WALTER CRONXITE drills into the numbers to show that 70 per cent in a selection vote is not always an overwhelming mandate
So the third Mayor of London will be either the son of a Tooting bus driver, or a multi-millionaire Old Etonian.Zac Goldsmith was this morning declared the winner of the Conservative Party’s selection process to decide its candidate to run for Mayor of London next May, with the main challenge to come from Sadiq Khan, the MP for Tooting who was chosen by Labour last month.
To many, it will appear that the Tory membership in the capital has decided by an overwhelming majority that the way to follow eight years of a half-arsed part-time Mayor is to offer the electorate a Boris Mark II.
That characterisation of the 40-year-old MP for Richmond Park is probably unfair, as Goldsmith has spent much of his time since entering Parliament reportedly being diligent about his constituency work and also championing some more radical initiatives such as the idea of MP recall.
Goldsmith was selected with 70 per cent of the vote – making Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership mandate of 59 per cent look positively puny by comparison. Though the Tory voting figures offer up some interesting observations about the state of their party in the capital and their response to what is now widely seen as the failed Mayoralty of Boris Johnson.
One challenge for Goldsmith over the next eight months is how to follow Johnson, while somehow distancing himself from association with the many costly Boris Bungles. Goldsmith has already supported the disaster that is the Boris Bus – can he really afford to spend his campaign defending the indefensible?
But there’s rumblings among some Conservatives that Goldsmith is “not a proper Tory”.A strong environmentalist, Eurosceptic and opponent of Heathrow expansion, this morning Goldsmith said that he wanted to build on Johnson’s legacy, but warned that there were “increasing pressures on our city” because of its financial success.
“We have seen record investment in our transport network, but we will need to continue that investment just to avoid grinding to a halt – while at the same time continuing to bear down on the cost of travel so that it delivers value for money for Londoners.
“Our living environment is facing increasing pressure, and we will need to protect, enhance and improve access to our green spaces, as well as radically improving the quality of the air that we breathe.
“But the biggest challenge of all is the housing crisis. Londoners are being priced out of their city and we will need a step change in the number of homes built, and the manner in which they are built.”
In short, similar priorities to those expressed by Khan and pretty much every other candidate who has been seeking selection from the major parties over the past few months.
Given those similarities in aims (if not similar policies to deal with them), as the battle for City Hall develops it may well come down to a personality contest between the Labour candidate who grew up on a south London council estate and Goldsmith, who was not so much born with a silver spoon in his mouth but a whole set of cutlery.
Zac Goldsmith is the son of Sir James Goldsmith, the billionaire financier who when he died left assets worth about £1.2 billion and each of his children was estimated to have received £10million in spending money. “Sir Jams” Goldsmith was a notorious high-roller gambler who established a Mayfair nightclub which he named after his wife, Annabel.
Sir Jams was himself the son of a Tory MP. He was born in Paris and ultimately became a French member of the European Parliament. In the 1990s he pumped huge amounts of money into forming the anti-EU Referendum Party, though he himself never got elected to Westminster, perhaps proving that there really are some things money cannot buy (Goldsmith was fourth in Putney in 1997, but still barely able to contain his joy on the night that Tory toad David Mellor lost his seat).
If Zac Goldsmith has any reservations about his huge financial inheritance, he hides them better than his wealth. He had the reception for his first wedding held at The Ritz, while his second wife is a Rothschild who has relatives on her mother’s side who are part of the rich Guinness dynasty. Buying presents for this lot at Christmas must be a nightmare…
Unlike Boris and “Call Me Dave” Cameron, there are unlikely to be any embarrassing revelations from Goldsmith’s teens and twenties about initiation ceremonies – Zac Goldsmith never made it to Oxford and Bullingdon Club excesses … because he was expelled from Eton College for smoking cannabis.
In a profile of Zac Goldsmith in The Grauniad earlier this week, the paper’s London correspondent, Dave Hill, wrote: “It’s become almost a cliche to say that Goldsmith is a backbench rebel, largely on the grounds that he’s opposed his party leadership over the issue of expanding Heathrow Airport. Goldsmith himself seems to subscribe to the conventional view that being publicly at odds with your Westminster top brass is a prerequisite for mayoral election success. Throughout the candidate campaign he has routinely asserted that he’s a politician of campaigning spirit and independent mind.”
But drill-down through the soundbytes, as Hill has done, and you find that Goldsmith has “logged a mixture of votes for and against measures to prevent climate change”.
