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.

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A new wave of remote workers could bring lasting change to pricey rental markets

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

When the coronavirus spread around the world this spring, government-issued stay-at-home orders essentially forced a global social experiment on remote work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who are able to work from home generally like doing so. A recent survey from iOmetrics and Global Workplace Analytics on the work-from-home experience found that 68% of the 2,865 responses said they were “very successful working from home”, 76% want to continue working from home at least one day a week, and 16% don’t want to return to the office at all.

It’s not just employees who’ve gained this appreciation for remote work – several companies are acknowledging benefits from it as well. On 11 June, the workplace chat company Slack joined the growing number of companies that will allow employees to work from home even after the pandemic. “Most employees will have the option to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose,” Slack said in a public statement, “and we will begin to increasingly hire employees who are permanently remote.”

This type of declaration has been echoing through workspaces since Twitter made its announcement on 12 May, particularly in the tech sector. Since then, companies including Coinbase, Square, Shopify, and Upwork have taken the same steps.


Remote work is much more accessible to white and higher-wage workers in tech, finance, and business services sectors, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and the concentration of these jobs in some major cities has contributed to ballooning housing costs in those markets. Much of the workforce that can work remotely is also more able to afford moving than those on lower incomes working in the hospitality or retail sectors. If they choose not to report back to HQ in San Francisco or New York City, for example, that could potentially have an effect on the white-hot rental and real estate markets in those and other cities.

Data from Zumper, an online apartment rental platform, suggests that some of the priciest rental markets in the US have already started to soften. In June, rent prices for San Francisco’s one- and two-bedroom apartments dropped more than 9% compared to one year before, according to the company’s monthly rent report. The figures were similar in nearby Silicon Valley hotspots of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto.

Six of the 10 highest-rent cities in the US posted year-over-year declines, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. At the same time, rents increased in some cheaper cities that aren’t far from expensive ones: “In our top markets, while Boston and San Francisco rents were on the decline, Providence and Sacramento prices were both up around 5% last month,” Zumper reports.

In San Francisco, some property owners have begun offering a month or more of free rent to attract new tenants, KQED reports, and an April survey from the San Francisco Apartment Association showed 16% of rental housing providers had residents break a lease or unexpectedly give a 30-day notice to vacate.

It’s still too early to say how much of this movement can be attributed to remote work, layoffs or pay cuts, but some who see this time as an opportunity to move are taking it.

Jay Streets, who owns a two-unit house in San Francisco, says he recently had tenants give notice and move to Kentucky this spring.

“He worked for Google, she worked for another tech company,” Streets says. “When Covid happened, they were on vacation in Palm Springs and they didn’t come back.”

The couple kept the lease on their $4,500 two-bedroom apartment until Google announced its employees would be working from home for the rest of the year, at which point they officially moved out. “They couldn’t justify paying rent on an apartment they didn’t need,” Streets says.

When he re-listed the apartment in May for the same price, the requests poured in. “Overwhelmingly, everyone that came to look at it were all in the situation where they were now working from home,” he says. “They were all in one-bedrooms and they all wanted an extra bedroom because they were all working from home.”

In early June, Yessika Patapoff and her husband moved from San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighbourhood to Tiburon, a charming town north of the city. Patapoff is an attorney who’s been unemployed since before Covid-19 hit, and her husband is working from home. She says her husband’s employer has been flexible about working from home, but it is not currently a permanent situation. While they’re paying a similar price for housing, they now have more space, and no plans to move back.

“My husband and I were already growing tired of the city before Covid,” Patapoff says.

Similar stories emerged in the UK, where real estate markets almost completely stopped for 50 days during lockdown, causing a rush of demand when it reopened. “Enquiry activity has been extraordinary,” Damian Gray, head of Knight Frank’s Oxford office told World Property Journal. “I've never been contacted by so many people that want to live outside London."

Several estate agencies in London have reported a rush for properties since the market opened back up, particularly for more spacious properties with outdoor space. However, Mansion Global noted this is likely due to pent up demand from 50 days of almost complete real estate shutdown, so it’s hard to tell whether that trend will continue.

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus, but many industry experts say there will indeed be change.

In May, The New York Times reported that three of New York City’s largest commercial tenants — Barclays, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — have hinted that many of their employees likely won’t be returning to the office at the level they were pre-Covid.

Until workers are able to safely return to offices, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much office space will stay vacant post-pandemic. On one hand, businesses could require more space to account for physical distancing; on the other hand, they could embrace remote working permanently, or find some middle ground that brings fewer people into the office on a daily basis.

“It’s tough to say anything to the office market because most people are not back working in their office yet,” says Robert Knakal, chairman of JLL Capital Markets. “There will be changes in the office market and there will likely be changes in the residential market as well in terms of how buildings are maintained, constructed, [and] designed.”

Those who do return to the office may find a reversal of recent design trends that favoured open, airy layouts with desks clustered tightly together. “The space per employee likely to go up would counterbalance the folks who are no longer coming into the office,” Knakal says.

There has been some discussion of using newly vacant office space for residential needs, and while that’s appealing to housing advocates in cities that sorely need more housing, Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Company, recently told Spectrum News that the conversion process may be too difficult to be practical.

"I don’t know the amount of buildings out there that could be adapted," he said. "It’s very complicated and expensive.

While there’s been tumult in San Francisco’s rental scene, housing developers appear to still be moving forward with their plans, says Dan Sider, director of executive programs at the SF Planning Department.

“Despite the doom and gloom that we all read about daily, our office continues to see interest from the development community – particularly larger, more established developers – in both moving ahead with existing applications and in submitting new applications for large projects,” he says.

How demand for those projects might change and what it might do to improve affordable housing is still unknown, though “demand will recover,” Sider predicts.

Johanna Flashman is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.