Shaun Bailey’s had a tough time of it as the Conservative mayor of London candidate.
Chosen back in 2018, he has had two years to raise his profile and launch attacks on the mayor through his role as a London Assembly member.
Despite ample opportunity, Bailey did not manage to lay a glove on Sadiq Khan in that period and trails the mayor by more than 20 percentage points in the latest polling.
However, the challenger now has a revamped operation behind him and is taking a different strategy into next year’s mayoral election.
His old press team have been replaced by a new group of spinners – led by home secretary Priti Patel’s former chief of staff – after Boris Johnson personally intervened to get the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) to lend more support to Bailey’s campaign.
Johnson’s push came after a scathing Financial Times article in June quoted a host of anonymous Tory grandees and donors saying that Bailey should be dumped as a candidate.
Bailey told City A.M. today that the Prime Minister rang him after the article was published and told the candidate to “bugger [his critics]”, adding “I’m on your side, even if no one else is”.
Today marked the start of Bailey’s rebrand, which comes with a new campaign slogan: “Shaun Bailey for a more equal London.”
While his campaign had been almost solely based around on law and order up until now, Bailey wants to change the narrative to instead highlight London’s inequalities in a bid to win over working class and Bame voters.
“Healing the race and class divide will be a priority for me as mayor,” he said.
The former social worker started his speech by speaking about his background as a black, working class Londoner who faced torrents of racial abuse growing up.
His speech went on to preach the need for black people to receive more opportunity in the private sector, while also stressing that white working class kids face similar challenges.
He called for an end to institutional racial prejudice, while also saying it should not come through “renaming streets” and “toppling statues” as has been seen this year in the wake of the Black Lives Matters protest.
He also painted Khan as someone who has let down traditional Labour voters, claiming the mayor had “forgotten his roots” and “betrayed our communities”.
He went even further by saying Khan “would rather win black people’s votes than help them get on with life”.
This will be likely be a recurring attack line from Bailey, as he seeks to paint Khan as a class traitor who has not delivered for London’s less privileged communities.
The new push is similar to the Tories’ 2019 election winning strategy as the party positioned itself as the new guardians of the working class against metropolitan elites.
However, London is a very different beast from the red wall that Johnson was able to conquer.
Even some of the most deprived areas in London still voted Labour last year, despite the Tories winning many working class constituencies in the North and the Midlands.
Khan remains a popular figure among Bame people, who make up 40 per cent of the capital, and has consistently taken up causes popular in London – ie a second Brexit referendum.
It is also quite the gamble for Bailey to fight an election along the battle lines of class and ethnicity against someone who has often adroitly used identity politics to further his own cause.
Regardless of this, at least there is now a tangible overarching strategy behind the Conservative campaign – something it had sorely lacked.
Nothing could have been more boring than a campaign of two candidates blaming the other’s party for the state of knife crime in London.
Instead we may even get a relevant, and desperately needed, debate on some of the key causes of inequality and division in our city.