Shaun Bailey will be mayor of London. Here’s why

The next mayor of London? Shaun Bailey, speaking at the 2018 Conservative Party conference. Image: Getty.

Shaun Bailey’s campaign for the London mayoralty has not, most commentators agree, got off to a flying start. Groups he seems to have alienated, either with past remarks journalists have dug out since his candidacy was announced or with brand spanking new comments made just this week, include Muslims, Hindus (in the latter instance getting special points for conflating following Hindu religious practice and speaking the Hindi language, offending two groups for the price of one), single mothers and anyone who knows any single mothers, people who use buses, everyone in Thamesmead, and, in a spectacular flourish, all women.

Even before this month, little about Bailey’s political career was encouraging; his path from contesting a winnable seat (Hammersmith) in 2010 to contesting an unwinnable seat (Lewisham West & Penge) in 2017, via failing to be selected for any of the winnable or safe he tried out for in 2015, does not suggest a political high flier. His policy positions are reliably traditionally Tory, deeply uninspiring or both. (The most notable thing about that 2010 election loss was another peculiar story, if not exactly gaffe, concerning Bailey’s Wikipedia page.) Bailey’s campaign looks like a lost cause, and as a one time champion of The Big Society, he should know a few things about lost causes.

Nevertheless, I have every confidence that Bailey, gaffe-prone though he may be – and despite the near certainty that several other groups will have joined the list above by the time you read this – will be elected mayor of London. The reason for this is simple: it’s exactly the kind of thing that happens nowadays. Political norms have been suspended. Things that obviously can’t happen, that go against all political wisdom can and do happen, and no one believes in them even as they happen.

A friend of mine recently claimed we were living in “the banter timeline”: a version of reality where things that obviously can’t happen because they’re ridiculous, that could only happen as a joke, are now routine. The word ‘banter’ has become justifiably toxic, referring to a particularly obnoxious kind of male behaviour, and it’s a good fit for where we find ourselves. Running ridiculous campaigns and systematically alienating huge chunks of the population, whittling them off your block of potential voters in stages, isn’t enough to stop you being elected president of the United States, so why on Earth should it stop you being elected mayor of London?

Indeed, it was another London election that kicked off the ‘banter timeline’: the elevation of a gaffe-prone Conservative candidate who was largely hidden from view by his own campaign during the election, so worried were they of anyone actually seeing or hearing him. (Whatever happened to him?)


There is a lot of this about. Recently Tory MPs who support the Prime Minister and her approach to Brexit were reported to be considering triggering a vote of no confidence in her – confident that she would win, because, under the party’s byzantine leadership election rules, anyone else would be barred from challenging her for a year. In other words, challenging here would secure her position.

Whether that would have worked in practice, of course, is a different question, and in the end the MPs thought better of it, presumably someone tipped them off about the nature of the reality in which they live.

If there’s one thing the last few years should have taught anyone and everyone, it’s that politics cannot any longer be gamed. Witness the almost endless hilarity that ensued from Zac Goldsmith’s vanity by-election loss to Sarah Olney in 2016 where, seemingly uninformed by David Cameron’s then very recent attempt to do the same thing, he forced an unnecessary election in order to get people to endorse a decision he’d already made, and found out that, in an actual democracy, that sort of thing doesn’t work as often as it does.

This isn’t a phenomenon confined to the right, of course. Some on the Labour Left have considered getting Jeremy Corbyn to fight a reselection ballot, just to make a point about the innate fairness of compulsory re-selection. Like a pre-emptive challenge on an unpopular Prime Minister, that strikes me as something that could easily have an outcome other than that its advocates expect. (And yes, I am acquainted with North London Labour Party members, as it happens.)

Many years ago a then flatmate of mine, a Labour voter and sometime member, admitted he had voted for a Liberal Democrat council candidate, who also happened to be our landlord, “for larks”. The joke was that said candidate, standing in a solidly Labour ward, didn’t want to be a councillor, and had just been pushed into being a paper candidate by his local party. He hadn’t even campaigned. His election would have annoyed him sufficiently that it would have been, briefly, hilarious.

These days, he’d end up Prime Minister. Assuming Shaun Bailey doesn’t get there first.

 
 
 
 

How US planners experimented with “the iron hand of power” over colonial Manila

Manila in ruins, 1945. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1904, Manila must have appeared to its new overlords a despairing prospect. Racked with poverty and disease, it was still recovering from years of war, epidemic and a fire that had left 8,000 homeless.

