Shaun Bailey, recently named as the Conservative candidate for London Mayor, was in Croydon last night for what the local Tories tried to bill as a Black History Month event.
KEN TOWL went along to see what Bailey had to say for himself
First, let me say that the jerk chicken was great.
I mean really good, so much so that I took a photo of it.
I was given a plate of chicken, rice and a deep-fried dumpling and I sat down and looked around the hall of Praise House, the evangelical Christian centre just past Lidl on London Road, where a couple of families were having a picnic and some very smart, ambitious-looking men in immaculate suits were milling with their mobiles on the go.
More Conservatives and evangelicals rolled up during the first half-hour, which seemed to be dedicated to eating and making phone calls, until there must have been more than 50 of us in attendance. This was described by one Conservative councillor with a loose grasp of the meaning of the word as “packed”.
It seemed a little tense. I had identified myself as “from Inside Croydon” to the lady serving the food to explain why I wanted to take a photograph. As I was eating it a tall, thin man sat next to me and said “Front row, eh?”
“Best view, ” I replied, as well as I could through a mouthful of rice and chicken.
“Are you a reporter?” he asked.
“How could you tell?” I said, holding up my pen.
He gave a high-pitched laugh and moved away.
So what was this event? Unpicking the poster on the door to the hall, it was a “Croydon Community Engagement” (aka Conservative recruitment drive) evening, to celebrate Black History Month, with the invited guest Shaun Bailey, Conservative candidate for Mayor of London in 2020, the whole thing hosted by “Croydon Conservatives”.
There were some recognisable Croydon characters in the audience, like the man who has proved to be so “disruptive” that he was even kicked out of UKIP (having already been kicked out of the Tories for being a member of more than one political party). But where was the old bigot and sometime Croydon Conservatives party official who in the past has claimed there’s nothing wrong in using the N-word when talking about her cleaner in public forums?
The man tying all this together was the first of three support acts, assistant pastor Peter Anike, who had been a Conservative candidate in the safe Labour ward of Thornton Heath at this year’s local elections.
He took the microphone and introduced himself (in what would become a recurring pattern) as both a Christian and a Conservative. He gave a short speech which, in summary, said that he who does not know history is bound to repeat it.
Next up, a man who introduced himself as Joseph Lee. He was dressed in the guise of a political candidate, sharp suit, immaculate appearance, insincere perma-smile.
He had, it turns out, been a parliamentary candidate for the LibDems, back in 2010 when they were the future, and an unsuccessful Tory candidate in May for marginal ward Addiscombe East. I live in Addiscombe East.
Undeterred, Joe appears to have political ambitions still. “If you want to represent a community yourself, whether as councillor or MP…” he intoned, before trying to debunk the idea, against all the statistics, that the Conservative Party was not diverse.
The latest parliamentary intake is the most diverse yet, he said, and this led him, at last, to introduce as “Next Mayor of London”, Shaun Bailey.
The main act took to the stage. He was aware, he said that in some quarters (of the Conservative Party, presumably) there was unease at the idea of Black History Month but we should celebrate it because it is part of who we are. It is just… History.
He referred to Ignatious Sancho, the first man of African heritage to vote in a parliamentary election. Born a slave, he had taught himself to write and become a composer and businessman and so fulfilled the property qualification for suffrage.
I found an interesting quote from Sancho’s bestselling memoir: “… the Christians’ abominable traffic for slaves and the horrid cruelty and treachery of the African Kings – encouraged by their Christian customers who carry them guns to furnish them with the hellish means of killing and kidnapping.” History.
Bailey, having dealt with Black History Month, swiftly moved on to his Mayoral pitch. He looked forward to “serving people…across all communities”, and he would be “the most pro-poor Mayor ever”.
He explained that new technologies meant that instead of business providing lots of jobs they would “create very few well-paid jobs” and he would ensure that our community would access these jobs.
As for fares, he accused the current Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, of incompetence. You can’t maintain services and freeze fares, he said, so he would immediately raise fares if he were to be elected, “at least by inflation”.
We needed to invest in transport and this is how we would do it, Bailey said. He conceded, however, that the Hopper ticket, Khan’s one-fare-for-an-hour initiative, was good and would stay, even though it cost more than the mayor had said it would.
In order to assuage any concerns about his reputation for intolerance of non-Christian views, he said, “There are things I regret saying…”.
He didn’t specify what he regrets exactly, so we were left to consider our own list of things he has said or written, such as his view that girls get pregnant in order to claim benefits, and that this was a “cottage industry”.
Or that allowing Hindus and Muslims time off work for religious festivals would turn Britain into a “crime-ridden cess-pool”.
Unfortunately, Bailey finished this sentence with “…but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”
So there you have it. He did mean it. He just regrets the votes he lost.
And he is not at all patronising. Oh no…
He explained that Muslims he worked with worked harder than anyone. He has even worked with “one girl who had no faith at all but she did the work… because she was a person! She just had a Jesus-shaped hole in her heart.”
Imagine that! People with no faith somehow managing to work. O brave new world is this that has such people in it, as Shakespeare said.
We clapped and were invited to ask questions. I asked him how, since he claimed to want to serve “all communities”, he would be a Mayor for gay and lesbian Londoners, and would he support a Gay History Month?
He answered the question, but I am not sure what his answer is. “I’d come and listen,” he said and then, pun unintended I think, “I’d be straight with them… do what I can. My Jesus is not a Jesus who hates anyone.”
He was asked about crime. The answer seems to be a combination of increased stop and search, zero tolerance, metal detectors, levying government to make the apprenticeship levy more attractive to small businesses (since big businesses are not going to be providing jobs) and a good supportive family.
He was asked how we narrow the gap between chances for poor kids and chances for rich kids in schools. He took the opportunity to attack teachers here, suggesting that they teach values alien to family values. The key to poorer kids doing well was in supportive families. He would celebrate a “Family Week” in schools and a “Community Week”.
Bailey’s themes of family, faith and fear of others sat well with his base, and his base were in attendance this evening. But it is a niche market, that crossover of Christian and Conservative values. The only successful Conservative candidate for London, Boris Johnson, certainly did not represent it.
Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan’s story of bus driver’s son to Mayor, embodying hard work and a supportive family (but without the intolerance), can resonate with much of Shaun Bailey’s audience anyway. When Joseph Lee introduced Shaun Bailey as “the next Mayor of London”, he was almost certainly mistaken.
But the jerk chicken was really good.
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