Former City Hall Conservatives criticise ‘negative’ campaign by Susan Hall

Ex-assembly members say the Tory mayoral campaign was too narrowly focused on the ‘war on motorists’, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

From left, Nick Rogers, Paul Scully and Tony Devenish (credit GLA)
From left, Nick Rogers, Paul Scully and Tony Devenish (credit GLA)

A “highly negative campaign” in the London mayoral election was partly to blame for the Tories’ failure to defeat a “beatable” Sadiq Khan, ex-City Hall Conservatives have said.

Two of the party’s former London Assembly members have warned that the Conservatives must ensure they are reaching beyond their “core vote” if they are ever to win the mayoralty again.

Nick Rogers, an assembly member who did not stand for re-election and whose seat was gained by the Liberal Democrats, said the Tories could be facing “a nationwide extinction level event” if it does not learn lessons from the London mayoral race.

Writing in The Spectator on Monday (6th), Rogers – who revealed he has now left the Conservative Party altogether – did not directly criticise Tory mayoral candidate Susan Hall, but said the party had made “a monumental strategic blunder not to shortlist MP Paul Scully” for the role.

Rogers had put himself forward for the candidacy but withdrew from the long-listing process in a matter of weeks. He wrote: “Sadly, what emerged was a narrow and negative view of London from a campaign that appeared nervous to say anything that might frighten an ever-shrinking core vote.

“Hence the overuse of tired ‘war on motorists’ language and an outsized focus on Ulez and pay-per-mile driving which, while important issues, were never going to be enough to secure victory.”

The former assembly member added: “Too much was made of the 2023 Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election victory, ascribed to a strong anti-Ulez campaign. The lesson should have been that the Conservatives barely clung on to a previously solid constituency. But groupthink prevailed and I believe this informed the mayoral campaign far more than was healthy.”

He also pointed out that Hall’s manifesto “was less than half the length of Shaun Bailey’s 2021 offer” and argued that it “contained almost nothing for the younger, professional voters the party absolutely needs to win over”.

Looking to the general election, Rogers said: “The kinds of voters the party failed to connect with in this campaign are precisely those it needs to reach across the country in order to prevent a nationwide extinction level event.”

Tory councillor Tony Devenish, who lost his assembly seat to Labour on Saturday, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he was “completely on the same page” as his ex-colleague Rogers.

“The role of an assembly member is to critique the current mayor – and I think Susan and the assembly do that well,” said Mr Devenish.

“But when you are standing as mayor, you’ve also got to give a positive view of your own. I think we critiqued Sadiq right, and I think most Labour people privately would agree he’s not been a very successful mayor, but one thing he has done, I have to give him this, he’s done – certainly on the surface, in his public relations – always a far better job of talking the city up, without actually doing very much.”

Asked what lesson the Conservatives should learn from the election, he said: “I think you’ve got to have a vision for London, and as Nick [Rogers] said, you’ve got to really not just do ‘core’, but do more votes.

“I think the campaign was a very good ‘core vote’ campaign, but I’m afraid nobody wins elections – particularly a party that’s been in government for 14 years – without more votes. We did the core votes – the core vote campaign was eleven out of ten.”

He added: “We won the pensioner vote again I’m sure, when the figures come out. That is not enough […] I personally want a manifesto for under-40s, which has got to be focused on housing.”

Scully, the Tory MP for Sutton and Cheam who had hoped to be the party’s mayoral candidate, said over the weekend that the Conservative campaign had been “incredibly underwhelming” and hadn’t “articulated any sense of vision”.

He told the BBC’s Politics London show on Sunday: “Our campaign was negative, it showed no aspiration for what is an aspirational city and the nine million people in it. We’ve got to do better and show that we are serious about London.”

A campaign spokesman for Hall said following Saturday’s result: “We fought a campaign on common sense conservative principles, and defied the polls.

“Hard work, grit and determination, embodied by our candidate Susan Hall, boosted our vote significantly above the party’s polling in this great city.

“Our message overperformed, our candidate won over hundreds of thousands of Londoners with a plain speaking, honest campaign.”

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