Covid-19 forced the postponement of the London elections in May. Now, as our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, reports, with candidates dropping out and the dire performance of the Tory candidate, the capital is destined to endure the ‘forgotten election’
So low are the expectations among Tory Party colleagues of Shaun Bailey’s bid to become the next Mayor of London that even senior Conservative figures have taken to calling the delayed ballot in the capital “the Sadiq Khan election”.
The last time an opinion poll was held, asking Londoners who they might vote for, Bailey polled just 24 per cent to Labour Khan’s 49per cent. And that was in March this year, before lockdown and when there were two other candidates in the running.
But now Rory Stewart, the former Conservative government minister running notionally as a “One Nation Tory” candidate (who YouGov had as third in the running, on 13 per cent), has pulled out, unable to sustain his independent campaign through to the covid-postponed date next May. And the LibDems have carelessly “lost” their candidate, Siobhan Benita, who stood down last month, apparently with better things to do with her time. Supporters of neither of these two candidates are expected to go over to Bailey.
Meanwhile, Bailey continues to make not much of an impact. By the time polling day arrives next May, Khan’s re-election seems likely to be such a foregone conclusion that it could become the forgotten election: forgotten by a disinterested, unengaged electorate, and the election London’s Tories want to forget as soon as they can.
Bailey, 49, an adviser to David Cameron when he was Prime Minister and to Boris Johnson when he was Mayor, has survived moves by some at Conservative Central Office to replace him as their party’s candidate. But only just. Now, Tory HQ has taken a closer grip on his campaign, re-launching it and controlling his social media channels.
What they haven’t been able to change is their candidate’s innate ability for saying the wrong things, his poor work rate, nor the anti-London stance adopted as policy by their party in order to win over the “Red Wall” seats in the Midlands and North of England in last December’s General Election.
Bailey’s impact on Londoners, and at City Hall, remains minimal. He has, let’s not forget, been a Member of the London Assembly since 2016.
Bailey was one of the Tories’ “list” candidates in 2016. He was handed the seat at City Hall with a London-wide remit on the basis of the overall vote for the Conservatives across the capital. Which means that no one actually voted for him by name.
Since being elected to City Hall, Bailey has asked 352 Mayoral Questions.
That figure has to be divided by 42 Mayor Question Times (the event is staged pretty much once a month), plus several plenary meetings where Mayoral Questions can also be submitted. It works out at an average of fewer than 10 questions from Bailey each month. In one month last year, as Inside Croydon reported, Bailey managed to generate just a single question for Mayor Khan.
Bailey has upped his game a little since our report, asking 153 questions in the past 12 months, but it is hardly human dynamo stuff for someone paid a salary of £56,270 per year from public funds. Even “Silent” Steve O’Connell, the useless Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton, asks more questions of the Mayor than Bailey.
“Considering his role as an Assembly Member is to hold the Mayor to account, his record is somewhat laid back,” said a City Hall source inclined to polite euphemism.
One of the difficulties Bailey’s Tory campaign has is its emphasis on policing and transport in the capital – from a man who served in a Mayoral administration that cut police numbers and closed police stations, while it is the current government’s policy to take away free travel for under-18s.
But it is the Dominic Cummings-dominated Tory Party’s anti-London policy which is proving altogether more difficult for Bailey and other Conservative candidates to shrug off.
In a week when Mayor Khan revealed that he has not been contacted once by No10 Downing Street to discuss coronavirus emergency arrangements in the capital, the Tories are claiming that were Bailey to be elected, he would be invited to top-level briefings in Whitehall.
As our City Hall source said, “London Tories are trying to claim that they would have a seat at the table with central government if there was a Tory Mayor. Apart from being very anti-London and anti-democratic, it is also suggesting that issues about public health and public safety are political games. I don’t think Londoners will appreciate the implications.
“I guess there is also the trust issue. Would Shaun Bailey really help ensure Londoners were safer if he ever was allowed anywhere near a Cobra meeting?”
The government’s anti-London bias could prove to be insurmountable for Bailey’s struggling campaign. “The government’s bail-out for Transport for London came with strings attached, like immediately increasing the Congestion Charge and stopping free travel on public transport for the under-18s.
“However hard Bailey’s campaign is trying to stick the blame for those measures on Khan, Londoners know the truth, and they don’t like being played for fools. Bailey is closely associated with the Conservative government, its policies and with Boris Johnson. Forcing kids to pay their bus fares to go back to school in the autumn will be just another disaster for Bailey’s hopes.”
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