On the day Labour selected Sadiq Khan as its candidate for mayor, there were those who thought the party had given up on London. Its decision to reject the sensible Blairite candidate, the late Tessa Jowell, was seen as another way in which the newly Corbyn-loving party was signing its own death warrant. In a move that is now funny in about four different ways, conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie greeted the news by tweeting, “BREAKING NEWS: Tories hold London Mayoralty”.
How times change. Nearly five years into his first four-year term (thanks, Covid), Sadiq Khan remains one of the most popular Labour politicians in Britain, and has never been less than 20 points ahead of his nearest rival for the mayoralty.
And in contrast to Montie’s 2015 fantasies, it’s now the Tories that have seemingly given up hope of winning in London. Having chosen the gaffe-prone London Assembly Member Shaun Bailey as their candidate, they seem determined to stick with him, despite the mounting evidence that he’s entirely failed to connect with the electorate. Despite, too, the fact that, since the returning officer for West Bromwich West announced the results of the 2019 election, he’s not even the youngest or most successful Shaun Bailey in the Conservative Party.
[see also: Have we reached peak London?]
The latest fine mess the non-parliamentary Bailey has gotten himself into concerns the knotty problem of where future Londoners are going to live. In an interview with Inside Housing magazine, the candidate promised to spend his £4bn housing budget on 100,000 new affordable homes: that works out to just £40,000 per home, and I’m not sure the numbers add up, but this is a relatively minor problem compared to what Bailey actually said.
Reporter Peter Apps asked how the scheme would help the nearly 63,000 London households in temporary accommodation, since accessing these new homes would require a £5,000 deposit and a mortgage of £95,000. The mortgage application might be a problem, Bailey admitted, but “I don’t think the £5,000” will be. So, a family that’s currently homeless could really save £5,000, could they? “Not all of them, but some people could.”
Bailey went on to note that he himself had sofa-surfed for years, and “definitely couldn’t have come up with £5,000”: for those in that category, “We’ll provide social housing”. But exactly how he would do this, after spending £4bn on affordable housing, is hard to discern. More to the point, it’s not clear anyone had read that far because, once Bailey had suggested that people in temporary accommodation could pull together five grand on a whim, nobody could hear themselves think over the sound of laughter.
This is bad, but it is not actually unusual. Past instalments of “Shaun Bailey puts his foot in it” have included his 2005 pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies, in which he wrote that letting kids off school to celebrate Muslim or Hindu festivals “rob[s] Britain of its community”, and meant the country would become “a crime-riddled cesspool”. The same pamphlet saw him note that “good-looking” girls “tend to have been around”, and that the poor require “rules” and “direction” else they will turn to crime. Bailey told Buzzfeed that these were the “blunt words” of someone “who hasn’t figured it all out”. At the time he wrote them, he was 34.
In 2006, Business Insider discovered a few years ago, Bailey told a parliamentary committee that giving teenagers condoms would “normalise sex” and “lead to crime”. The same year he wrote in the Telegraph that single mothers deliberately got pregnant to get themselves housing and benefits, and that “any young girl living in the inner city will be clued up on how the system works”.
More recently, Bailey’s campaign has hammered the idea that Transport for London (TfL)’s financial crisis was because of Khan’s profligacy, rather than the pandemic-led collapse in fare revenue: this flagrant lying would be sinister if it weren’t so easy to disprove, but it is, so instead it’s just silly. Then there was the campaign leaflet last month clearly intended to look like an official, apolitical warning from the council. “If you do not take action,” it wrote, “your mayoral council tax will rise by 21.2 per cent.” The action it wants you to take is to vote against Khan.
I’m sure there are places where attacking multiculturalism and single mothers and lying through your teeth make an excellent campaign strategy. The London of 2021 is not one of those places, however. In sum, there are quite a lot of questions I’d like to put to Shaun Bailey, but his campaign has several times declined to let him anywhere near me. It did let him spend an hour or two with David Walliams, though.
It’s important to remember in all this that, despite his popularity, Khan has not actually been a particularly great mayor. Sure, he’s good at the messaging stuff, at being a figurehead for liberal multicultural values at a time they’re under fire, and what has happened to TfL’s finances is certainly not his fault. But London’s housing crisis has not turned the corner, and no big transport projects have happened on his watch. His term has been, at the least, uninspiring. He should be beatable.
But while he may not have been great, he has been lucky. And there is nothing Sadiq Khan has been luckier in than the Conservative Party’s choice of opponents. As someone who doesn’t particularly like it when Tories win elections, I should be grateful. As a Londoner, I’m almost offended.