Posted: 02.10.15

Goldsmith gets it

Zac Goldsmith has been selected as the Conservative candidate for the 2016 London Mayoral Election, after an open primary in the capital. The Richmond Park and North Kingston MP won 70.6% of the vote, comfortably ahead of Syed Kamall on 16%. Stephen

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Zac Goldsmith has been selected as the Conservative candidate for the 2016 London Mayoral Election, after an open primary in the capital.

The Richmond Park and North Kingston MP won 70.6% of the vote, comfortably ahead of Syed Kamall on 16%. Stephen Greenhalgh came third with 9.4% and Andrew Boff fourth with 4%.

Goldsmith was the strong favourite throughout the three month campaign and also won support from 14 of London’s 21 Conservative MPs and all but one of the party’s nine London borough leaders. This all gives him a strong party mandate for the election next May.

With just over seven months until polling day Goldsmith will now start his campaign ‘proper’ as he seeks to hold the mayoralty for the Conservatives and defeat Labour’s Sadiq Khan.

Goldsmith’s natural charm and affable nature saw him through the Conservative selection process - a relentlessly polite and well-mannered affair but very light on debate and ideas. Taking on Khan will be a bigger and very different challenge and the Tooting MP has, in one sense, a significant head start. Khan has a greater understanding of London politics and governance, experience in leading the last two Labour election campaigns (2014 borough, 2015 general) in the capital, where the party bucked the national trend, and he has a significant team of supporters.

We should also remember that Goldsmith is a very different type of politician to incumbent Boris Johnson who greatly relied on the sheer power of his personality at the 2008 and 2012 elections. Johnson was also aided by large sections of the public and media who had grown tired of Ken Livingstone and were captivated by the novelty of the Boris brand. In that sense the Ken vs Boris elections were two personality driven battles. With no incumbent factor and limited recognition factor, Goldsmith vs Khan will be a different affair and perhaps more about ideas and solutions to London’s many challenges.

So, how will Zac develop his campaign? Clearly there is some way to go until polling day and we don’t really expect the race to get going until the New Year with candidates spending the next few months refining their policies. However we’ve set out below four key themes that Zac will probably be looking at in the coming weeks.

1. Developing a narrative - He is well known for being independently minded and environmentally focussed, particularly in his opposition to a third runway at Heathrow, and could potentially out-perform Khan here as air quality related-issues (emissions, road pricing, congestion charge) rise up the political agenda. But voters will need to know more about what Goldsmith stands for and what he might do differently to his predecessors. He has often pointed to the growing cost of living in London at hustings events and this could well be a key theme for the campaign. However, like all the candidates Goldsmith will have to demonstrate practical policies to address these challenges if he’s to beat or match Khan who through his background can arguably demonstrate greater empathy with ‘ordinary’ Londoners. And this could all be crucial in securing second preference votes from Liberal Democrats and Greens on polling day.

2. Formulating ideas on housing - Undoubtedly the number one issue in London at present, Goldsmith has said that 50,000 homes need to be built every year to keep up with demand, has supported the set-up of the London Land Commission and like Khan has committed to bringing forward the development of public sector owned land in the capital. He has also spoken of regenerating 1950s/60s estates and improving the quality of London’s housing stock. But he’ll need to do more than just supporting existing housing ideas and highlighting problems to distinguish himself from Khan who has already come forward with a raft of ideas including a rent cap (something that Goldsmith is against), the reinstatement of the 50% affordable housing target on new developments and a London Homes Team to oversee the fast-tracking of new homes. Boris has of course generally taken a non-interventionist ‘bottom up’ approach leaving boroughs to decide on new developments (he has only ‘called in’ 14 developments since becoming Mayor) but the delivery of new homes is still slow and the planning process cumbersome. Will Zac show that he’s willing to take on councils if they aren’t delivering enough new homes?

3. Galvanising activists - Unlike Labour the Conservatives haven’t had a strong grassroots campaigning base in the capital in recent years, something that perhaps contributed to their limited support in much of London over the 2014 local and 2015 general elections. This is perhaps amply demonstrated by the size of the electoral college in the selection of Khan and Goldsmith – nearly 90,000 people voted for the Labour Mayoral candidate; less than 10,000 did for the Conservative. Whilst mayoral elections are different and focussed more on personalities rather than parties, Goldsmith needs to strengthen the Conservative campaigning base. A well marshalled team of activists to take the Zac message and brand into inner London and Labour-controlled boroughs like Newham, Hackney and Islington, as well as the outer London safe Tory havens of Bromley, Bexley and Richmond will be important, as squeezing out votes in a potential low turnout election could be vital.

4. Demonstrating a strong relationship with central government - Goldsmith hasn’t been afraid to take on his own party in the past and may still do so if they push forward with a third runway at Heathrow later this year, and on the European referendum next year. His challenge to the government on the airport will no doubt continue but he’ll also have to show that he can work with Whitehall and the Treasury to get the capital investment, particularly in transport and projects like Crossrail 2, which London needs. More specifically Goldsmith may lobby Government on ‘Right to Buy’ which has been attacked by London local authority figures from across the political spectrum. Goldsmith may seek a deal with number 11 on this and has talked of ring-fencing receipts from the sale of London’s council housing stock so they can then be put towards the building of new homes. He’ll also need to push the government on more devolution, something that was raised in the Conservatives' Long-term Economic Plan for London (February 2015) and the General Election manifesto. Watching the dynamic between Goldsmith and Cameron/Osborne and even Boris over the coming months will therefore be interesting and perhaps reveal whether a Zac mayoralty will get what it wants from the Tory hierarchy.

With all the candidates from the other main parties in place (Caroline Pidgeon for the Liberal Democrats, Sian Berry for the Greens, Paul Whittle for UKIP were all selected in the last month) LCA will be closely watching the election campaign as it builds up in the next few months with events and debates before public campaigning begins in earnest in the New Year.

In case you missed it last week, you can also read our blog on Labour Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan's selection here.

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