Of Goldsmith’s voting record since he first entered Parliament in 2010, Hill notes, “It shows him to be an assiduous [Tory] conformist on welfare and benefits, favouring cuts and supporting what Labour calls the ‘Bedroom Tax’. He’s also almost always voted for increases in VAT (which affects the poor more than the rich) and against applying higher tax rates to the highest earners. He was against the ‘Mansion Tax’, thinks the scope of legal aid should be limited and doesn’t care for restrictions being placed on fees charged to private tenants by letting agents.”If all that doesn’t offer scope for attack on traditional class lines by Khan, then nothing will.
Christian Wolmar, one of the unsuccessful candidates for selection in the Labour Party, who stood on a strong environmental and cycling platform, told Inside Croydon this morning, “Zac Goldsmith will be a strong opponent but Sadiq can beat him. To do so, Sadiq will have to ensure that he offers the type of environmental policies that Londoners are crying out for in terms of clean air and facilities for cyclists and pedestrians.
“But Zac is likely to give the same free rein to developers as his predecessor and that is not good, either for the environment or for London’s economy.
“While Zac may come across as a personable politician, he is at root like his predecessor, in hock to big corporations and an ideology that does little to help the needs of most Londoners,” Wolmar said.
On air quality, Goldsmith has diverged from Tory orthodoxy, calling for an enlarged congestion charge zone (Johnson reduced the size of the zone) and increasing fines for motorists who enter it without paying. He would also move to protect London’s black cab trade from the threat of Uber. “We need to create an even playing field between the black cabs, Uber and other operators, otherwise they’ll go extinct,” Goldsmith has said.
When Goldsmith takes his campaign to Londoners, there may be a number of elements about recent political campaigns which will be familiar, especially in Croydon. Goldsmith’s campaign adviser is the Australian bruiser, Lynton Crosby – though you might have expected a fair Dink’um Aussie to have avoided a slogan of “Back Zac” to which can be appended so easily the words of ridicule “And Crack”.And prominent among his campaigners could be a couple of constituents, Clare Hilley, the reality TV star (if being a star means puking down the front of your top) and controversial former Tory councillor in Croydon, and her florid husband Steven George. The couple recently moved from Addiscombe to a very desirable address in Richmond.
Hilley’s political career has never recovered since Inside Croydon exposed her pitching for PR work while holding office on the council’s planning committee. Expect trouble on the campaign trail, though, if Goldsmith puts George in charge of refreshments.
The George-Hilleys are among what appears to be a diminishing bunch of Tory activists in London. The Conservatives – like Labour – opened up their selection process beyond their membership, to include anyone who paid them a quid (who said the Tories were cheap?).
Yet while 88,000 took part in London Labour’s selection of Khan, Goldsmith and his rivals accrued fewer than 10,000 votes between them. Goldsmith’s 70 per cent of the vote is a lot less impressive when you see that he garnered the votes of 6,514 supporters.
When Johnson was selected as Mayoral candidate eight years ago, the Tory selectorate numbered 20,000. There have been complaints from grass-roots members of computer glitches and being unable to vote, but would that really account for all 10,000 “missing” votes? Or is Conservative membership in London in steep decline?
And was it significant that Stephen Greenhalgh, one of Boris Johnson’s hand-picked Deputy Mayors, attracted the votes of a mere 864? That, and the low poll for Tory Assembly Member Andrew Boff, is hardly a ringing endorsement for the current Conservative “team” at City Hall.
That rejection of the Boris regime, even by dyed-in-the-cashmere-wool Tories, may be another reason that Goldsmith will have to, ever so gently, distance himself from the tag of Boris Mk II. And on the pace of development, he has already created some clear-blue water.It was Boris Johnson, as London Mayor, who gave away a slice of valuable publicly owned real estate at Cane Hill in Coulsdon for Barratt’s to build houses on, without proper consideration to the needs to the community, any provision of schools, or even proper road access to the new estate.
And it was Johnson who intervened to bust the log-jam of legal and commercial obstacles when the MP for the Whitgift Foundation, Gavin Barwell, sought help over the £1 billion Hammersfield development. In the three years since, there’s been increasing disquiet about how little involvement there has been for the broader Croydon community in how their town centre is to be “regenerated”.
Goldsmith suggests he would take a different approach over such schemes. “Development can’t just be something that is done to communities,” he said at one of the Tory Mayoral hustings, “it has to be done with communities.”
Now wouldn’t that make a change?
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