The Tory bid for the 2020 London Mayoral Election is a doomed prospect; one that is getting consistently worse as the big-hitters within the party continue to run from the nomination.
Indeed, the nominating period has been brought forward to allow the successful candidate to spend considerable time on the campaign to achieve recognition in the city. Getting their voices heard is vital since incumbent Sadiq Khan has considerable resources with a city-funded press team for the mayor’s office, giving him an inbuilt advantage in the race.
The Tory campaign was always going to be lacklustre considering their dwindling support in London and formidable opposition from Khan, but the campaign – which is already considered a lost cause and so starts with favourable expectation management – is heading from a managed failure to national embarrassment due to the unwillingness of big-name Tories to consider standing.
The only MP considered to have a hope of victory was Justine Greening – who surprised many by declining to stand. Greening was seen as the saving grace for the nomination, due to her prominent anti-Heathrow expansion stance and pro-remain credentials. Her resignation from the front-bench in January also means she has no conflicting professional loyalties to prevent her from standing (although her wafer-thin 2017 majority may have influenced the decision).
By ruling herself out of the nomination, Greening is, therefore, an indictment of the dire state of the Tory mayoral bid and was seen as the final nail in the coffin – until speculation began about James Cleverly.
James Cleverly ticks less political boxes than Greening, as he is a prominent Brexiteer and voted for Heathrow expansion. However, his work in the London Assembly and for Boris Johnson gives him considerable experience in local London politics, and his recent promotion to deputy-chairman of the Conservative Party would provide the necessary national party backing and name recognition a successful candidate would need. The issue is that he has now also declined to stand for the nomination.
Other big names have also defied pundits by hastily ruling themselves out of the race. Former minister Ed Vaisey has declined (endorsing Greening who also subsequently declined), while former Chancellor George Osborne has also ruled himself out of the race – meaning he’ll have to make do scraping by on his eight current jobs.
Moving onto who is actually standing for the nomination; the first (and only) Tory MP to throw their hat into the ring is Andrew Rosindell (MP for Romford). Rosindell has very little name recognition, voted to expand Heathrow and is a vocal Brexiteer – a toxic political combination for a party already on the backfoot. Rosindell is known primarily for his dog-whistle leaflets (unhelpful considering the legacy left by Goldsmith’s 2016 campaign) and for being trolled by Newsnight. He is far from the inspiring candidate the Tories need.
The other serious declared contender for the nomination is Andrew Boff, leader of the Conservative Group in the London Assembly. Boff is another largely unknown candidate, but an important player in the London Assembly with the vital experience of critiquing Khan that comes with the job. However, since the Assembly has largely failed to be heard across London his candidacy does not constitute a real challenge for Khan.
The final notable outsider candidate is Shaun Bailey, another London Assembly member who has heavily criticised Khan over his political weakness on knife crime. Bailey is also a BAME candidate that could help overturn the xenophobic legacy left by the Goldsmith campaign. However, again he is politically unknown and lacks political experience (having only been elected in 2016).
With almost no big-names left to declare, the London Tories face a dire situation. CCHQ will have wanted a politically and personally diverse range of well-known candidates to choose from. Right now, their frontrunners are two unknown men named Andrew. The fact that this contest has been defined by who isn’t taking part in it rather than declared candidates is certainly a bad sign. With big names fleeing the field the Tory mayoral bid just went from underdog to certain failure.