The Conservative candidate for London Mayor must set out a fuller vision for the capital’s future, show readiness to work with political opponents and be more prepared to take issue with national government if he’s to have a chance of winning next May’s postponed election, according to a Tory former senior City Hall politician.
Roger Evans, who was Boris Johnson’s statutory deputy when the Prime Minister was Mayor and a leader of the London Assembly’s Conservative group, has described Bailey as “in many ways very impressive” but also as needing to adopt “a bit more of the new Bidenism” – a reference Democrat US president elect Joe Biden’s commitment to reach out to Republicans – if he’s to build a competitive coalition of Londoners’ support.
Opinions polls have indicated that Bailey, a Londonwide Assembly Member since 2016, has been struggling to make an impact on the mayoral contest, as findings have indicated Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan enjoying leads of around 20 points throughout this year.
In an online interview, Evans, a political consultant who was among the first intake of AMs in 2000 and stood down in 2016, commended Bailey for his energy and described him as a strong motivator, but said “he needs more of a vision for the city”, particularly its future – something Evans believes Khan lacks too. He said Bailey should craft policies which focus on how to “make life better for people who live here, rather than cramming more and more people into the space.”
“I would suggest to Shaun that he maybe takes the government to task a bit more often,” Evans added. “Sadiq has made it a bit of a thing to pick fights with the government, sometimes unnecessarily. But devolved [authority] politicians need to be able to stand up to national government, and I don’t see him doing a lot of disagreeing with the government’s position.”
Evans cited former transport minister Steve Norris, who was a strong, albeit defeated, Tory mayoral candidate in 2000 and 2004, as an example to follow, and also underlined that the first two London Mayors, Johnson and Ken Livingstone, included people from political backgrounds other than their own among their advisers and appointees to functional bodies.
Mayor Khan has not done the same, which Evans said is a mistake Bailey could exploit if he follows Biden’s example, defined as “a willingness to work with others”. London still has “a big Conservative vote in the suburbs,” Evans noted, “but you have to be prepared to work with other people who disagree with you as well.”
“I would be really focussing on the issue where Sadiq has struggled to actually make a difference in London,” Evans said, mentioning in particular his performance against housebuilding targets and crime “particularly knife crime”. He said Bailey should spend less time criticising Khan over the financial problems of Transport for London, “because the Covid collapse in passenger numbers really buries any particular financial concerns there might have been before.”
Bailey’s tactics have come under media scrutiny recently, after his campaign launched a website and leaflets claiming to present “facts” about the government’s financial rescue of TfL, which disclose only in their very small print that they are Tory campaign material.
Evans, who was sharply critical of the Tory campaign of Zac Goldsmith in 2016, seen by many as deliberately divisive, also advised Bailey to build links with prominent London campaigns against the Silvertown Tunnel project and Heathrow airport expansion, leaseholders facing huge bills to replace Grenfell-type cladding and London’s Latin American and Jewish communities.
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