More than 300 Tory voters packed a lecture hall at BPP University in Waterloo last Thursday night to hear London MEP Syed Kamall speak about Britain’s relationship with the European Union.
Kamall – a Conservative MEP who has represented the capital in Brussels since 2005 and led the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, the multi-country group to which the Tories belong in the European Parliament, since last year – may not be a household name, but for the members of London Conservative Future, a youth wing of the Tory party, at last week’s event he may as well have been a celebrity.
After posing for a series of selfies with audience members, the 48-year-old sat down with City A.M. to talk about Prime Minister David Cameron’s renegotiation efforts with European leaders, the in/out referendum, and his own political future.
Rumoured to be among the Tories gunning to replace Boris Johnson in City Hall, Kamall said on Thursday that he had still not made up his mind as to whether he would join the list of declared Conservative candidates, which currently includes MP Zac Goldsmith, deputy mayor Stephen Greenhalgh and former England footballer Sol Campbell.
“One of the things I want to think about is the right team, whether it be in London, whether it be in Brussels, or whether it be in City Hall,” Kamall told City A.M..
“I’ll be having quite a few conversations over the next few days to think about it,” he added, saying that while he was “hugely flattered” by voices encouraging him to enter the mayoral race, his job at the EU had changed significantly following last month’s General Election.
Kamall said he now regularly meets with UK ministers and European commissioners to act as an “ambassador” for the government’s renegotiation efforts, reinforcing the Prime Minister’s message while smoothing over any misunderstandings.
“We influence the crowd music in Brussels,” Kamall said of the MEPs.
A straight-talking eurosceptic who says he would vote “no” (in favour of Brexit) if the referendum were held today and supported a “free vote” for ministers, Kamall added that he nevertheless fully backs the Prime Minister’s efforts: “We’ve got a chance to negotiate a better deal.”
As for the Tory message at home, whether it be in Westminster or at London Bridge, the lifelong Londoner said that the Conservatives are right to be positioning themselves as the party of social mobility. The son of a bus driver from Guyana, Kamall said that if he stood for mayor, his personal story of upward mobility would set him apart from other candidates: “If I can do it so can you.”
“We need to have more people on the frontline of Conservative politics who personify that aspiration and social mobility,” he added.