A Conservative former minister for London has confirmed his strong support for his party’s London mayor candidate Shaun Bailey, following two weeks of negative media coverage of views Bailey has expressed in the past about multicultural celebrations, single mothers and combatting crime.
Greg Hands, who has been a Tory MP in West London since 2005 and was Minister for London from June 1017 until January of this year, said he “very much” continues to back Bailey, despite the candidate writing in a think tank pamphlet published in 2005 that the effect of celebrating Muslim and Hindu festivals is to “rob Britain of its community” without which “we slip into a crime-riddled cesspool” and claiming in the Telegraph in 2006 that some young single women deliberately become pregnant in order to secure council flats.
Hands told the Sunday Politics London that, “These were comments made by Shaun about 13 years ago when he wasn’t a politician,” and that in making them “he was trying to describe life as he saw it on difficult [council] estates where he was brought up” in North Kensington.
Asked by presenter Susana Mendonça if Bailey should now disassociate himself from the opinions he had expressed, Hands said, “I don’t think Shaun does have those views” and that his perspectives have since “become much broader”. He characterised what Bailey wrote and said at the time as “immature comments in terms of him being a politician”, but added that in expressing them he “brought a lot of those issues to attention”.
Hands also said that Bailey in an article for the Telegraph published on Thursday, Bailey had “explained the context” for what he’d previously written, and Bailey himself has said on Twitter that, “Coming into public life has given me a broader and more rounded perspective to (sic) London’s problems.”
Bailey also claimed that his words from 2005 “are being used to attack me” when he was only trying to describe “what it was like growing up around the estates of Ladbroke Grove because it felt like nobody else was writing about lives like mine.” However, Bailey is likely to come under continuing pressure to say clearly whether or not he continues to hold the specific views he expressed.
Also on the programme Labour’s Rosena Allin-Khan, who succeeded London Mayor Sadiq Khan as MP for Tooting, rubbished Hands’s argument, calling the comments made by Bailey, who was in his mid-thirties at the time, “toxic” and “utterly reprehensible” and claiming that as a candidate he is an “embarrassment” who is “not taking any responsibility” for his own past.
Hands drew attention to the denigration on Twitter of Bailey, who is black, as a “coconut” and an “Uncle Tom” by people claiming to be Labour members or supporters. Allin-Khan said that if they are Labour members they “should be expelled”. During heated exchanges, she asked Hands if he had supported the unsuccessful 2016 Conservative mayoral campaign of his fellow Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, which was widely criticised for seeking to exploit anti-Muslim sentiment against Khan. Hands firmly replied: “Yes I did.”
The onslaught of negative coverage of Bailey by some newspapers and websites partly reflects Labour’s state readiness for the 2020 mayoral campaign, with preparations for attacks on Bailey underway for some time. Bailey, a London Assembly Member whose two years in that post comprise his total experience as an elected politician, is presenting himself as an alternative to “career politicians.”
Bailey told the BBC Radio 4 programme The House I Grew Up In, broadcast in 2008, that he had committed burglary in his youth before joining the Army Cadets helped him to mend his ways. Sadiq Khan used the term “Uncle Toms” in an interview in 2009 to describe fellow Muslims who were working with the Labour government of that time on its policies for tackling Islamic extremism, but later apologised for doing so.
The exchanges between Greg Hands and Rosena Allin-Khan took place at the beginning of the Sunday Politics London programme, which can be viewed via BBC iPlayer for the next four weeks.