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.

 
 
 
 

The tube that’s not a tube: What exactly is the Northern City line?

State of the art: a train on the Northern City Line platforms at Moorgate. Image: Haydon Etherington

You may never have used it. You may not even know that it’s there. But in zones one and two of the London Underground network, you’ll find an oft-forgotten piece of London’s transport history.

The Northern City line is a six-stop underground route from Moorgate to Finsbury Park. (It’s officially, if confusingly, known as the Moorgate line.) But, unlike other underground lines, it not part of Transport for London’s empire, and is not displayed on a normal tube map. Two of the stations, Essex Road and Drayton Park, aren’t even on the underground network at all.

The line has changed hands countless times since its creation a century ago. It now finds itself hiding in plain sight – an underground line, not part of the Underground. So why exactly is the Northern City line not part of the tube?

The Northern City line, pictured in dotted beige. Source: TfL.

As with many so many such idiosyncrasies, the explanation lies in over a century’s worth of cancellations and schemes gone awry. The story starts in 1904, when the private Great Northern Railways, which built much of what is now the East Coast Main Line, built the line to provide trains coming from the north of London with a terminus in the City. This is why the Northern City line, unlike a normal tube line, has tunnels wide enough to be used by allow mainline trains.

Eventually, though, Great Northern decided that this wasn’t such a bright idea after all. It mothballed plans to connect the Northern City up to the mainline, leaving it to terminate below Finsbury Park, scrapped electrification and sold the line off to Metropolitan Railways – owners of, you guessed it, the Metropolitan line.

Metropolitan Railways had big plans for the Northern City line too: the company wanted to connect it to both Waterloo & City and Circle lines. None of the variants on this plan ever happened. See a theme?

The next proposed extensions, planned in the 1930s once London Underground had become the domain of the (public sector) London Passenger Transport Board, was the Northern Heights programme. This would have seen the line would connected up with branch lines across north London, with service extended to High Barnet, Edgware and Alexandra Palace: essentially, as part of the Northern line. The plans, for the main part, were cancelled in the advent of the Second World War.

The Northern Heights plan. The solid green lines happened, the dotted ones did not. Image: Rob Brewer/Wikimedia Commons.

What the war started, the Victoria line soon finished. The London Plan Working Party Report of 1949 proposed a number of new lines and extensions: these included extension of the Northern City Line to Woolwich (Route J) and Crystal Palace (Route K). The only one of the various schemes to happen was Route C, better known today as the Victoria line, which was agreed in the 1950s and opened in the 1960s. The new construction project cannibalised the Northern City Line’s platforms at Finsbury Park, and from 1964 services from Moorgate terminated one stop south at Drayton Park.

In 1970, the line was briefly renamed the Northern Line (Highbury Branch), but barely a year later plans were made to transfer it to British Rail, allowing it to finally fulfil its original purpose.


Before that could happen, though, the line became the site of a rather more harrowing event. In 1975, the deadliest accident in London Underground history took place at Moorgate: a southbound train failed to stop, instead ploughing into the end of the tunnel. The crash killed 43 people. The authorities responded with a major rehaul of safety procedure; Moorgate station itself now has unique timed stopping mechanisms.

The last tube services served the Northern City Line in October 1975. The following year, it reopened as part of British Rail, receiving trains from a variety of points north of London. Following privatisation, it’s today run by Govia Thameslink as part of the Great Northern route, served mainly by suburban trains from Hertford and Welwyn Garden City.

Nowadays, despite a central location and a tube-like stopping pattern, the line is only really used for longer-scale commutes: very few people use it like a tube.

Only 811,000 and 792,000 people each year enter and exit Essex Road and Drayton Park stations respectively. These stations would be considered the fifth and sixth least used in the tube network – only just beating Chorleywood in Hertfordshire. In other words, these usage stats look like those for a station in zone seven, not one in Islington.

One reason for this might be a lack of awareness that the line exists at all. The absence from the tube map means very few people in London will have heard of it, let alone ever used it.

Another explanation is rather simpler: the quality of service. Despite being part and parcel of the Oyster system, it couldn’t be more different from a regular tube. The last (and only) time I used the line, it ran incredibly slowly, whilst the interior looked much more like a far-flung cross-country train than it does a modern underground carriage.

Waiting for Govia. Image: Haydon Etherington.

But by far the biggest difference from TfL is frequency. The operators agreed that trains would run between four and six times an hour, which in itself is fine. However, this is Govia Thameslink, and in my experience, the line was plagued by cancellations and delays, running only once in the hour I was there.

To resolve this, TfL has mooted taking the line over itself. In 2016, draft proposals were put forward by Patrick McLoughlin, then the transport secretary, and then mayor Boris Johnson, to bring "northern services... currently operating as part of the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise" into TfL's control by 2021.

But, in a story that should by now be familiar, Chris Grayling scrapped them. At least it’s in keeping with history.