April 04, 2006

New Conservative London Mayoral candidate to be in place in time for their October party conference - Watlington reveals the contest's timetable and procedures and names the likely runners

Posted by Watlington

The Conservatives plan to select their London mayoral candidate in time for their party conference in October. Watlington reveals the contest's timetable and procedures and names the likely runners: Margot James, Syed Kamall, Nicholas Boles, Simon Milton, Richard Stephenson, Steven Norris, Richard Barnes, Richard Evans, Brian Coleman, Angie Bray and Ray Lewis. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

As Ken Livingstone's populist star begins to fade as he veers between paranoia and naked courting of the Muslim vote (witness his recent attack on the Reuben brothers) - all the signs are that Conservatives are gearing up to get their Mayoral candidate in place in time for this years Party Conference.

At Conservative Central Office, Party Chairman Francis Maude has been tasked with organising a selection contest which epitomises the Cameroonian desire to show that the Party is changing.

In a paper currently under consideration by the Party Board (partly written by senior Party apparatchik Gavin Barwell and James Morris from the think tank Mind the Gap), a detailed timetable is set out - alongside the electoral method as to how the candidate will be chosen.

The intention is that the contest will begin with candidates applying at the end of May. The next stage will be a series of Primaries in which members of the public who register as Conservative supporters will be able to attend and have voting rights. Throughout June and July there will be a series of "rolling hustings" with the first ballot taking place some time in September, with a second ballot taking place in the same month if no candidate gets over 50%. Voting will either be by text or on the Internet. The cost of the Primaries is expected to reach close to 500,000 but it is hoped that this will be recouped through donations and possibly charging people to vote by text.

Inevitably these proposals have aroused serious criticism from some quarters. Some intelligent objections come from those who whilst not opposing the Primaries, ask why the process needs to be rushed through in such a hurry. They question whether hustings will take place in the summer months when many members are away.

But there is another more serious objection. It is understood that candidates are expected to be asked to guarantee to raise their own money for the election campaign against Livingstone (expected to cost between 1 and 2 million). This means that the only candidates who can stand are either very rich or have very rich friends. This leaves out candidates who might not have business contacts such as a charismatic teacher or hard working nurse.

Critics of these proposals believe that the reason that the selection process is being rushed through is to favour potential moderniser candidates. It is hoped that if there is a quick contest, then other strong candidates from different sections of the party will not have time to gather the necessary forces to win.

Francis Maude is thought to favour candidates like Margot James, a successful business woman and open lesbian who fought Holborn for the Tories at the last election. Ms James is also being pushed hard by party "doyenne" Anne Jenkin who would regard Ms James's candidature as a coup for her women2win lobby network.

Other moderniser candidates being talked about are Syed Kamall, currently London MEP, and Nicholas Boles, Director of Policy Exchange and Francis Maude's close friend and key intellectual guru. There are also strong rumours that Simon Milton, the highly capable Leader of Westminster City Council is also considering his options. Richard Stephenson, a former member of the party board and financial P.R. supremo, is another potential contender. These younger modernisers have usurped the place of Steven Norris, although he is understood to be determined to stand again and is already pledging to give up his business interests should he be the candidate.

The worry for some hardened Conservative campaigners is that all these Cameroons, whilst appealing to the inner London "metro" vote, may be somewhat unpalatable to the voters in the suburbs the ones who are most likely to vote Tory. For this reason some are searching for a candidate that could unite all parts of London ensuring that the Tory core vote does not stay at home.

From the Greater London Assembly, Tory members Richard Barnes, Richard Evans and Brian Coleman also may want to enter the race, but none are thought to have the necessary populism and charisma to take on Mr Livingstone. Angie Bray is regarded as a stronger option but not thought to want to stand at this time.

Those who are looking outside the gates of Notting Hill are thought to favour candidates who will represent the Conservative vision for social justice and merit and aspiration.

One such candidate possibly in mind is Ray Lewis, the Head of the popular Eastside Young Leaders' Academy in South London, which seeks to nurture the leadership skills of Afro-Caribbean boys. Although Mr Lewis lives in Luton, he is very close to Mr Iain Duncan Smith and currently sits on a Conservative Policy Committee. Mr Lewis is an ideal candidate as he would unite both the compassionate conservatives and the Cameroon modernisers in one fell swoop.

It may be therefore that - despite apparent efforts by the party leadership and Conservative Central Office to wrap up the selection contest quickly in favour of one of their "own" - the law of unintended consequences may kick in. The lobby of wise voices - who are concerned that current plans could favour "a rich man's candidate" and wish to slow down the contest by a few months to ensure that the right candidate really does emerge - grows stronger by the day. Their views may eventually hold sway.

To read more by Watlington, see Watlington.

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Anybody but Norris.

He hasn't got a chance after tricking former supporters over Jarvis last time.

Posted by: Guido Fawkes at April 4, 2006 03:37 PM

It has to be Steve Norris. He is the only one of these names with the skills and experience to do the job.

Posted by: Greg Taylor at April 4, 2006 07:20 PM

I completely disagree with Paul Staines. Steve Norris is the only one
mentioned who has the gravitas, communication skills and experience to
be a successful Mayor. He gets my vote if he is running.

Posted by: Michelle Cronin at April 4, 2006 09:09 PM

Norris is connecting more these days.

But , Ken is still number one ! - If conservatives want any chance, they need someone with a personality.

Posted by: GK at April 5, 2006 10:42 AM

Of course it has to be Norris. Which of the others can truly represent London and reach out beyond the Tories' core voters? He out-polled the party both times and all he needs is a decent base from Cameron and a fairly major success is in the bag.

It'd be a great way for the party to kick off the campaign to the next General Election with the first decent victory since 1992 and there's no else who could deliver that - or who truly wants to.

Posted by: Phillip Taylor at April 5, 2006 03:03 PM

isn't there another conservative mayoral candidate though not on your popularist list, a nice black lady, was a nurse etc. Can you confirm her name: chritian name something ending ...eline?

Posted by: mrs gray at May 21, 2007 11:01 PM
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