Last night Justine Greening became the third Tory MP to rule out standing against Sadiq Khan in 2020.
While some have labelled the Putney MP the party’s best chance of winning, I remain sceptical that a sitting MP who lost 90% of their vote share overnight can claim to have the cross-party support required to pass the 50% + 1 threshold needed to take City Hall.
Yes, the national Tory campaign was a disaster. But successful Mayoral candidates are able to step beyond party. If those you already represent aren’t able to look beyond the national campaign and party label to back you on the strength of your local work, you’re probably not the right candidate for a City Hall bid.
Let’s remind ourselves where the Tories start from.
Despite running a widely criticised campaign, in 2016 Zac Goldsmith polled 43.2%, better than the 42.1% Steve Norris polled in 2000 and only slightly behind the 44.6% Norris won in 2004. In other words, he polled exactly how you’d expect a Tory mayoral candidate to poll if that candidate isn’t called Boris Johnson.
But the problem for the Tories is that they only have one Boris.
Theresa May might be grateful for that when she surveys the disruption he causes to her government but in London her party needs someone with the same big tent appeal to move beyond their now well established mid-40s baseline.
Many, but not all, London Tories think they have no chance of winning no matter who they put up – years of austerity and the overhang of Brexit are seen as barriers too high to overcome.
It’s been suggested to me that the party should accept this, not waste an eager contender who might have a chance if there’s no incumbent in 2024 and instead run a heavy hitter who’d accept their job was just to put on as good a show as possible.
One name mentioned to me is Boris’s former policing deputy Stephen Greenhalgh who, it’s suggested, could give Sadiq a hard time over police cuts and station closures.
Perhaps, but it’s worth noting that when City Hall recently polled Londoners to ask who they “think is mainly responsible for keeping Londoners safe” only 4% named the Mayor with the Met (54%) and government (15%) polling higher.
And when asked whether closures were justified if they stemmed from cuts to government funding of the Met, 55% said this would be totally unjustifiable.
Rather than gambling on the public sitting through a long debate on why none of the cuts are really down to government spending decisions, other voices say the Tories might be better putting out a fresh face with a positive message on transport and housing. While they wouldn’t win, it’s suggested this would help the party reinvent itself in the capital.
But these too are areas where Sadiq can point to government cuts and inaction as plausible reasons for any gaps between his 2016 pledges and post election delivery.
Assuming the Tories win the next General Election they’re going to have to start governing in a way that enables rather than cripples local campaigns.