London’s Conservatives have picked Assembly Member Shaun Bailey to become their candidate for the Mayoral Elections in 2020
Shaun Bailey is now the Tory candidate to stand for Mayor of London. Even from early on, he was the rumoured favourite on the long list of Tory hopefuls which was whittled down to three, with his short-list contenders being Councillor Joy Morrissey and Andrew Boff AM. Bailey is an interesting choice and a notable Tory figure who has been a fixture in party circles, although occasionally peripheral, since David Cameron took the party leadership in 2006. He’s one of the last echoes of the ‘Big Society’ project and stood for Hammersmith in 2010.
His political journey of began in Cameron’s modernising ‘hug-a-hoodie’ slipstream. Bailey is known as a passionate campaigner with socially conservative views, fused with a critical narrative on what he sees as contemporary liberalism. His political philosophy is very much community-based. Essentially, he believes that solutions to social problems predominantly come from the community – not the government. Smaller but enabling government appears to be his guide in politics. Personal and social responsibility is very much his thing.
So, who is Shaun Bailey and what drives him?
As a lifelong Londoner, he’s proud to be a son of the Windrush Generation. He wears his community-focused inspiration on his sleeve and always meshes it into his political worldview. He is unafraid of talking about the challenges facing young black boys in London, especially those without adult male role models. Likewise, he attributes this to the capital’s epidemic problem with knife crime.
Raised by a single mother, Bailey himself spent much of his youth with an absent father and has empathy with young people lacking role models. His background didn’t stop him achieving his goals: joining the Army Cadets, getting his A-Levels and securing a degree from London South Bank University. All of this was followed by twenty years as a youth worker, and now as a London Assembly Member and candidate for Mayor of London. Rather than being a lifelong metropolitan politico, a human rights lawyer or a scion of a privileged background, Bailey knows the street, speaks its language and demonstrates a full acquaintance with youth culture.
Bailey is an optimistic character and he sees the Conservatives as a vehicle for aspiration, which he calls a “relentless focus”. Despite this positive disposition, he’s not afraid of putting the boot into Sadiq Khan when needed and has already carved a highly critical narrative on the Mayor’s record on crime which, in an interview with ConservativeHome, he described as having “spiralled out of control.” This attack is difficult to refute given London has seen over 80 murders in the last twelve months, a 21% spike in knife crime, a torrent of moped robberies and the wave of acid attacks.
Apart from an ardent desire to crack down on crime and gangs, he sees housing as a major issue. He believes in the family stability that comes with home ownership and is open about how affordability has a negative impact on this. He’ll no doubt continue to slam Khan on his housebuilding record, a message which will chime with aspirational Londoners. Bailey says he will lift Khan’s ban on housing development on brownfield sites, which he sees as placing pressure on the treasured greenbelt and encouraging the high-density high-rise tower blocks which are increasingly out of favour.
The other headache facing any Mayor or aspirant to the role is the city’s creaking transport infrastructure. Bailey will need to focus on this heavily, showing he’s about keeping London moving and, as with housebuilding, that he’s not just all about crime. Even though it’s early days, he’s light on detail here, with some obvious commitments to control TfL finances and provide “investment” on transport networks. As time passes, and he beds into his role as candidate, there’ll be a very sharp need for some substantive policies here. And fast, if he’s to nail home a vision over the next two years communicating it as frequently as he can to pierce the public’s consciousness. This will need catchy policies rather than the usual stuff. A signature policy, similar to the ‘Boris bikes’ wouldn’t go a miss.
But will that be enough?
Khan has a stronghold in Inner London which with few exceptions is not Tory friendly. The incumbent Mayor of London can speak to communities in a way that ‘typical’ Tories cannot, for example the doomed Zac Goldsmith campaign which missed the mark notoriously. The simplicity of the Conservative 2008 donut strategy for the Outer London boroughs no longer holds in the way it did when Boris swept to office; Brexit skews the pitch in an overwhelmingly Remain capital which includes these boroughs.
Bailey will need to run firmer on his own personal brand, rather than as a Conservative candidate per se. This is because it looks like London is a Labour city once again and it will take a special alternative offering to shift it away. Either way, with highly negligible mayoral significance from the Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP (in that order) who simply aren’t players in this game, it will be an interesting fight – and it will be one fought on the streets.