Tories need some stardust to reclaim London

On 6 May, Londoners went to the polls to vote for their next Mayor. After five disappointing years under Sadiq Khan, there were some hopes of a Conservative counter-strike.

Yet the disappointment is set to continue after the fightback fell short. Sadiq Khan garnered 55 per cent of the second and final round vote, while Shaun Bailey, the Tory candidate, amassed 45 per cent.

The inevitable questions arise: why did this happen? Is it possible any more for the Tories to win London? They have no simple answers, but to answer the second question we should scrutinise the first.

London’s re-elected Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has proved highly unpopular for several years now, making his narrow victory in a metropolitan Labour stronghold unsurprising. His policies penalising car ownership through taxes such as the congestion charge increase, ULEZ charge for high-emission vehicles, escalating residence and parking permit costs (over which he has remained relatively silent), and a proposed fee of £3.50 to enter the vast Greater London area have been widely condemned.

Meanwhile his support for the woke agenda, notably ‘decolonising’ the school curriculum, siding with the demolition of time-tested monuments and statues, and inconsistently permitting BLM protests in the summer while heavily policing anti-lockdown protests have shown his true colours. Few doubt that his recent car taxes, in order to make up for a £500m public transport deficit, are less focused on the environment than on City Hall’s abysmal bank balance. Why anyone but the most radical of left-wing voters would opt for Sadiq raises eyebrows.

Yet for all his politically-correct posturing and punishing taxes, his charisma and slick PR has secured him another four years in power (added to this extra year he took because of Covid-19 regulations). He has used his time in power to consolidate his brand name and capitalise on the anti-Conservative government sentiments of London. He expertly associated his name and face with London. He appeared in all the right places at the right times, confirming the widespread suspicion that London’s mayoral post is as much about ceremony as about action. Soft power won the day.

This gives the Tories their first concrete resolution for the next election: to pick a candidate with instant brand name recognition. For all Shaun Bailey’s efforts, there was little he could do to create and establish his name in the eyes of the public, particularly in competition with a man already known and trusted by millions. This was only worsened by the Conservative Party focusing their efforts away from London. Their next candidate should be able to propel themselves to virtually equal footing with Sadiq, or they risk being washed away by the tide.

The Tories should also take the ‘common sense’ ground that Labour has lost in recent years, pushing more strongly against the culture of increased taxes and virtue signalling that defines City Hall. They could identify more with the man on the street by addressing his concerns about high taxes, transport and housing costs, increasing government and major wokery. Shaun stood for these but he was not able to make himself or these positions heard over Sadiq’s spin and the more extreme views aired by some of the independent candidates

London is not an easy city for the Conservatives to win. It has high levels of welfare recipients, immigrants and liberals, who typically vote Labour or Green. But there is nothing inevitable in politics, and with the right candidate, messaging and context, the capital may turn blue again.

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