Those who have registered have until Wednesday next week to search the inboxes of their computers and then cast their votes for the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London. Devoted readers of this site have not been short of advice. Each of the four candidates – Andrew Boff, Zac Goldsmith, Stephen Greenhalgh and Syed Kamall – along with their supporters have been able to state their case. The hustings around the capital and debates on local radio have been generally comradely and good humoured. It has been a positive process as the candidates and their audiences have shared ideas and learnt from each other.
Already the contest has produced some winners and losers.
Even before the ballot has closed we know that Nicholas Boys Smith is a winner. The social enterprise he established Create Streets has attracted the support of all the Conservative candidates. They have all grasped the point that tower blocks are unloved by Londoners and that to win support for new housing it has to be beautiful. The failure to appreciate this has been Boris Johnson’s greatest failure in City Hall over the past seven years. London has become uglier with more tower blocks while the housing shortage has got worse – given the justified resistance to more tower blocks.
Similarly we also know that Sir Howard Davies is a loser. None of the Conservative candidates has been willing to endorse his short termist proposal for a third runway at Heathrow which would add to noise and worsen air quality.
Other losers include the bloated management at Transport for London. They own land the size of Camden. If any of the four short listed Conservatives take over as Mayor next May there will be a new era of rigorous asset management and finally an end to the Livingstonian era of waste. Selling surplus assets will allow debt to be reduced – and thus debt interest and fares. It will also allow the housing supply to be eased.
None of the Conservative nominees – not even the handsome and famous Zac – will have the advantage of Boris Johnson on the stump. Out on the high streets from Chingford to Cheam there is a pop star welcome for Boris.
On the other hand whoever is chosen will have seven months campaigning to build up a considerable media profile.
Certainly it is true that Zac would have a head start. He would also be – in rather a bizarre combination – best placed to get second preference votes from both UKIP and Green Party supporters. Second preferences are not to be scoffed at in a tightly fought contest.
On the other hand Zac has the terrible burden, through no fault of is own, on having been to Eton. Labour will be hoping that class war attacks will have some traction. Conservative rivals would be able to offer various “back stories” that would be able to more easily confront the deeply held stereotype that the Conservatives are the party for the rich. For Zac that is less easy.
I prefer to trust in the good sense of Londoners to ultimately make the choice on the solid foundation of who sets out the right direction for London and who can show a record of toughness and delivery to have credibility in making their promises.
Stephen Greenhalgh was council leader in Hammersmith and Fulham, delivering a reduction in council tax while improving services and cutting debt. I was there. I saw him at work. I heard the bureaucrats tell him it couldn’t be done as it was simply not possible. Then I saw him do it – incidentally working with those same bureaucrats to achieve it. His record as Deputy Mayor of Crime and Policing is no less remarkable – finding £600 million of savings while presiding over a 20 per cent fall in crime.
That means that commuters can believe him when he promises to cut tube fares by three per cent a year as Mayor of London.
All the candidates have their strong points. Boff has rightly championed Boris Island as the alternative to Heathrow – he has also been brave in defending Uber on the basis of the Conservative belief in choice and competition. Syed Kamall is an energetic campaigner and a staunch advocate of the Big Society approach of a greater role for community organisations.
After some early hesitancy in entering the race Goldsmith has allowed his commitment to shine through. It is no surprise that he is the favourite and I was happy to give him my second preference.
But an election means making a choice.
George Bush Snr had the slogan: “Ready on day one to be a great President”. Stephen Greenhalgh is ready on day one to be a great Mayor of London. I have voted for him to be our Conservative candidate.