Who will be the Conservative candidate for mayor of London in 2020?

London’s City Hall. Image: Getty.

Six days ago, Conservative Home revealed the 10 candidates longlisted to be the Tory candidate for the 2020 mayoral election. Three days ago, Conservative Home revealed the three candidates shortlisted to be the Tory candidate for the 2020 mayoral election. If the party keeps going at this rate, it could plausibly pick its candidate by the end of this week, and lose another election to Sadiq Khan before the summer’s out.  

But let’s assume it won’t do that. So, who exactly are the three candidates vying to fight the next London mayoral election – and who didn’t make the cut?

The losers

Let’s start with those who’ve already been eliminated – because, while they’ve no chance of getting any sniff of power, they’re also more likely to be various shades of bonkers, and consequently more fun.

Only two of the seven have anything resembling a significant public profile. One was Andrew Rosindell, who since 2001 has been member of parliament for my home town of Romford, and who one might think, as the only MP to show an interest in a job this time round, would be leading the field.


He wasn’t. That’s in large part because he’s built his career on campaigning for the kind of policies that you’d create in a lab if you wanted to alienate the London electorate. Rosindell is pro-Brexit, socially conservative, noisily patriotic and used to campaign alongside a union flag waistcoat-clad Staffordshire Bull Terrier called Spike. His local party also campaigned last May with leaflets that warned that a “Havering ruled by Mayor Khan” would become “increasingly like an inner city area”, which is not so much a dog-whistle as a fog horn, and was widely condemned as such.

All this stuff has worked in Romford, which remains more Essex than London, but it’s hard to see it playing well in a city that prides itself on its liberal multiculturalism. So, not wanting to conduct a controlled experiment into exactly how low the party’s core vote in the capital actually was, the Conservatives decided not to pick him.

The other vaguely high profile candidate who didn’t make the shortlist was Duwayne Brooks – the friend who was with Stephen Lawrence when he was murdered in a racially aggravated attack in 1994. Brooks has been a LibDem councillor in Lewisham, although he later left the party, and has stood for the borough’s mayoralty twice (once as a LibDem, once as an independent). He also advised Boris Johnson on stop & search policy during his mayoralty.

I could sort of see the logic for the Tories in nominating Brooks. A black, London-born candidate could help bridge the yawning chasm between the party and modern London (the “Zac Goldsmith problem”, let’s call it). What’s more, the Tories have zeroed in on violent crime as an issue with which to attack Sadiq Khan: Brooks is as well-placed as anyone alive to talk about that. But, for whatever reason, the party hierarchy has decided against.

There were five other candidates who also didn’t make the short-list:

  • Kulveer Ranger, former transport advisor in Boris Johnson’s mayoralty;
  • Simone Finn, a government advisor and peer;
  • Ruby McGregor-Smith, another peer, and former CEO of the outsourcing firm Mitie;
  • Kevin Davis, former leader of, and continuing head of the Tory group on, Kingston council, and a man who in his childhood played Oliver in the West End production of Oliver!, as you do;
  • and Alison Cork, “an entrepreneur specialising in home interiors and TV presenter”. (Okay.)

But since none of them are in the running any more, let’s ignore them and look at those who are. The actual Tory mayoral candidate in 2020 will be one of three people.

Shaun Bailey

Image: Wikipedia Commons.

Bailey grew up in a Jamaican family in North Kensington, and first came to prominence as one of David Cameron’s “A-Listers” – handpicked candidates intended to showcase a new, more diverse Conservative party in the run up to the 2010 election. The A-list scheme was a bit of a failure: very few of its candidates were actually elected. Bailey himself stood in Hammersmith and lost.

Instead of parliament, he spent the next three years as Cameron’s special advisor on youth and crime. In 2016, he was elected to the London Assembly; in 2017 he stood for parliament again, this time in Lewisham West & Penge, but failed to get elected, again.

His policy platform, as related to ConHome, is long on attacks on Sadiq Khan but a bit short on actual policy. He wants to crack down on gangs, get more bobbies on the beat, promote home ownership, break the transport unions by accelerate the purchase of driverless trains and “get a grip on TfL’s finances”. How these last two match up I’m not entirely sure.

The only thing in there that sounds fresh is removing Khan’s “moratorium on new housebuilding on strategic industrial land”. I’m not sure this will stack up – my suspicion is there are good reasons not to build on strategic industrial land, like the cost of decontamination and the fact London needs some strategic industry – but at least it doesn’t sound like the result of a Random Tory Policy Generator so props for that.

