Shaun Bailey’s views on multiculturalism are toxic to Londoners and his response is worse

Bailey has been the Conservative candidate for a little over a week and he is already narrowing his path to victory. 

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Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for the London mayoralty, is under fire after the Guardian obtained an old Centre for Policy Studies pamphlet in which Bailey said that allowing Hindu and Muslim families time off to celebrate their religious festivals would rob Britain of its community and turn the country into a “crime-ridden cesspool”.

The policy is toxic. No, having days off to accommodate religious festivals doesn’t divide communities and in fact the reverse situation (keeping schools open but having religious absences or parents opting out of mainstream education as a result) does. Added to that, for Bailey, the politics are more toxic still.

There is no plausible path for any Conservative candidate to 50 per cent of the vote plus one – necessary under London’s supplementary vote system – that doesn’t run through London’s affluent Hindu communities in west and north-west London. How is he going to get their votes if he is on the record saying their religious holidays risk turning the country into a “cesspool”?

His campaign’s response is a revealing insight into why Sadiq Khan’s aides believe that Bailey will be an error-prone and vulnerable candidate. Here’s their response to the Guardian in full:

“As a descendant of the Windrush generation, and someone who has worked with diverse communities for over 20 years, Shaun knows full well the challenges faced by BAME communities. Shaun has made it his life’s work to help those from migrant and disadvantaged communities, and to suggest otherwise is ludicrous. As someone who has received racist abuse from the Labour party, who let’s not forget branded the community worker a ‘token ghetto boy’, this is a little rich.”

There are a lot of bad political choices to unpack in a single paragraph, but let’s start with the last sentence. Put yourselves in the shoes of one of Harrow’s Hindu swing voters. You backed Sadiq Khan in 2016 but re-elected Bob Blackman, a Conservative, in 2017. You’ve heard that Bailey thinks that teaching people about Diwali in schools will rob Britain of its community and turn the country into a “cesspool”. Why do you give a flying one about Emma Dent Coad saying something racist about Shaun Bailey? Why is that relevant to your life? That’s not an apology.

But it’s not the only bad decision being made here.

Let’s imagine you are instead an older white voter in Bow. You voted for Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith. You were suspicious about Sadiq Khan and you still aren’t wholly sold on him. Why do you care about Bailey being “a descendant of the Windrush generation”? Why’s he focussing on helping migrants? What about your grandkids? Who even is this guy who hasn’t even made it to Westminster who thinks he can become your mayor?

Or perhaps you’re a graduate in, say, Richmond. You backed Boris Johnson but you now have complicated feelings about him thanks to the referendum. You voted Liberal Democrat in Westminster and gave Sadiq Khan your second preference in London as you disliked Zac Goldsmith’s campaign. You think Khan is a decent guy but you aren’t sure what he’s actually done. You aren’t entirely sure what Diwali is about but you like living in a city where different things go on.

I just named three groups without which a Conservative candidate cannot win the London mayoralty and Bailey is appealing to none of them. And among liberal graduates and affluent Hindus he has probably suffered a wound that Khan will seek to widen and deepen over the next two years.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman, the EI Political Commentator of the Year, and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.