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The Tories' new London hope

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LGC’s essential daily briefing

The final leg of the London mayoral election in May 2016 was mired by widespread accusations that Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith was trying to depict his Muslim opponent Sadiq Khan as an extremist.

Mr Khan’s capture of 56.8% of votes in the final round will doubtless have convinced some Conservatives that such tactics in the UK’s diverse capital are unlikely to breed electoral success.

In selecting Shaun Bailey, the London Assembly member chosen in late September to contest the next mayoral election in 2020, it is fair to assume many Conservative Londoners wanted a change of strategy.

Having been raised by his Jamaican mother in a poor area of North Kensington, Mr Bailey became a community worker and an adviser to David Cameron.

“I come from a poor community,” he told the Guardian in 2010. “My politics are of the street. If I get to the House of Commons and don’t get thrown out, I’m doing something wrong.”

But Conservatives hoping the selection of a black mayoral candidate would focus the campaign on London’s key policy concerns may have been dismayed by the fortnight since his selection.

Journalists trawling through Mr Bailey’s online record have found that he previously criticised the British approach to multiculturalism, including schools that allegedly teach “far more about Diwali than Christmas”.

Writing in a 2005 pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies, he said: “By removing the religion [Christianity] that British people generally take to, by removing the ethics that generally go with it, we’ve allowed people to come to Britain and bring their culture, their country and any problems they might have, with them.

“[Migrants] are alienated because they haven’t been exposed to the good things in Britain – our ethics. That’s why we’ve now got a nation of people who wouldn’t do anything for the country.”

Whatever Londoners’ views on these comments, or the apologies for them from Conservative deputy chairman James Cleverly, it is noteable that the early focus on Mr Bailey has been on issues perhaps outside the London mayor’s core remit.

The office is famously a draw for political mavericks, as shown by Mr Khan’s distance from the Labour leadership and the career paths of Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone.

While such characters attract attention and stir up activists, prolonged focus on their controversies is unlikely to convince voters that mayors’ offices can address their concerns about local services.

With more than 18 months before the polls open, Mr Bailey will be hoping he can change the subject to discuss the housing, transport and crime problems London is facing.

Any failure to do that will probably be good for Mr Khan’s chances of re-election. But proper scrutiny of London’s challenges will do more for his city and his office.

Jimmy Nicholls, features editor

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