The conservative London mayoral shortlist, to be put it bluntly was a shocker, presumed front runner Paul Scully MP was excluded from the shortlist in an attempt to detoxify the party’s image. Scully, a former London councillor and group leader, turned Minister for London who ousted long-standing Liberal Democrat MP Sutton and Cheam Paul Burstow in 2015, was seen as ‘too close’ to a government, which has been littered in scandal for the last twelve months.
Bizarrely, Samuel Kasumu former special advisor to Boris Johnson and parliamentary candidate was excluded from the long list despite securing some pretty big endorsements. Unusually for a Conservative in modern times, Kasumu is a passionate advocate for house building, which would have appealed to young Londoners struggling to get onto the housing ladder.
After a day of intensive interviews at CCHQ, those shortlisted were confirmed as former Leader of Harrow Council and the conservative group at City Hall, Susan Hall AM; former Special advisor to David Cameron turned tech entrepreneur, Dan Korski and criminal barrister, Moz Hossain KC – dubbed ‘mystery Moz’. For Korski allegations of sexual impropriety during his time working at number 10 abruptly bought his campaign to a close, Korski strongly denies any wrongdoing.
Despite pressure from a number in the party, the London board who were responsible for overseeing the selection process, decided against reopening nominations to allow a replacement candidate to take Korski’s place- the battle for the heart of conservatism in the capital was on.
Hall claimed she was the candidate that ‘Sadiq Khan fears the most’. The former Leader of Harrow Council and conservative group leader is known for her outspoken, if not slightly eyebrow raising views on Twitter, with regular appearances on right-leaning tv channel, GB News. Whilst Hall may appeal to traditional Tory voters, she is unlikely to gain support from London boroughs that the party lost in May 2022 to Labour including Westminster, Wandsworth and Barnet. Similarly, in south west London, where the party lost swathes of support to the Liberal Democrats, today’s announcement of Hall’s selection will no doubt be cheered by conservative opponents who will paint her as a pro-Boris, pro-Brexit right winger out of step with London’s more liberal leaning electorate.
It’s bad news for the built environment as well with Hall having secured support from well-known development sceptic Theresa Villiers MP and has been scathing of what she dubs ‘dreadful tower blocks’, though her chances of defeating Khan remain slim, especially with the recent move to change the electoral system to First past the post (FPTP).
The defeated candidate Moz Hossain KC, however, is a very different type of conservative, dubbed ‘mystery Moz’ in part because he did not even launch his campaign until it was confirmed that he had successfully been shortlisted. Hossain was born in Bangladesh and moved to the UK to study law when he was 21 becoming a top criminal barrister, his claim to fame is that he did not own a pair of shoes until he was 16.
Whilst he is relatively unknown inside and outside conservative circles, he was the candidate that the party and his supporters thought would provide a ‘clean break’. Hossain, like most of his fellow candidates committed to reversing Khan’s ULEZ tax, which has proved to be unpopular with the majority of Londoners. His campaign also had a specific focus on cutting crime, which Hossain argued he was most qualified to do because of his legal background. However, in order to do so, Hossain argued that ‘we must defeat Khan’ and he was the one to do it because he is not a ‘typical conservative’.
His supporters will be disappointed that he will not now have the opportunity to take the fight to the incumbent mayor as the party chooses the more experienced Hall over the lesser-known Hossain.
Whilst the electoral outlook remains bleak for the conservatives in London, the incumbent mayor’s expansion of the ULEZ implementation remains a contentious issue for Londoners. Although reversing the expansion will be music to many people’s ears, and will no doubt be the focus of the conservatives campaign, their government remains unpopular.
Londoners face a clear choice, take a gamble with Hall or another four years of Khan with ULEZ all but guaranteed. How many will be able to hold their nose and vote for change in the capital, time will tell as voters go to the polls on 2nd May 2024.