Conservative mayoral selection contests have rarely gone smoothly, but this year it really takes the cake. It has been a shame from start to finish. For a year, the Tories have been searching in vain for a high-profile candidate who would be equipped to take on Sadiq Khan next May. They even asked me to run on three separate occasions. I mean, how desperate can you be, given the fact that I don’t even live in London?
Today they ended up selecting former London Assembly Tory caucus leader Susan Hall over maverick newcomer Moz Hossain, who was unknown even to Tories 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. Or anyone else, for that matter. At first glance, he was a dream candidate. It is an immigration success story. He came to this country at the age of 21 without speaking a word of English. He now he is counselor to the king. For that he has all my respect.
But what had he done to deserve selection as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London? He has no record in the voluntary party that I know of. To say that your knowledge of politics is shaky would be kind. He makes a virtue of being a new broom, but he can’t answer a direct question, as he so memorably demonstrated in interviews with Camilla Tominey on GB News, and in a meeting with me on LBC last week. Embarrassing doesn’t cover it. Yet it is he who has clearly been unofficially backed by the party’s central machinery throughout. He certainly got financial backing and is a protégé of Tory donor Nick Candy. His support staff was running low, as he had apparently inherited the campaign team he worked for Shaun Bailey last time.
It should be a shame for the Tories that in a year where, if they fight the right campaign, they could unseat Sadiq Khan by making the election a referendum on ULEZ, they ended up having to choose between two candidates who cannot adequately articulate the counter-arguments, as memorably demonstrated on my LBC show last week.
It was the only media debate the two agreed to do, and it was pretty unedifying. Susan Hall didn’t have to try too hard to prevail, given the over-the-top antics of the man many listeners dubbed ‘Mad Moz’ after hearing his insane negative responses and rants about building 700,000 new homes with no idea of the cost or where they might be built. Susan Hall came through as the voice of sweet reason, even if she, too, was a bit shaky at times with the details of politics.
Moz Hossain certainly 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 is so excited and excitable that he is unpleasant to the viewer or the listener. Sadiq Khan would have eaten him before he knew what had hit him. He can’t win an election with bravado alone.
But why did the Tory establishment clearly stand behind Hossain, given his inexperience and unpredictability? He had great financial backing, whereas Susan Hall has none. She doesn’t even have an office or the money for campaign materials. A very strange thing has happened, given that Hossain made it to the bottom two, and far better qualified candidates like London Minister Paul Scully did not. The sad truth is that when Daniel Korski withdrew from the race, Tory president Greg Hands should have stopped everything and ordered a repeat in the fall. It can turn out to be a costly error in judgment.
To win a London mayoral election you 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 political 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 has demonstrated over the years at Mayoral Question Time at City Hall. Does she have a political platform developed beyond the slogan ‘Safer with Susan’? She knows how to generate headlines, but not always in a good way, as her misjudged tweets prove. Will she get any support from Tory HQ or will she just be hung out to dry off of her? 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.