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Why can’t the Tories win London?

Why can’t the Conservatives win in London? In the 1980s, Labor had a London problem. In 1987, despite a national election wave towards Labour, the Tories won seats in the capital: Battersea, Lewisham West and Lewisham East. This counter-cyclical trend was repeated in the 1990 London borough elections, allowing the Tories to post victories at Wandsworth and Westminster.

A generation later, the Tories have lost those London flagships and now control just five of the 32 boroughs. They face possible defeat at the London general election, with the recent mayoral election result a taste of things to come.

Whatever the answer to the party’s London problem, it was not the broke and politically tone-deaf Susan Hall. After an inept ten-month campaign, Hall achieved a three percent swing away from the Tories to Sadiq Khan, who won an unprecedented third term.

Not that May 2 went well for the Tories anywhere in England; they lost almost 500 council seats. But the effective mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, lost only about 1,500 votes out of more than 600,000 votes cast in an equally deep Labor area. He also conceded gracefully, something that escaped Hall.

Why did things go so badly wrong, despite the fact that the Tory government under former London mayor Boris Johnson had gone to the trouble of trying to rig the election by changing the voting system and introducing Voter ID?

To be fair, the entire Tory London car crash wasn’t Hall’s fault. If a party is 20 points behind in the national polls, becoming a mayoral candidate in a Labor-leaning city is not an attractive career prospect. Big names with big budget performance records are difficult to attract. The Tories’ best substitute for that – selecting their candidate early – never really worked.

Credibility helps. Ken Livingstone, a winning candidate in 2000 and 2004, had already led the old Greater London Council. The Tory number two in those years, Steve Norris, had been Transport Secretary in London after the GLC was abolished. Sadiq Khan had been an MP and minister in London. In addition to their qualifications, they all had fluid knowledge on issues, without which a candidate can easily get out of trouble on the campaign trail, as Hall discovered, despite having led Harrow Council.

In the absence of experience, celebrity stardust can compensate. By turning to Johnson before the 2008 election, the Tories didn’t get a practical, hard-working mayor, but it did get them through the door of City Hall twice, making possible eight years in which Tory local government veterans Simon Milton and Eddie Lister did. the heavy lifting.

Always an opportunist, Johnson was not afraid to distance himself from his party to suit London’s interests and left-wing ideological leanings. Although Norris was unsuccessful against the then very popular Livingstone, he distinguished himself from the national party, which was almost as unpopular then as it is now. Livingstone’s independence from Tony Blair’s Labour, literally so in his first campaign, was also popular.

Worse than being in the dark shadows of her party, Hall, like Zac Goldsmith and Shaun Bailey before her, was remarkably out of touch with the capital’s voters – all three were Brexiteers in a city that voted for 60 percent voted Remain, and maybe even more. more in that direction today.

In his pursuit of a minority of London voters, Hall chose issues from the “wrong side of history” over common sense. The Tories once opposed the congestion charge. It is now accepted by everyone. Still, Hall strongly opposed the expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone. Yes, the issue helped the Tories win the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-elections, but that’s just one parliamentary seat out of 73 in London.

Such positioning made Hall’s campaign negative and limited, according to her former Harrow deputy leader, Barry Macleod-Cullinane, who supported Khan. When asked by LBC how much people pay to get on a London bus, Hall consistently responded out of touch on key mayoral issues: “I don’t use them.” Her missteps on social media, including appearing to endorse Enoch Powell and the term “Londonistan,” popular with alt-right groups, should have been noticed by party managers, preselected, before her opponents could exploit them.

In it, Hall repeated the mistakes of Goldsmith, who tried to associate Khan’s Muslim faith with terrorism, and of Bailey, who had argued that welcoming Muslim and Hindu festivals “deprived Britain of its community” and risked creating a “ crime-ridden country”. cesspool.” Can the Tories win back London? Not like this.

Barnaby Towns served as a senior campaign adviser to Conservative mayoral candidate Steve Norris in 2000 and 2004. Support OnLondon.co.uk and its writers for as little as £5 a month or £50 a year and get your money’s worth too. Details HERE.