Andrew Boff

A lovely high resolution photograph of Andrew Boff, courtesy of the London Assembly.

Boff is a former leader of Hillingdon council, former Hackney councillor, veteran London Assembly Member (since 2008) and Conservative mayoral nomination seeker (2000, 2004, 2008, 2016). In that last contest, he made the shortlist. Perhaps this will finally be his year.

His crime policy proposals are a mixture of the predictable and the leftfield. On the one hand, he wants to create and chair a multi-agency London Violence Reduction Commission to tackle violence as a public health emergence, in part by increasing stop and search. On the other, he wants to make the case that cannabis should be regulated, to weaken the hold of gangsters.

On transport, Boff also wants to accelerate the introduction of driverless trains, and to scrap free travel for the “partners, friends and lodgers” of TfL staff. (The “lodgers” there strikes me as a nice touch.) He’s noisily opposed to the third runway at Heathrow, and wants to end “Khan’s battle against motorcycles” which, maybe it’s just me, but I hadn’t even noticed. He also wants to ban tube strikes in favour of a compulsory mediation process, and I can see why he would, but good luck with that.

It’s on housing where Boff is most radical. There’s talk of greater use of modular housing, and giving away plots to self-builders, with the cost of the land to be recovered on subsequent sales. He also wants bigger targets for family-sized homes, and to scrap “affordable” housing targets for developers in favour of forcing them to hand cash to councils to pay for social housing. Huh.

He’s against high-rises except in a few specific areas, though. He even references Create Streets.

Joy Morrissey

Image: Morrissey’s own Twitter page.

Lastly, there’s the wildcard: Joy Morrissey, an Ealing councillor and former parliamentary candidate employed by Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice who, I must confess, I’ve never even heard of before.

Her interview with ConHome contains a lot of stuff about compassionate conservatism, social justice, and working with charities and community groups – though she doesn’t use the phrase, it’s all very Big Society. Her big idea on housing is to get institutional investors to fund new housing on publically owned land, rented to tenants on long leases.

On crime it’s all about improved community and neighbourhood policing, and investing in the Police cadets which, it turns out, is a thing. On transport, she’s big on increasing the take up of electric cars, accessible cabs and ensuring proper training for those who drive private cabs. Lastly, she talks about being “realistic” about the hole in TfL’s budget, but is a bit quiet on how she’d plug it.

Onwards

Not that anyone cares, but if I were the Tories, I’d probably go with Boff. His policy platform is the most developed, as you’d expect given he’s been thinking about the mayoralty for nearly 20 years; and it at least tries to tackle the capital’s real issues while still being recognisably Tory. That would admittedly mean picking the only white man on the shortlist – but Boff is openly gay, so perhaps they could still play the “different type of Tory” card that the party needs in London.

Nonetheless, it remains true that there are no really big hitters on this list. In 2000 and 2004, the party nominated Steven Norris, who had been a junior minister; in 2008 and 2012 it was Boris Johnson, who’d been a frontbencher and was, let’s be honest, a celebrity. In 2016, Zac Goldsmith was at least an MP.

This time round, though, the choice is between two London Assembly members and a councillor. It’s thin gruel, and a sign that the Tories aren’t really expecting to win back the mayoralty in 2020. The party has been losing ground in the capital, and Brexit is about as popular here as scrofula. What’s more, whatever his weaknesses, Khan – a man whose selection as Labour’s candidate once made the Tories dance like the Ewoks on Endor – remains incredibly popular in London.

But politics is unpredictable these days, and it’d be a fool who called an election two years out. It’s just possible that one of these obscure local politicians is on their way to winning the second biggest personal mandate in Europe. We shall see.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

 
 
 
 

Jane Jacobs and Le Corbusier would agree on one thing: we need more social housing

Unite d’Habitation, Marseille. Image: Iantomferry/Wikimedia Commons.

Much has been written in CityMetric and beyond about the urban planning debates of the 1950s and ‘60s, that came to be characterised as a battle between master-planning and preservation. One side of the debate was personified by the father of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier, whilst the counter-argument was advanced by writer and journalist Jane Jacobs.

But when it comes to London’s housing crisis, aren’t there a few things that these two would actually agree on?

