The currently declared hopefuls are Warwick Lightfoot and Victoria Borwick. Both are councillors in Kensington and Chelsea, a fact which is causing some debate over at CH between those who seem to think K&C is just as “representative” of London as any other borough and those who think such a candidate lacks the experience needed to tackle Mayor Livingstone.
As an impartial observer it seems to me that any prospective candidate has to face up to a number of facts which stem from the past actions of Tory politicians.
The Conservative Legacy in London
Every time LibDem leader Ming Campbell is questioned on the subject of coalition government he tells the interviewer that he’s “banned from the Liberal Democrat lexicon” the words coalition and hung parliament.
This stance offers an important lesson to anyone aspiring to be the next Conservative Mayoral candidate. You can’t, as Victoria’s piece on CH and website suggest she would, campaign in 2008 over what you see as the ‘Looney Left’ policies of Red Ken & the GLC.
If you’re still reading, here’s why:
1. Don’t you just hate how at PMQ’s Blair harks back 10 years to when Major was in office every time his policies are under fire? Exactly so imagine how any candidate will sound exhuming ideological rows from 20 years ago.
2. This won’t be popular but in every measurable way Livingstone won the argument over Equal Opportunities. There’s not a single mainstream politician in 2006 who believes that woman and members of BME and LGBT communities deserve unequal pay and less job security than a white heterosexual married man or who doesn’t accept that the provision of affordable childcare is an important part of helping woman back into work.
3. The beneficiaries of those ‘Looney Left’ policies make up such a significant percentage of London voters that giving Livingstone an opportunity to remind voters of Tory opposition to ‘inclusion’ would be electoral suicide. Steve Norris knows this, it’s why he distanced himself from the central party in 2000 and 2004 and how he managed to come such a strong second both times.
Any candidate who thinks Norris would have done better by debating a 20 year old decision to insist on Robertson’s removing the Golly from their jams is going to waste a lot of people’s time and money.
Over on CH Victoria claims the GLC’s demise was “unlamented“. Well I guess if you didn’t rely on a GLC salary to pay your bills that might be true but abolition meant a lot of people lost their jobs and suffered real financial hardship.
In education GLC abolition resulted in the scrapping of ILEA, the Londonwide education authority. As someone finishing their education during this period I can assure you the impact was disastrous, many of the boroughs just weren’t capable of absorbing the functions they had thrust upon them and two generations of Londoner’s have paid the price.
Many people who lived in GLC managed homes certainly lamented the much poorer quality of housing management they often encountered when their homes were transferred to the very councils they’d rejected as potential landlords.
So, whilst it may have been unpopular with many Tories, the GLC had a positive daily impact on the lives of millions of Londoners who held it in high esteem. The eventual candidate has to avoid debating issues from ancient history in which the Tories were long ago cast as the bad guys.
Finding a Credible Candidate
When I listen to activists in any party discuss who should stand for various elections I often want to weep in despair. Just because old Maurice has been a good local party chair who runs the meetings well and always brings a packet of hobnobs to share, it doesn’t mean he has what it takes to front a high profile campaign.
Reading some comments on sites such as Iain Dale’s and CH it’s clear a lot of Tory activists underestimate the challenge of unseating Ken Livingstone. I know many Tories hate him but the inescapable truth is that he’s a formidable political operator who owes much of his reputation and surrounding myth to their own party.
It was abolition of the GLC which meant Ken never outstayed his welcome in the 1980’s. He will forever more be able to tell how Baroness Thatcher so feared him she abolished his job. The truth of the claim isn’t important, it’s how history has been written.
In 2000, fueled by that myth, he overcame the best efforts of the New Labour election machine and demolished Frank Dobson’s campaign. Twice he managed to beat Steve Norris, no slouch himself when it comes to campaigning. Then in 2004 the larger than life personalities of both Norris and Livingstone pushed the LibDem’s equally well known Simon Hughes into an uncomfortable third place.
So it’s clear that the next Conservative candidate needs to be as charismatic, media savvy and as well known as Livingstone if they’re to have any realistic chance of winning. The party needs to put forward a candidate who goes down well on the inner city estates and looks and sounds as if they understand the problems faced by the majority of Londoners who don’t live in expensive, low crime areas. Some real world experience (i.e. at the sharp end) in crime fighting, social housing, or poverty reduction would be nice too.
It’s not going to be enough to simply attack Ken for being “smug“. That’s never stopped people voting for him before and it won’t stop them in 2008.
I think a lot of Tories believe London will just fall into their laps if they wait long enough. It won’t, if the party genuinely wants to take the Mayoralty from Ken they’re going to have to work hard for it.