It is fair to say that Shaun Bailey’s bid to become the next mayor of London did not get off to a flying start.
The seasoned activist and campaigner faced a barrage of criticism from his political opponents after some tactless comments he once made about multiculturalism resurfaced and were widely shared across social media.
More recently, he suggested that all police leave should be cancelled to deal with the ongoing knife crime epidemic – an idea that his fellow Tories in the London Assembly would have advised him against, if they had been told about it, and that earned him a rebuke from the Met Police Federation.
At Mayor’s Question Time, one of the few public arenas in which Bailey can take on Khan, it is his colleague Andrew Boff who leads the attacks.
A Labour source suggests Boff, who lost out on the nomination, would “give Khan a run for his money” if he were up against him in next year’s mayoral poll.
But it’s Bailey on the ballot, and the former youth worker and adviser to ex-Prime Minister David Cameron confronts the accusation that he isn’t combative enough by admitting that it is “not in his nature” to go after the mayor. He claims he does not “move any part of London forward by doing so”.
“Andrew Boff is a very different character to me,” he says. “I am not a belligerent political operator. I’m a pragmatist. I am not interested in the Punch and Judy politics that Khan has been able to turn Mayor’s Question Time into.
“Andrew likes that, and he fights with him, and sees it as his job. I see my job as providing answers for London’s challenges.”
Khan’s record so far provides Bailey with rich pickings. The London mayor will find it hard to campaign on transport at next year’s election, as vital Tube upgrades have been shelved and Crossrail still fails to be delivered. Then there has been a surge in knife crime, an issue Bailey cares strongly about, an acute housing shortage and divisions over the UK’s upcoming exit from the EU.
What are Bailey’s solutions to these challenges?
He says he would crack on with building more homes and would lift what he says is an effective ban on building on London’s industrial land. He says this would remove the need to build on the green belt.
Bailey is keen to move the conversation away from Brexit, saying it is not the greatest challenge facing ordinary Londoners or businesses.
When asked if he is worried about a no-deal Brexit, he replies: “Yes. I’m not naive. This level of change will bring some change, so the smoother that change the better.
“But when I speak to businesses, they don’t talk to me about Brexit. What they are most concerned about is the cost of living in London and the cost of rent.
“I saw the [chief executive] of Citibank who said to me that his biggest challenge isn’t Brexit… but staff demanding bigger pay packets, and it’s not because they’re greedy, it’s because it’s so expensive to live here.”
To ease the strain on businesses he says he would campaign to slash corporation tax to levels that “Boris can stomach” – perhaps to 15 per cent. He would also work with central government to either lower business rates or raise the threshold at which they apply.
The problem Bailey has encountered is that his ideas rarely get aired.
“Khan’s biggest strength is his incumbency,” he says. “He is the mayor, you can’t get around that. If I issue a press release I have to beg you to pay attention, let’s be frank about that.”
Another factor is that Conservative headquarters (CCHQ) is distracted by Brexit and the fact that a General Election is, more likely than not, right around the corner.
When asked whether this has blocked his campaign from receiving funding from CCHQ, a member of Bailey’s team says there is an election spending cap of £13m that is counted 12 months before a General Election.
“It is not that they’ve stopped, but they’ve just become cautious,” they add.
“It will be the same for them [Labour] as well,” Bailey interjects.
According to a source close to Khan, this is not the case. “The Tories don’t need to do well in London to win a General Election, whereas Labour does.”
There have been rumblings from some Conservatives that the mayoral bid is part of a bigger strategy to build a profile and aim for a Westminster seat.
Bailey’s team insists there is nothing to such rumours. “His focus is 100 per cent on London and the mayoralty.”
The current Prime Minister won City Hall – twice – in what is seen as Labour territory. Bailey would like to show that Boris Johnson isn’t the only Tory who can win in this town, but he faces a tough political battle to do so.
Main image credit: Getty