Shaun Bailey is in a buoyant mood when we meet at Westminster’s St John Smith’s Square. With his new campaign battle bus unveiled and ready to set out on a tour of London, the Conservative mayoral candidate happily splays out in the April sunshine as we sit down to chat.
His ebullient demeanour is a far cry from the often frustrated and stern figure he has cut in recent months during public debates and television appearances. It’s been a stuttering campaign for Bailey that has never quite got going, with the Tory candidate unable to cut much into Sadiq Khan’s 20+ point polling lead.
Despite being chosen as the party’s mayoral candidate in 2018, and getting an extra year to campaign thanks to Covid, Bailey has failed to make much of a dent on the public’s imagination. There have been various media reports suggesting he has not enjoyed campaigning, has refused to put in much of an effort on the doorstop and is frustrated by a lack of support from Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) – charges Bailey denies.
He admits the long slog of a campaign has been tough, but says it is nothing compared to the intermittent unemployment and homelessness he faced in his youth.
“I remember I was unemployed and the journey from being unemployed to getting to university was harder than this – much harder than this,” he says.
“I had days standing outside a temping agency in the freezing cold, nobody gave me work and I had to walk all the way back home.
“I had days sat on the bus hoping for somebody to give me somewhere to stay and sometimes that didn’t work out. This is much easier than that.”
It’s Bailey’s underprivileged upbringing and experience in mentoring teenagers flirting with drugs and gang violence that has driven his “tough on crime” agenda. The former social worker has promised to put 8,000 more police officers on the street and to open dozens of youth centres if elected.
His experience in some of London’s most deprived neighbourhoods has also fueled a desire to clampdown on middle class drug use. Bailey has called out the drug culture among some City workers and has called on them to consider what effect this has on black communities in other parts of London.
He will push City firms to regularly drug test their employees if elected on Thursday.
“Polite, casual drug use is only polite if you can pay with it with your big salary,” he says.
“Where I come from people are literally dying to deliver those drugs, let’s make a change on that, let’s give everybody an opportunity to be part of the solution.
“Just because you wear an Armani suit to work and not a hi-vis doesn’t mean it should exempt you form being part of the solution.”
The rest of Bailey’s manifesto sees a somewhat incongruous mix of large spending pledges and tax cuts on things like council tax, the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) and the Congestion Charge.
He is simultaneously promising to increase police spending by hundreds of millions of pounds and to open a new City Hall-owned property developer.
Some of the spending would be covered by a plan to sell sponsorship rights to Tube stops, however much of it is predicated on the belief that he will be able to do something Khan cannot – attract vast sums of funding from Boris Johnson.
“Sadiq can’t, because he’s lost their trust,” Bailey says.
“The reason we’ll be able to get more out of the government is because we’ll be able to demonstrate what we’re doing with that money instead of just coming back.”
“The way you make impact is you build on any money the government gives you and you flex any assets you get.”
However, these assumptions overlook the apparent fact that the Conservatives seem frankly uninterested in London.
The party was clobbered in the capital during the 2019 General Election, with the Tories winning just 21 of 72 London constituencies.
Johnson’s government is also on a mission to economically “level up” the North and the Midlands, which many pundits believe will mean less investment in critical London infrastucture.
CCHQ also cut funding for Bailey’s campaign earlier this year, leaving him with just one press officer, as it prioritised local elections in other parts of the country.
Bailey, unsurprisingly, refuses to cede that the government is in any way “anti-London”.
“The government hasn’t abandoned London and they realise, and I had this conversation with the chancellor [Rishi Sunak], if you’re going to level up anywhere the levelling up starts in London,” he says.
“Any monies we have here is spent in the rest of the country, we are an integral part to the economic future of this country.”
While Bailey is likely not on the verge of emulating either of his party leader’s victories in the 2008 or 2012 mayor of London elections, he does have one particular Johnsonian trait.
Much like the PM, Bailey has refused to apologise for a slew of controversial and socially conservative comments that have been consistently used against him by Khan during the election campaign.
The mayor, a practicing Muslim, has said he was personally offended by comments made by his opponent in 2005 that Hindu and Muslim festivals rob “Britain of its community” and could lead to parts of the country becoming a “crime riddled cesspool”.
Bailey has also been criticised for saying that implementing Universal Basic Income would lead to poorer people using it all on drugs, for politicising the rape and murder of Sarah Everard to attack Khan and for saying it was a “cottage industry” in some parts of London for single mothers to get pregnant to claim housing benefits.
When asked if he regretted these kind of comments, Bailey said: “I don’t. This is the difference between Sadiq Khan and I.
“He’s been hidden in his ivory tower, he’s a multimillionaire property landlord*, great for him. I’ve come from the street, I always ask the tough questions, I always ask the questions people are sat in their home asking.”
Unfortunately for Bailey, the vast majority of voting Londoners think very differently.
For better or worse, the capital is an overwhelmingly progressive enclave of the UK that hates Brexit, loves multiculturalism and views racism and imperialism as the UK’s greatest sins. Shaun Bailey’s unwillingness to attach himself to these kind of causes likely doomed his electoral chances from the very start.
*Sadiq Khan’s tax records indicate this is not true and that he owns no investment property