As I noted on Monday the race to be the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London is this week cranking up to full gear. So far the contest – between Shaun Bailey, Andrew Boff and Joy Morrissey – has been thoroughly positive and reflects well on Conservatives in the capital. It’s a welcome contrast when we are surrounded by so much comment about how toxic politics has become.
My own hunch is that Bailey is the front runner. A straw poll after a hustings in Orpington put him ahead – albeit in a small sample. Party high-ups would probably be pleased if he is the candidate – on the basis that he would be an upbeat and articulate performer in the media. So that would be an encouragement to Party loyalists. In the LBC debate Bailey was more reticent about criticising the Government than Boff was. On the other hand Bailey is not some CCHQ stooge. He often applies his personal experience when asked about such matters as defeating crime, improving youth opportunities, and improving the availability of housing.
Also Bailey has scored a bit of hit with the Evening Standard. He wrote an article for them which they reported on their front page suggesting some lessons from New York in fighting crime. Is that a sign of George Osborne’s favour? Neither Boff or Morrissey have been given equivalent prominence.
Generally newspapers do not have the clout they once did. Ken Livingstone blamed the Evening Standard for his defeat in 2008 – a claim that was probably exaggerated but the newspaper certainly challenged quite a lot of dubious practice which had been taking place at City Hall at that time. In some ways the Standard is more important now as it is a free paper and its circulation is around 900,000.
Boff has the advantage and disadvantage of having been round the block a few times. When the post of Mayor of London was created in 1999 he was shortlisted for the Conservative nomination alongside Jeffrey Archer and Steve Norris. So there is a stigma about having been rejected previously. But there is also the benefit of experience. From 1990 to 1992 he was Leader of Hillingdon Council and has been on the London Assembly for the last decade. He is confident and knowledgeable on the issues and prepared to take a controversial stance should he feel justified in doing so – notably backing the legalisation of cannabis.
By contrast Morrissey is the youngest candidate. She is an American immigrant who speaks Albanian and Chinese. Which paradoxically makes her a typical modern Londoner. She has worked at the Centre for Social Justice which provides some encouragement of a solid grounding in policy.
Factionalism has not really figured in the contest. All three candidates are Brexiteers but that is not central to the debate. In terms of endorsements there is a pretty broad spread. For instance Morrissey has the backing of Andrew Rosindell and Andrea Leadsom – but also of staunch Remainers such as Justine Greening and Stephen Hammond.
Bailey has tweeted a picture of over a hundred Conservative councillors in London who are supporting him.
So the London Conservatives are fortunate to have three credible candidates to choose from who have been campaigning and debating together in an intelligent and good humoured manner. I just wish the media were given more encouragement to report on it. Journalists are not being let into the official hustings – that is a mistake. It is also a missed opportunity that they are not been made available on YouTube. The Bible says:
“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
For the Conservative to win in London that is the approach that is needed. Open, self-confident and outward looking. A healthy and constructive discussion is taking place in the Party across the capital at the moment – we need to do everything possible to welcome Londoners to have a look at what is happening and to join in.