With the summer break well and truly upon us, one may be forgiven for thinking it’s a time to enjoy a well-earned period of relaxation, particularly after the hard work each of us put into the general election campaign. However, if you are anything like me, you will be looking forward to the next important poll on the horizon: the London mayoral election.
As of yet, seven Tory candidates have declared their interest in being named the Conservative nominee, which would see them follow Boris Johnson in taking command of City Hall. These include two Greater London Assembly (GLA) veterans (Andrew Boff, Leader of the Conservative Group in the London Assembly, and Deputy Mayor Stephen Greenhalgh), a sitting MP and MEP (Zac Goldsmith of Richmond Park and Syed Kamall, leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament), a rather unknown Bromley Borough councillor (Cllr. Simon Fawthrop) and two more unusual options (former Tottenham, Arsenal and England centre-back Sol Campbell and Ivan Massow, a businessman and LGBT activist).
The possibility of three consecutive terms of a Conservative Mayor hangs on the selection of the right candidate. With the Labour Party in London gaining a swing from the Tories and Liberal Democrats in the recent General Election, the Conservatives need someone who can be as effective a Mayor as Boris but who is also able to fight off experienced Labour candidates with huge name recognition (including former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell and current opposition front-bencher Sadiq Khan). Furthermore, an individual who can command a support base beyond the confines of usual Tory supporters is also a must, with the mayoral elections using a supplementary voting system that requires the winner to obtain second preference votes to achieve victory.
Starting with those who already work at City Hall, the candidacies of Conservative GLA Leader Andrew Boff as well as Deputy Mayor Stephen Greenhalgh were widely expected. Both have been part of the London political scene for a long period of time. Boff started out as a councillor in the London Borough of Hillingdon, which he later went on to lead. A seasoned campaigner for the mayoral candidacy, Boff has unsuccessfully attempted to be the Conservative candidate on three separate occasions and now finds himself as the leader of the Conservative group in the Greater London Assembly. The likelihood of him improving on his second place in the Tory selections of 2000 and 2008 looks decidedly slim, however Boff’s support in the GLA gives momentum to his campaign.
This may also be the case for Stephen Greenhalgh. Witnessing a similar political trajectory to Boff, Greenhalgh started out as a councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham, which he went on to lead in 2006. Voted the Conservative Home ‘Local Hero of the Year’ in 2008, Greenhalgh was heralded for the financial efficiency of the Council during his tenure. In 2012, he was selected to be the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, a role he continues to hold. Although possessing an insider status that aids his cause, it is unlikely that Greenhalgh would be able to compete with the big name candidates in both the Tory race and the election itself.
The more left-of-field candidates of Ivan Massow and Sol Campbell may appear less likely to secure the nomination. If connections were anything to go by then businessman and gay rights activist Ivan Massow may be considered one of the favourites in the race. In the 1990s his flatmates included Justice Secretary Michael Gove and Equalities Minister Nick Boles. Running a campaign aimed at distancing himself from ‘politics’ in its traditional sense, Massow may appeal to those disenchanted with the status quo. However, his brief defection to Labour and his recent call to “get on and build” the third runway at Heathrow may go a long way to alienating many of the capital’s Conservative voters.
Former Arsenal and Tottenham centre-back Sol Campbell has a similar appeal. A staunch opponent of Labour’s proposed mansion tax at the previous general election, Campbell hopes to achieve greater engagement with London’s BME population. This could see him do well in the election itself, but with an extremely talented field vying for the nomination Campbell’s candidacy may come to an end before he has the chance to see it through.
In the name of fairness, one must address the candidacy of Cllr. Simon Fawthrop, despite his low name recognition and practically impossible task of reaching the shortlist stage of the mayoral process. Punching his name into Google and a quick probe of the news sites yields little. Apart from learning of his 100% attendance record at council meetings last year, the only other mention is found in a FT article of last year in which he is described as wearing a T-shirt reading ‘Nigel. He may have a point.’ One would be surprised if this online presence were to grow considerably at this late stage, even with his attempt to run for the mayoralty.
On the other hand, Syed Kamall MEP is likely to be considered one of the front-runners for the nomination. The leader of both the Conservative Party and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) in the European Parliament since 2013, Kamall has the level of executive experience required to take on the position at City Hall. Kamall is also no stranger to London politics, having held many local association positions across the capital before his election as a London MEP in 2005. His campaign appears to centre on the themes of aspiration and community-based governance that often strike a chord with the London electorate. In fact, the personal story of Kamall (the son of working class immigrants from Guyana) only adds to the aspirational strain of conservatism he embodies. This has led Kamall to be seen as a legitimate prospect to succeed Boris in 2016, with betting companies viewing him as the sixth favourite of those who’ve declared from all parties.
Finally, we turn to the Member of Parliament for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith, who is already being portrayed by some in the press as ‘Boris II’, which may in fact be an apt appraisal. The bookies favourite to win the mayoralty outright, Goldsmith seems the best positioned to win both the Conservative nomination and the election itself. An environmentalist and third runway opponent, Zac’s views on such issues not only shore up support from the Conservative strongholds of West London but also serve as a means of gaining those all important second preference votes from similarly minded Liberal Democrat, Labour and even Green voters. Zac is also considered a soft-Eurosceptic so could also benefit from UKIP second preferences. A tireless local campaigner and proponent of direct democracy, Zac’s brand of conservatism could be seen as a much more palatable blend for London as a whole.
Whoever is chosen as the Conservative candidate will have a tough campaign ahead of them, but with the correct individual a third term in City Hall is possible. However, if the wrong candidate is picked, we may discover that it wasn’t the Conservatives the capital was voting for; it was Boris.