Conservative mayoral selection contests have rarely run smoothly, but this year really takes the biscuit. It’s been an embarrassment from start to finish. For a year now the Tories have been searching vainly for a high profile candidate who was equipped to take on Sadiq Khan next May. They even approached me to run on three separate occasions. I mean, how desperate can you get, given the fact I don’t even live in London?
Today they’ve ended up selecting former London Assembly Tory group leader Susan Hall, in preference to the maverick newcomer Moz Hossain, who was unknown even to Tory insiders before appearing on the scene a few weeks ago.
As someone steeped in Tory politics, I have to admit that until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of him. Nor had anyone else, for that matter. On the face of it, he was a dream candidate. He’s an immigration success story. He came to this country at the age of 21 not speaking a word of English. He is now a King’s Counsel. For that he has my total respect.
But just what had he done to merit selection as the Conservative candidate for London mayor? He has no track record in the voluntary party, so far as I can see. To say his knowledge of policy is shaky would be kind. He makes a virtue out of being a new broom, but can’t answer a straight question, as he proved so memorably in interviews with Camilla Tominey on GB News, and at a hustings with me on LBC last week. Embarrassing doesn’t cover it. Yet it is he who had clearly been unofficially backed by the central party machine all the way through. He had certainly got financial backing, and is a protégé of Tory donor Nick Candy. He had support staff running out of his ears, having seemingly inherited the campaign team which worked for Shaun Bailey last time around.
It ought to be an embarrassment for the Tories that in a year when, if they fight the right campaign, they could topple Sadiq Khan by making the election a referendum on ULEZ they have ended up having to choose between two candidates who can’t properly articulate the arguments against it, as they proved to memorably on my LBC show last week.
It was the only media debate the two of them agreed to do, and It was pretty unedifying. Susan Hall didn’t have to try too hard to prevail, given the hyped up antics of the man who many listeners dubbed ‘Mad Moz’ having listened to his deranged non answers and rantings about building 700,000 new houses without any idea of the cost or where they could be built. Susan Hall came across as the voice of sweet reason, even if she too was a little shaky on policy detail at times.
Moz Hossain undoubtedly needs some media training, which should include breathing exercises to calm him down. He has no idea how to behave in front of a microphone. He’s so hyped up and excitable it’s off-putting for the viewer or listener. Sadiq Khan would have gobbled him up before he knew what had hit him. You can’t win an election by bluster alone.
But why did the Tory establishment clearly row in behind Hossain, given his inexperience and unpredictability. He had big financial backing, whereas Susan Hall has none. She doesn’t even have an office or the money for campaign materials. Something very odd has gone on, given Hossain made the final two, and far better qualified candidates like the Minister for London, Paul Scully, didn’t. The sad truth is that when Daniel Korski dropped out of the race, Tory chairman Greg Hands should have halted the whole thing and ordered a rerun in the autumn. It may prove to be a costly error of judgement.
To win a London mayoral election you need to need several attributes. You need the support of your central party. Ideally you are likeable. You need to know how to generate headlines but in a good way. You need a positive policy platform. You need to know how to fight your opponent. You need a strong team around you.
Susan Hall is likeable and knows how to goad Sadiq Khan, as she have proved over the years at the mayoral question time in City Hall. Does she have a developed policy platform beyond the slogan ‘Safer with Susan’? She knows how to generate headlines but not always in a good way, as her sometime misjudged tweets prove. Will she get any support from Tory HQ or just be hung out to dry? Can she build a strong team around her? We are about to find out.
A shorter version of this article appeared in the London Evening Standard.