It is often claimed that UKIP hates London, and that the feeling is more than mutual. But the party took eight per cent of the vote in London at the general election, a stark increase in support from the two per cent it claimed in 2012. It seems that London’s electorate are more amenable to the party than ever before. Whoever the UKIP London Mayoral Candidate is, they’ve got the chance to massively outperform the party’s disappointing 2012 result, which was just 43,274 votes.
The campaign, as I understand it from those at UKIP HQ, will be run by Chris Bruni Lowe who masterminded the party’s 3.8 million vote winning strategy at the General Election, and was Nigel Farage’s agent in South Thanet.
And lessons have been learned since then, too. Systems need to change, the “wets” of the party, I believe, will get less of a say in this campaign, and the activist base including new “pledges” received on the run up to May will be leveraged like the party has never done before. Questions remain about how much the party will be able to spend, and what policy platform it will adopt for the capital, but of course the all important choice is the candidate.
As far as I can tell, through a series of conversations with party insiders, as well as the campaigns launched so far, there are four front line contenders and a few “outsiders”. Below is a list of them, along with my commentary. The list is in no particular order, and I hope my brutal honesty isn’t misconstrued for unkindness.
THE FRONT LINERS
Liz stood against Nigel Farage in the selection process in South Thanet. She’s a charming lady, who is well ahead of the curve in her knowledge of current affairs. She’s also a renowed socialite, often at embassy parties, and drinks receptions in Westminster. But she can come across as a bit too eccentric, even for UKIP tastes. She’s a competent public speaker (most of the time) and knows how to look the part when she needs to. She’s also the only candidate from whom I’ve been receiving press release updates, so that shows initiative. But I reckon in the round she’s just doing this for publicity. She likes that, and she’s very good at it. I’ll give her a 5/10.
Peter’s a thoughtful, small-c conservative based in London, and who has fought unwinnable London seats. He’s passionate about art and culture, and is known in Westminster for repeatedly taking the BBC and the establishment to task via his column in Standpoint magazine, and through his think tank, the New Culture Forum. I’ve known Peter for a long time, and the man has few faults. He can sometimes come across as aloof, but that’s nothing that a bit of media training couldn’t fix. He’s also interested in problem solving, and I reckon could mobilise the party base with a trendy, culturally focused campaign. He’s one of UKIP’s best, secret weapons – unafraid to say what often some frontline kippers are, about the media set, the idea of “Britishness” and he has led the charge for a memorial for Drummer Lee Rigby. He’s also an author. I’m going to give Peter a 9/10.
Suzanne is perhaps the best known of all the candidates running. So she’s got that in her favour. She’s smart, and fighty, but party insiders have suggested that she comes across too much like an annoyed Headmistress. “A real Tory woman,” one told me. And that’s true. But she’s also got good relationships with the Westminster set, including politicos and journalists. The problem with Suzanne is, she can’t take criticism, and she can’t help but fall out with people (me included). Recent media reports about her include her claiming to be Nigel’s favoured candidate (not true, and has upset some people in the party) and claiming that Farage is a “divisive” figure (fine to say in the pub, not so fine on the BBC Daily Politics). One might also raise an eyebrow about her claim that she would back staying in the EU if the renegotiation went her way, although she’s distanced herself from that comment recently. Still, so close to an EU referendum, that might cause issues. One senior kipper confided in me yesterday that there may be a conflict of interest with her being paid from the party’s short money to develop London policy. I’ll give her a 6/10.
I don’t think I’ve ever met Richard, so I won’t try and speculate on his personality. He’s gay, and has been playing that up in terms of garnering support. His website indicates that he’s a good London lad with a background in policing. Sounds quite good. He’s now a barrister, and he’s already presented a detailed plan for what he wants to see in London – albeit with an unfortunate number of spelling errors. But we won’t let that get in the way. Hendron also criticised party leader Nigel Farage last month for the famous “HIV migrants” remarks during the election campaign. It’s not the kiss of death, but it won’t help him. Saving the fact that I’ve yet to assess him for myself in person, I’ll be generous and give him an 7/10.
Former parliamentary candidate for Dagenham and Rainham. Harris is an East End boy who came second to John Cruddas in the May election with 30 per cent of the vote, pushing the Conservatives into third place. Harris is known and liked in London and the surrounding areas for more often than not being out on the campaign trail supporting other candidates, and he is believed to be one of the outsiders who “knows London” well enough, especially in order to work the East End vote. 7/10.
Winston’s a character. He’s loved by the party centrally and out in the branches. He’s a former boxer, a singer, a raconteur, and a hard working campaigner. But he’s often seen as a bit of a laugh, really, and nothing more. He can certainly hold his own on television, but he has a tendency to go off piste, and freestyle his lines. Mckenzie, loved by party leader Nigel Farage, is a good friend of the party chairman Steve Crowther. He’s based in Croydon, although he’s referred to the place as a dump. And his most embarrasing moment was hosting the “Croydon Carnival” during the European elections, which left everyone a little red in the face. As a bloke, I’d give him 9/10. As a candidate, 3/10. Sorry, Winston!
The former leader of the Christian’s People Alliance, Craig has been criticised by political LGBT-types for his tough stance against same-sex marriage. Craig has also campaigned against a mega mosque being built by the shadowy Tablighi Jamaat organisation, and would present a stark contrast between the anti-Christian sentiments being touted by Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith. Craig would however rile up the hard and liberal left, potentially causing campaigning problems for UKIP akin to those experienced in South Thanet, where thousands of union-supported activists descended on the constituency, assaulting and harassing UKIP campaigners. While in principle this shouldn’t deter the party selecting Craig, it will likely be considered as it can cause operational and public relations problems (not my words, or advice, mind you!) Craig also ran for Mayor in 2008 on a Christian Choice ticket, where he got 39,249, beating UKIP. I give him 6/10.
A teacher and avid retweeter, Kurten’s background is in Chemistry and he has taught in Europe, Africa, and the United States. He seems excellent at public speaking, and stood for UKIP in Camberwell and Peckham at the General Election, where he came fifth with 2,413 votes. He identifies as a libertarian, and has been outspoken on issues that others seem to miss, such as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). I give David a 7/10.