Rumours are swirling about Sadiq Khan's next opponent
With only a year to go until the 2024 London mayoral election, we dive into all the goss so far
Morning — can you hear that? The rising sound of London’s politicos chattering away, as the next mayoral election draws closer? There’s been a fair few rumours swirling this week about who’s taking on Sadiq Khan, including some celebs. We’ve put our ear to the ground and summed it all up for you, after your Sunday briefing below.
Plus: the Met’s been criticised for the way it investigates serial killers, while a women’s-only tower block is coming to London.
By the way: unearthing all the dirty laundry of potential mayoral candidates takes a lot of work. Help us do more of this journalism for London by sharing the Spy using the button below
What we’ve spied
🚨 London’s serial killers could be slipping through the net, a police watchdog has warned. This week the Metropolitan Police came under fire for the way it investigates unexpected deaths across the city, with the inspector of constabulary saying the force could be failing to spot serial killers. It’s been prompted by a review into the way the Met’s handled the case of serial killer Stephen Port, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2016 for the murders of four young men in east London. The inspector said the murders of the last three men had been “entirely preventable” had the Met’s investigation been “competent and professional from the outset”.
👩 A women’s-only tower block is coming to London. In what is believed to be a first in Britain, planners have approved designs for the 15-story block in the west of the city, which features 102 flats that only single women can rent. These homes will be offered with low social rent for women who face inequality, abuse and disadvantage, such as victims of domestic abuse and black and minority ethnic women. Men can only live in the Ealing block if they become a tenant’s partner.
💨 Illegal levels of air toxins have been found in 14 London boroughs. Air quality tests carried out across the city in 2021 show that nitrogen dioxide levels exceeded UK legal limits in close to half of boroughs. These were: Brent, the City of London, Croydon, Ealing, Greenwich, Hammersmith & Fulham, Hackney, Havering, Kensington & Chelsea, Lambeth, Merton, Richmond, Southwark and Wandsworth.
😷 Speaking of health hazards: Southall residents are having their blood and urine tested following reports a nearby luxury redevelopment is causing breathing problems. Since developer Berkeley Group began to clear a former gasworks in west London and turn it into flats, residents have reported a “petrol-like” odour in the air that has made them sick. A study is now being conducted by scientists from Imperial College London to investigate the reports.
💿 Some hope Oxford Street may return to its former glory with news HMV is coming back to the site of its flagship store. The retailer reckons it can entice a new generation of music lovers that are surprisingly keen on vinyl, CDs and even tape cassettes. Oxford Street’s decline as London’s premier shopping destination was put in the spotlight last year amid scrutiny of the proliferation of American candy stores. Related: this week it was revealed the government has delayed a decision on plans to demolish and rebuild the flagship M&S shop on Oxford Street.
🚌 TfL has published more detail on the new Superloop bus route coming to outer London. Detailed maps are now available for parts of the proposed orbital bus network, which is aiming to link up town centres with express buses. See Spy, March 30, 2023 for further reading on the Superloop plans. In other transport news, Kentish Town tube station is closing for a whole year while its dodgy escalators are being replaced.
🔥 Earlier in the week the Spy reported on an arson attack in Whitechapel that police are treating as a transphobic hate crime. One of the victims has now given an interview with the BBC, in which she tells of her terror as fire engulfed her home. A crowdfunder has also been set up to help her and her flatmates put their life back together.
🎨 The Tate Modern has a new director — the former head of Norway’s National Museum. Karin Hindsbo is taking up her new post in September.
🎤 The death of TV host Jerry Springer this week reminded many of his surprising London origins. Springer was born in 1944 in Highgate underground station while it was being used as a bomb shelter during the Blitz. He then grew up in East Finchley, before his family immigrated to the United States when he was four.
All the goss on next year’s mayoral election
Sadiq Khan’s opponents can smell blood. It’s pretty much a year to the day until London’s next mayoral election, in which Khan is standing for a third term. But right now his approval ratings aren’t great — in fact, they’re at a historic low. For the first time since he was elected in 2016, polls show most Londoners think he’s doing badly as mayor.
No wonder, then, that the Conservatives are already gearing up for battle. On Monday party bosses attended a meeting to fast-track their plans for choosing their contender for 2024. Reports suggest their focus was on drawing up an initial longlist of names. They didn’t publish that list, but there’s been a few leaks. One anonymous “senior” source says that what they’re looking for is “star power”. It’s led to some eyebrow-raising names like Karren Brady from The Apprentice and TV judge Rob Rinder being floated.
Someone else also captured attention this week, though with decidedly less celebrity allure. On Tuesday, former Number 10 advisor Samuel Kasumu secured the backing of several senior conservatives including Priti Patel, Grant Shapps and Steve Baker, propelling him ahead of the pack as a serious contender.
Beyond Kasumu, two others have officially declared they’ll be running, but rumours have swirled around several more. Since the Tory bosses’ longlist remains hush-hush, the Spy has been working to fill in the gaps. Below is our very own list of contenders, divided very unscientifically into categories. If you think we’ve missed anyone, give us a shout. We’ll be watching closely as the race unfolds over the coming weeks, and we’ll also be looking at who’s running from the other parties.
First up, Samuel Kasumu. By no means a household name but an early favourite, Kasumu is best known for being Boris Johnson’s race advisor while he was prime minister. At 35, he’d be the youngest ever mayor of London. He’s currently the only candidate to be endorsed by senior Tories, including the likes of former home secretary Priti Patel, who described him as "authentic" and "hardworking".