Jane Jacobs’ writing about the organic nature of self-organising communities, demonstrated, in her words, by the “intricate sidewalk ballet” of inner city neighbourhoods, should be required reading for anyone interested in how cities function. But today, Jacobs is increasingly invoked in attempts to oppose new developments of any kind. Her role in conceiving Manhattan’s West Village Houses, a low cost rented housing scheme built through New York State’s Mitchell-Lama Program, is unfortunately much less well known. It’s been suggested that if Jacobs were around today, she’d be working with New York’s housing activists. When her seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities was written, there were almost 2 million rent-controlled or rent-stabilised apartments in New York City; nowadays, there are fewer than half that number.

Le Corbusier, on the other hand, is too often blamed for drab high-rise blocks. But regardless of how well his followers across Europe interpreted his ideas, Le Corbusier’s vision for cities was about high quality residential blocks that also contained shops and leisure amenities and were surrounded by parkland – the original mixed use development if you like. His most famous building, Marseille’s Unite d’Habitation, consisted of 337 apartments with views of the mountains and the sea together with shops, a restaurant and a nursery school. The building was originally intended to be public housing, but the French government eventually sold off the flats to recoup costs. Alton West Estate in Roehampton and Park Hill in Sheffield are just some of the examples of Le Corbusier’s influence on the design of post-war council housing here in the UK.

Building homes for a serious business in post-war Britain. Under Attlee’s 1945 Labour Government, 700,000 new council homes were completed. In 1952, the largest architectural practice in the World was at London County Council, with 1,577 staff including 350 professional architects and trainees. These were the days of consensus, and very quickly Tory governments were actually competing with Labour governments about who could built the most council homes.

Some of the council homes built post-war have stood the test of time better than others. But what’s not in doubt is that building council homes on such a scale immeasurably changed the lives of so many families in desperate need of a decent, secure and affordable home. And so many of the post-war modernist high-rise blocks so despised by Jacobs quickly took on the organic self-organising traits that she held in such high regard and have become some of the most enduring and closely-knit communities in London.

Fast forward to 2019 and Right To Buy continues to decimate council housing stock, but perversely home ownership seems more out of reach than ever for so many. An entire generation is being forced to embrace long term private ting in a country that has some weakest protections for private tenants in Europe. Meanwhile, government spending on building new homes fell from £11.4bn in 2009 to just £5.3bn in 2015 – from 0.7 per cent to 0.2 per cent of GDP – and since then, the housing minister’s desk has been occupied by no fewer than six people.


So what would a comprehensive drive for new council and social housing on the scale of the 1945 government’s efforts look like in 2019?

Lubetkin, the architect responsible for Islington’s Spa Green Estate and Bevin Court, summed up the spirit of post-war council home building with his maxim that “nothing is too good for ordinary people”. It’s a vision that we’re trying to recreate through our own council home building programme in Islington.

One of the best opportunities for small council home building schemes is to expand upon existing communities. The vast majority of Islington’s new council housing takes the form of infill, construction on existing estates; in unloved spaces, in old garages, and in old undercrofts. These projects often involve landscaping and new amenities to enhance rather than reinvent local communities. We have built community centres and even rebuilt a library as part of council housing schemes. One Tenants’ and Residents’ Association had an idea for a new specialist over 55s block for the older residents of the estate who wanted to stay in their community.

But there’s a place for large-scale place making as well. When the Ministry of Justice closed Holloway Prison and announced that the site would be sold, Islington Council published a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) on the site. We had one aim – to send a clear signal to the market that anyone who was looking at buying the site needed to be aware of their planning obligations. Most importantly, any development on the site needed to include at least 50 per cent genuinely affordable homes. The speculation around the site came to an end on 8 March this year when Peabody Housing Association announced that it had bought it. It has committed to going well above and beyond our planning requirements, by making 600 out of a total 1000 homes genuinely affordable homes, including 420 homes for social rent. We need to see more detail on what they are proposing but this is potentially brilliant for the borough. A local grassroots group, Community Plan for Holloway, have been instrumental in ensuring that the community’s voice is heard since the site was sold.

To recreate the scale of the massive post-war council home building programmes would require a Jane Jacobs inspired level of community activism combined with the architectural idealism of Le Corbusier. But it would also need the political will from central government to help local authorities get council housing built. And that, sadly, feels as far away as ever.

Diarmaid Ward is a Labour councillor and the executive member for housing & development at the London Borough of Islington.