All over town jaws have dropped and the name Mozammel Hossain KC has been googled. The placing of the barrister on the shortlist of three Conservatives from whom London party members will choose their candidate to challenge Sadiq Khan next May is a surprise matched only by the exclusion from it of minister for London Paul Scully, previously seen by many as the favourite to run for City Hall.
Hossain’s two competitors in a selection contest to take place over the next few weeks will be Daniel Korski, a former adviser to David Cameron at Number 10 and now a businessman and – as much more widely expected – Susan Hall, a member of the London Assembly (AM) and former leader of Harrow Council. Another AM, Andrew Boff, also a former council leader, was among other hopefuls who have not progressed to the next stage.
On the face of it, the candidacy race is Hall’s to lose. She is the only one of the three whose name will mean anything to most of the London Tory selectorate, not only because she is the sole elected politician in the field but also because of her abrasive social media presence and her frequent appearances on right-wing television channels, agreeing with programme hosts about how dreadful Mayor Khan is.
Hall is in many ways an archetypal hard-right Tory figure of the modern kind – pro-Brexit, anti-“woke” and describing her beliefs as “common sense” – a time-honoured shorthand for right-wing views on cultural and societal issues, including crime. On Twitter she has publicly expressed approval for controversial national Conservative figures such as Home Secretary Suella Braverman and party deputy chair Lee Anderson, and she remained a staunch defender of Boris Johnson throughout the “partygate” period and his removal as Prime Minister by Tory MPs.
It may be that the Conservative membership in London is less right-wing than the party’s grassroots as a whole. But even if that sets back Hall to some degree, her rivals will have to work hard to be seen as better bets. An argument they might deploy is that Hall’s position on the Tory spectrum would make it easy for Khan to portray her as out of step with Londoners’ values in a variety of ways, ranging from public transport – Hall has said Transport for London should be “looked at as a business“, which could be portrayed as eagerness to raise fares – to the European Union.
But she will certainly see herself as provenly effective at opposing the Ultra-Low Emission Zone and berating Khan over his handling of the Metropolitan Police. As a case study in election strategy, her approach to battling a Labour incumbent in a Labour-leaning city would be intriguing.
Korski is an adventurous shortlist choice whose presence in the contest promises to enrich the debate. A Remainer – although, he has insisted, “not a Remoaner” – he has said in interviews that he is receptive to limited building on Green Belt land and favours replacing the ULEZ expansion with “pay per mile” road-user charging. He has also said he’d like licensing rules relaxed to help London’s night time economy grow and to introduce a so-called “tourist tax” on hotel visitors, although at present London Mayors lack the necessary powers to bring those things about.
As for Hossain, he can list plaudits for his advocacy skills but has next to no public profile and did not announce he would be entering the candidacy race. We will learn a lot more about him soon. The Tory winner is due to be announced on 19 July.
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