Roar writer Gideon Coolin on Shaun Bailey’s campaign to become London mayor.
After a year’s delay, it’s finally time to choose a new London mayor in the largest direct election in the UK. By May 6, 2021, millions of Londoners will have posted their ballots and visited their local (Covid-safe) polling station, choosing their top two preferences for mayor. Candidates that have announced a run for the mayoral office range from the Greens’ Sian Berry, plumbing magnate Charlie Mullins, anti-capitalist rapper Drillminster, conspiracy theorist Brian Rose, to finally, a man who claims to have spoken to “the largest crowd in history”, Peter Gammons.
However, the real contest for London Mayor is supposedly between incumbent Labour Party mayor Sadiq Khan and Conservative Assembly Member Shaun Bailey. Supposedly is a keyword here: Shaun Bailey is being walloped by Sadiq Khan in almost every opinion poll released. The high watermark for the Bailey campaign so far has been a poll in September 2020 showing him “only” 20% behind Khan.
The first problem with Shaun Bailey is that he is a bit of a nobody – he has never been elected as an MP and is a first-term London Assembly member. Gone are the days when Conservative high-flyers like Zac Goldsmith and, somewhat more famously, Boris Johnson would run for and win the London Mayoralty. The Conservatives’ collapse in London – from 28 Westminster seats in 2010 to only 21 in 2019 – has made the party gloomy about its chances in May, leading talented politicians to flee the scene.
The second problem is that Bailey has a history of making grossly offensive remarks. His commentary includes, but is not limited to, suggesting that making pregnancy terminations available to teenage women will increase crime, claiming that single mothers only get pregnant to receive government benefits, and arguing that Muslims and Hindus turn Britain into a “crime-riddled cesspool”. This track record of misogyny and racism is compounded by a seemingly chronic aversion to telling the truth throughout the campaign—going so far as to edit Sadiq Khan into a bizarre spoof film trailer that certainly won’t be winning any Oscars.
Given this, it’s no wonder that Shaun Bailey is on track to post the Conservative Party’s largest second round humiliation in the history of the London Mayoralty. However, it increasingly feels as if he’s stopped trying to win.
One of the Bailey campaign’s recent campaign adverts demonstrates this neatly. Firstly, the spot is filmed entirely in Hornchurch – a far-flung suburb on the border between Greater London and Essex, in a borough where residents don’t even see themselves as Londoners! Secondly, the numerous tortured references to “standing up for outer London” portray a Campaign that is increasingly doomed in inner London, laser-focused on the so-called “Doughnut Strategy”, where huge margins in the outer London suburban ring offset losses in inner London. But with Bailey garnering less than a quarter of inner Londoners’ support in a January 2021 poll conducted by Redfield and Winton, he will need to slash Khan’s inner London margins to be in with a shot.
Finally, Bailey repeatedly mentions his opposition to extensions to the Congestion Charge, Ultra-Low-Emissions-Zone and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods Schemes, all of which are a key plank of Khan’s plans to cut air pollution and make London carbon-neutral by 2030. Despite Shaun Bailey’s protestations, a poll in January for the New Statesman found that opposition to the extension of the Ultra-Low-Emissions-Zone and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods amounted to a paltry 32% and 21% of Londoners respectively. Not only is Shaun Bailey out of touch with Londoners on these issues; he is also out of touch with his own party, who have made strong rhetorical support for curbs on climate change a key plank of their platform under Boris Johnson.
In May, Sadiq Khan is increasingly likely to cruise to victory with an even larger landslide than in 2016. While this partly represents a rapidly changing political culture in London, where Labour has established a near-hegemony, it also reflects the narrow appeal of Shaun Bailey—a candidate who seems to be digging himself an ever-deeper hole as May 6 nears. Be it putting all of his chips into Outer London or attempting to harness the non-existent opposition to Sadiq Khan’s carbon-neutral policies, Shaun Bailey’s attempts to break through in a city that has turned its back on Conservatism are becoming increasingly desperate.