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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“Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis”

You BET! Oh GOD. Image: Getty.

Today, the mayor of London called for new powers to introduce rent controls in London. With ever increasing rents swallowing more of people’s income and driving poverty, the free market has clearly failed to provide affordable homes for Londoners. 

Created in 1988, the modern private rented sector was designed primarily to attract investment, with the balance of power weighted almost entirely in landlords’ favour. As social housing stock has been eroded, with more than 1 million fewer social rented homes today compared to 1980, and as the financialisation of homes has driven up house prices, more and more people are getting trapped private renting. In 1990 just 11 per cent of households in London rented privately, but by 2017 this figure had grown to 27 per cent; it is also home to an increasing number of families and older people. 

When I first moved to London, I spent years spending well over 50 per cent of my income on rent. Even without any dependent to support, after essentials my disposable income was vanishingly small. London has the highest rent to income ratio of any region, and the highest proportion of households spending over a third of their income on rent. High rents limit people’s lives, and in London this has become a major driver of poverty and inequality. In the three years leading up to 2015-16, 960,000 private renters were living in poverty, and over half of children growing up in private rented housing are living in poverty.

So carefully designed rent controls therefore have the potential to reduce poverty and may also contribute over time to the reduction of the housing benefit bill (although any housing bill reductions have to come after an expansion of the system, which has been subject to brutal cuts over the last decade). Rent controls may also support London’s employers, two-thirds of whom are struggling to recruit entry-level staff because of the shortage of affordable homes. 

It’s obvious that London rents are far too high, and now an increasing number of voices are calling for rent controls as part of the solution: 68 per cent of Londoners are in favour, and a growing renters’ movement has emerged. Groups like the London Renters Union have already secured a massive victory in the outlawing of section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. But without rent control, landlords can still unfairly get rid of tenants by jacking up rents.


At the New Economics Foundation we’ve been working with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority to research what kind of rent control would work in London. Rent controls are often polarising in the UK but are commonplace elsewhere. New York controls rents on many properties, and Berlin has just introduced a five year “rental lid”, with the mayor citing a desire to not become “like London” as a motivation for the policy. 

A rent control that helps to solve London’s housing crisis would need to meet several criteria. Since rents have risen three times faster than average wages since 2010, rent control should initially brings rents down. Our research found that a 1 per cent reduction in rents for four years could lead to 20 per cent cheaper rents compared to where they would be otherwise. London also needs a rent control both within and between tenancies because otherwise landlords can just reset rents when tenancies end.

Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis – but it’s not without risk. Decreases in landlord profits could encourage current landlords to exit the sector and discourage new ones from entering it. And a sharp reduction in the supply of privately rented homes would severely reduce housing options for Londoners, whilst reducing incentives for landlords to maintain and improve their properties.

Rent controls should be introduced in a stepped way to minimise risks for tenants. And we need more information on landlords, rents, and their business models in order to design a rent control which avoids unintended consequences.

Rent controls are also not a silver bullet. They need to be part of a package of solutions to London’s housing affordability crisis, including a large scale increase in social housebuilding and an improvement in housing benefit. However, private renting will be part of London’s housing system for some time to come, and the scale of the affordability crisis in London means that the question of rent controls is no longer “if”, but increasingly “how”. 

Joe Beswick is head of housing & land at the New Economics Foundation.