Andrew Boff joins London Mayor race for Conservatives. Anyone else?

by Dave Hill

I’ve heard Andrew Boff describe his attempts to become Conservative candidate for London Mayor as a tradition. It’s a tradition we should be pleased he is maintaining. Boff has announced his intention to go for it again with a characteristic pledge to argue for the legalisation of cannabis as a way of short-circuiting the violence of the illegal drug trade and lessening young peoples’ exposure to black market substances that damage health. This is not an idea that has suddenly come to him – he’s been thinking in public along these lines for at least three years.

Today, Boff has also released a report calling for greater powers for members of the London Assembly, of which he is one. Boff points out that since the Greater London Authority was established in 2000 the mayoralty has acquired greater powers from central government, but the Assembly, elected to hold the Mayor to account, has benefited from no such extra devolution. “Without corresponding reforms,” Boff writes, “the powers that the Mayor possess can be misused.” He has a point.

Boff, a former leader of Hillingdon Council and Tory councillor in Hackney, has previously proposed the creation of a Thames City “southern powerhouse” region, which recognises that the London economy long ago burst the Greater London boundary and says collaborations should be developed between the metropolis and its surrounding region – what we’ve started to know as the “wider south-east”.

He has also called for the trial of a “managed street prostitution area” in London as a way to better protect street sex workers, spoken up for giving away bits of public land to people who want to build their own homes, made the case for imposing a height limit of six storeys on residential buildings except in five specified parts of the capital, and produced a report on human trafficking. He is a genuinely libertarian Tory, a intelligent radical and, by the way, a contributor to On London. It’s good to see him enter his party’s mayoral race again. He deserves to do well.

Who might join Boff on the starting line for the summer contest to come? The Evening Standard describes Richard Tice, chief executive of Quidnet Capital, as “already campaigning”. Last month, it reported research by Tice which he claimed showed that Sadiq Khan has overstated the number of affordable homes he has helped fund on which work has actually begun – a claim denied by City Hall. A keen Brexiter, Tice is co-chairman of the Leave Means Leave, which campaigns for what it calls “a swift, clean exit for the EU”.

The Standard also says that Munira Mirza, formerly Boris Johnson’s culture adviser, has been “tipped to stand”, but whoever has been doing the tipping seems not to have asked Mirza herself – responding to the Standard’s story, she has told On London that she is not standing and doesn’t know where any rumour that she might be could have started.

Boff’s fellow AM Shaun Bailey is also mentioned, as he has been elsewhere in the media and on the gossip grapevine for months. There is no word yet from Bailey himself, whose last high profile taste of election campaigning was in the 2010 general election when, as one of David Cameron’s new breed of Tory, he suffered a deflating defeat in Hammersmith at the hands of Labour’s Andy Slaughter.

With Justine Greening ruling herself out, the person many Tories are waiting for is former AM James Cleverly, these days MP for Braintree and cutting a bit of a dash as a Tory national vice chairman. Cleverly is pro-Brexit, anti-congestion charge, witty, gregarious and notably committed to free speech – he was the only AM I can recall who was prepared to be civil to Richard Barnbrook, who brought a lone and wholly clueless BNP presence to City Hall in 2008.

Cleverly would be hot favourite to become the Tory candidate, should he decide to give it a go. He is reported to be feeling 50-50 about it. Mayor Khan has confirmed that he intends to seek a second term. He will take a lot of beating, whoever his Tory opponent is.

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