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12 April 2021updated 13 Apr 2021 8:12am

Seven explanations for Shaun Bailey’s comically bad London mayoral campaign

Is it a perverse experiment? An undercover operation by the Labour Party? A piece of performance art?

By Jonn Elledge

Approximately three decades into Shaun Bailey’s campaign to become London mayor, and with less than a month to go before election day, we are forced to ask ourselves a question: is this some kind of joke?

The Tory candidate’s latest utterly baffling stunt is to film himself driving from the Essex commuter town of Brentwood into central London, in order to highlight how expensive this might one day be to do, possibly.

Never mind that the various road charges he’s attributing to Sadiq Khan’s mayoralty have not been introduced yet, or that increasing the cost of driving is basically A Good Thing, for both congestion and the environment. Leave aside the fact that nobody in their right mind would drive from Brentwood to central London – honestly, you could spend years stuck in traffic at the Redbridge roundabout – even before the state spent £18bn building Crossrail, a direct train route that’ll do it in a flash.

Consider instead this rather basic fact: Brentwood is not in Greater London. Anybody angry about the increasing cost of that particular journey by definition does not have a vote for the mayor. Not content with offending everyone under the sun – Hindus, women, anyone with a basic understanding of TfL finances – Bailey is now very publicly demonstrating that he doesn’t even know where London is. Still, the video will make a nice companion piece to his campaign to save Watford’s Tube station, which isn’t in London either.

So I ask again – is this some kind of a joke? Surely no real political campaign that is genuinely sincere in its ostensible intention of getting Shaun Bailey elected mayor (this week’s polls: Khan 47, Bailey 26) could be this consistently useless? Could there be some other explanation?

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Explanation 1. The whole thing is an experiment in working out the Tories’ floor vote: that is, how many –  or rather, how few – Londoners will vote Tory as an autonomic reflex in roughly the same way that they breathe. From that perspective, every vote lost is one vote closer to an answer.

Explanation 2: The campaign isn’t really aimed at London at all. Next month will also see local elections in Essex, Hertfordshire and several other home counties. Reports suggest the Conservative Party has given up on the London mayoralty – maybe the party is instead using Bailey’s campaign to stoke rage and pick up votes in the commuter belt instead.

Explanation 3: The doughnut strategy. Boris Johnson won the mayoralty by largely ignoring proper London and appealing to voters in the outer suburbs. Maybe banging on about the cost of driving, largely made up threats to Hertfordshire Tube stations and so on is an attempt to appeal to those voters. It clearly isn’t working (see the polls), but the campaign is desperate (again: see the polls), so maybe it’s just rolling the dice.

Explanation 4: It’s all another attempt to stoke a culture war. I’m not exactly sure how, if I’m honest with you, but since this strategy explains pretty much anything else the Tory party ever does these days, there must be at least some chance it explains this too.

Explanation 5: It’s a performance art piece. Some kind of situationist, metropolis-wide installation commenting on the ultimate emptiness of Conservative politics under late capitalism kind of thing, yeah? Banksy will be taking credit for it any minute now, you mark my words.

Explanation 6: Shaun Bailey is secretly a member of the Labour Party. Since becoming active in Conservative politics some time in the mid 2000s, he’s been involved in undermining both the Centre for Social Justice and David Cameron’s A-list strategy. This is his most ambitious mission yet: ensuring Sadiq Khan’s re-election. Be honest with yourself: this is the theory that makes most sense, isn’t it?

Or then again: perhaps Shaun Bailey’s just really, really bad at this.