’s more, it may also provide an adaptable blue print for other city seats where the party currently struggles.
The strategy we run between now and the Mayoral election next May will be of profound importance to our long-term fortunes in London, and clearly the candidate we choose feeds into, and will on occasion inform, that strategy.
Which voters do we go after? Which issues do we focus on? Where do we focus our campaign resources? These are the questions that London Conservatives ought to be asking themselves when they select their candidate.
The election also needs to be about challenging some of the engrained perceptions Londoners have of the Conservative Party and what we stand for and who we represent.
To do that, we will need to borrow the Rob Halfon and Syed Kamall textbook: championing the issues of the Left but offering solutions from the Right.
The work Syed has done on community-led, non-governmental solutions to poverty is a case in point, and the campaign needs to reflect the fact that although London is liberal in its outlook, it is not ‘big state’.
We must keep this in mind and stand true to the core Conservative belief that “It is not where you come from but where you are going” that matters.
This is a message that will resonate strongly with all Londoners, and will immediately grab the attention of its young and ethnically diverse population.
However, it is no good just saying this over and over again, at election after election, as the same voters shun our Party. We need to really mean it. To do this we need both the right candidate and the right strategy.