For architect Daniel Burnham, it was an opportunity to put to work the radical ideas he had dreamed of in America.

He was among those asking how America’s unprecedented wealth at the turn of the century could be reconciled with the lives of the country’s poorest. Like many, he admired the ideas of harmonised city-planning articulated in Edward Bellamy’s bestselling science-fiction Looking Backward (1888).

At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Burnham constructed the “White City”. Built across 686 acres of parkland, boulevards, gardens and neoclassical structures rendered a spray-painted plaster vision of the future – all laid out to one comprehensive plan.

It was impressive – but implementing grand designs where people actually lived meant laborious negotiations with citizens, businessmen and politicians.

Instead, opportunity lay in America’s new overseas territories. As Daniel Immerwahr describes in How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States, “They functioned as laboratories, spaces for bold experimentation where ideas could be tried with practically no resistance, oversight, or consequences.”

An architect’s dream

The US had gone to war with Spain in 1898, taking advantage of an empire-wide insurrection. It ended up controlling the entire Philippines, along with Guam and Puerto Rico.

As a “territory”, the Philippines existed outside the protections of the constitution. Congress could impose any law, proclaimed the attorney general in 1901, “without asking the consent of the inhabitants, even against their consent and against their protest, as it has frequently done.”

Which is how Burnham, upon invitation by the Philippine’s new rulers, came to wield what the Architectural Record called “the iron hand of power” over Manila.

 Burnham’s plan for Manila. Click to expand.

Where Burnham’s Chicago plan was complex, took years and entailed collaboration with hundreds of citizens, Burnham spent six months on the Manila plan, and just six weeks in the Philippines. And with no voters to persuade, there seemed little reason to register Filipino input in his designs.

In 1905 Burnham submitted his Report on Improvement of Manila. It described filling the toxic moat of the Spanish fortress Intramuros and developing a rectangular street system modelled on Washington D.C., with diagonal arteries which even Chicago lacked.


Central to his plan was the city’s beautification through monumental buildings, waterfront improvements, and parks – “wholesome resorts” to “give proper means of recreation to every quarter of the city”

Burnham charged William E. Parsons as the omnipotent “Consultant Architect” to interpret his plan, who relished its authority over all public building as an “architect’s dream”. When concerned with the extent of his purview, he also chose to standardise a number of public buildings.

“I doubt if this method would bear fruit in our own city improvement plans, in which everything depends on slow moving legislative bodies,” reported the Architectural Record’s correspondent.

Despite Burnham’s colonial sentiments his biographer concluded his plan was “remarkable in its simplicity and its cognizance of Philippine conditions and traditions.”

His plans did not shy from asserting the colonial government’s authority, however. The Luneta, a favourite park, was to become the nuclei of government. The city’s avenues would converge there, for “every section of the Capitol City should look with deference toward the symbol of the Nation’s power.”

Unusual monumental possibilities

Burnham also worked on a summer palace for US administrators at Baguio, 150 miles north in the mountains. On land inhabited by Igorot people, Burnham saw an opening “to formulate my plans untrammelled by any but natural conditions”.

Baguio’s “unusual monumental possibilities” were facilitated by a road whose construction employed thousands, risking death from disease and falling off cliffs. Civic buildings would “dominate everything in sight” and a golf course would rival those of Scotland.

“Stingy towards the people and lavish towards itself,” griped La Vanguardia, the government “has no scruples nor remorse about wasting money which is not its own.”

As enthusiasm for US empire soured in the States, local power was relinquished to Filipinos. Parsons resigned in protest in 1914. He was replaced by Manila-born Juan Arellano, whose rebuke to imperialists was the mighty, neoclassical Legislative Building which hosted the elected Philippine Legislature. Arellano upheld Burnham’s plan, producing a beautified city bearing resemblance to Burnham’s White City.

But the Legislative Building, along with Burnham’s great edifices and almost everything else in Manila, was levelled as US troops recaptured it in 1945, this time ousting the Japanese in a brutal battle. “Block after bloody block was slowly mashed into an unrecognizable pulp”, recorded the 37th Infantry Division as they exercised their own “iron hand” over Manila.

American artillery had transformed Manila into ruins. “It was by far the most destructive event ever to take place on US soil,” writes Immerwahr, even if few soldiers realised they were liberating US nationals at the time. Burnham’s expansive vision was lost in the debris, and though some buildings were rebuilt a majority were replaced. Today, Manila’s pre-war architecture is remembered with fondness and nostalgia.