'I don't think they are big names in their own households'? The Tories hoping to unseat Sadiq Khan in London

23 May 2023, 09:48 | Updated: 23 May 2023, 20:25

Samuel Kasumu and Paul Scully among the Tories hoping to become London Mayor
Samuel Kasumu and Paul Scully among the Tories hoping to become London Mayor. Picture: Alamy
Henry Riley

By Henry Riley

This week marked an extremely significant affair in the political calendar, yet you’d be forgiven for completely missing it.

Buried amongst the fallout from disastrous local election results, the Conservatives have begun choosing their candidate for the London Mayoralty.

Is it that time already? Despite the last Mayoral election taking place just two years ago (it was delayed due to Coronavirus), the election for City Hall is now just a year away and the race has well and truly started with the incumbent Sadiq Khan hoping for a historic third term in office.

Khan, 52, has already defeated Conservative Zac (now Lord) Goldsmith, and more recently Shaun Bailey – but there is a quiet confidence among the London Conservatives that despite a gloomy national picture, the party can capitalise on what they label “disastrous” policies. Notably regarding the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) expansion, and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). One of the candidates tells me Mr Khan has “bitten off more than he can chew”.

Hoping to capitalise on any discontent with the incumbent are ten hopefuls, who believe they can turn London blue for the first time since Boris Johnson was at the Capital’s helm. From a sitting government Minister, a Welsh Senedd member, to a former royal aide and former Downing Street adviser the Tories have a plethora of keen, yet largely unknown, candidates.

Most notable is Paul Scully, the Minister for London (as well as Technology), who sits as a London MP in Sutton and Cheam and is furious about Ulez expansion. In fact, they are all virtually promising the same thing… to scrap expansion (scheduled for August 29) on their first day in office.

Elsewhere, Samuel Kasumu – a former race adviser to Boris Johnson – has high profile backers in Priti Patel and Grant Shapps. There is also Susan Hall, who used to lead the Conservatives on the London Assembly, and is a former Council leader who is very popular with the grassroots of the party.

Indeed nine candidates have declared so far, and I’m told there is one more “charismatic” character – with a former Cabinet Minister endorsing them – who wants to be the candidate.

A wide pool of candidates, but there is one glaring issue… as one senior Conservative put it to me “I don’t even think they are big names in their own household”.

Scathing, but they add “I don’t mean that out of disrespect, but, like Khan or loathe him, people know him. I’ve worked within the London scene for many years, and I have to confess I’ve never heard of some of these names”.

A former London Conservative MP tells me that the problem is… Boris. “They’re all trying to be Boris, not Mayor of London. They’re obsessed with the prospect of a cult following.. but none of them have the star power”.

The 10 candidates who have put themselves forward will now seek to make the ‘longlist’, before they are narrowed down to a shortlist of two or three, with the winner announced on July 19. Following that will be 10 gruelling months of campaigning seeking to unseat Khan.

The Tories will, in many ways fairly, point to the diversity of their shortlist, but the likely victor will be Mr Scully. It is extremely rare for someone who isn’t, or hasn’t been, an MP to get the job as candidate for either of the two main parties (Shaun Bailey last time out being the exception).

Rumours of a celebrity candidate surface every election cycle, take Judge Rob Rinder and businesswoman Karren Brady. In reality, this never materialises.

There is a genuine belief that whilst the Conservatives undeniably face significant challenges nationally, when it comes to London - often referred to as a ‘Red city’ - the Tories can genuinely win. And Sadiq Khan can be banished back to Westminster.