CV highlights: Kasumu’s job with Boris hit the headlines when he resigned — twice. After a year in the role, he wrote a resignation letter accusing the Conservatives of pursuing a “politics steeped in division”, but ultimately decided to stay. He later resigned for a second and final time in the midst of a row over whether the UK has a “systemic” problem with racism. He also worked in Downing Street on the cross-government vaccine deployment confidence programme alongside then-vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi.
Has he declared? Yes. He was the first to officially declare he’d be running, announcing his candidacy in Conservative Home in September last year.
What does he want for London? Like all the other Tory hopefuls, Kasumu is largely running on an anti-ULEZ platform. If he wins, he says he’ll offer outer boroughs like Bromley, Bexley and Hillingdon a referendum on the ULEZ expansion. In a 700-word statement announcing his candidacy, he briefly mentions child poverty, socioeconomic inequality and unemployment before dedicating 343 words to tearing apart Khan’s ULEZ policies.
Separately, though, he has said that housing would be his “number one agenda item” and that the mantra for his mayoralty will be “build, build, build.” As to how to get more homes, he wants to lobby Westminster for more power to use compulsory purchase orders on disused land – something that notably Khan has already been doing. He also wants to create new “London Housebuilding Bonds” for developments on land owned by TfL. He says he’ll publish annual house-building league tables and force boroughs that aren’t meeting targets to attend a public hearing to explain their poor results. Other items high on Kasumu’s agenda: the creation of a £100 million investment fund targeted at entrepreneurs from under-represented backgrounds and a return to community policing to make “London’s streets safe again”.
Perhaps the biggest name floated by the Conservatives is Apprentice star Karren Brady. A Tory insider has said that “someone like” Brady would be a “perfect choice”, and that the Conservatives need “someone like that” to win. She certainly has star power, having been a regular feature on TV screens since 2008 as Lord Sugar’s aide in The Apprentice.
CV highlights: Nicknamed the “first lady of football”, she’s famous in east London for being the vice-chair of West Ham football club. Not all of her football-related decisions have been popular though — most notably she clashed with West Ham fans over their stadium moving to Stratford.
Has she declared? No, but she has previously hinted that she might be interested. Back in 2018, when quizzed over her statement that she didn’t want to be mayor, she said: “Because at the moment I have too much on… Maybe that’s an ambition for the future.”
What does she want for London? While she hasn’t exactly laid out a policy agenda for London, Brady writes a regular column in the Sun where she speaks her mind on political issues. One of her go-to topics is women in business, as well as women’s rights more broadly, with a recent edition saying “there are currently just nine women bosses of FTSE 100 companies, so our work is not done”. She has also criticised self-ID laws for trans people, arguing that it “fails women”, and takes a hard line on immigration, blasting “the sheer volume of people coming in” and describing the UK as “a country overwhelmed”.
Brady has notably been outspoken about mismanagement by the Met, hitting out at its failure to protect women and the “racially profiled” stop-and-search of Team GB sprinter Bianca Williams. She has also spelt out her priorities more broadly for the force, calling for more police on the streets, for policing culture to “change radically” and for violence against women to be taken more seriously.
The second person floated as a possible contender with “star power” is TV judge and criminal barrister Robert Rinder, whose name is said to have come up in party meetings. Rinder is a regular host on Good Morning Britain and has his own show on Talk Radio, but is probably best known for hosting the reality courtroom series Judge Rinder.
Has he declared? No, and he’s actively distanced himself from reports.
Nick Rogers is currently a London Assembly member representing the boroughs of Hounslow, Richmond-upon-Thames and Kingston-upon-Thames.
CV highlights: A self-described “career railway man”, he spent 18 months as a manager at Waterloo Station and still does shifts as an incident controller at Network Rail. He was also a special constable in the Met.
Has he declared? Yes, he officially announced his candidacy in an interview with The Telegraph last week. At 37, he’s one of the younger runners.
What does he want for London? Like Kasumu, Rogers is laser-focused on the issue of the ULEZ expansion. He tweets about little else, and argues that Kasumu’s idea of a ULEZ referendum doesn’t go far enough. Rogers says he would cancel the ULEZ expansion entirely. He also says he would introduce a policy to get more special constables to live in the ward where they work to reconnect the police with those it serves.
But what sets Rogers apart is that, as well as being a millennial himself, he claims he wants to offer a policy platform for London which addresses the “millennial condition”. Amongst his ideas for winning over millennials is a “manifesto for renters”, though he’s not given details on what it would include. Coming from a party whose dominance is built on home ownership, it’s a slightly wild policy platform to run on.
THE WESTMINSTER INSIDERS
Paul Scully is MP for Sutton and Cheam, one of London’s outer constituencies, and currently has a job in prime minister Rishi Sunak’s cabinet. He’s the Minister for London, meaning it’s his job to handle policy relating to London in Westminster.
CV highlights: Scully once personally torpedoed a bill that would have stopped the practice of companies firing staff and then rehiring them on worse pay by talking for so long in the chamber that it ran out of time.
Has he declared? Scully hasn’t said he’s running, but he’s hinted heavily. In January, he said he’d consider running if he believes he is the "best-placed person", and more recently in April he confirmed he’s “still considering” it.
What does he want for London? Like every other candidate, he’s against the ULEZ expansion, telling the Daily Mail “Khan needs to listen to Londoners and get a grip on this unpopular policy”. He spelt out three priorities for “whoever becomes mayor” — crime, transport and housing, saying that safety is “an absolute, fundamental thing”, and that we should make sure we can house “not just ourselves but our children, our grandchildren [and] people who want to come to this country”. But he hasn’t always praised London’s diversity: in a speech on immigration in 2015, he pointed to Tower Hamlets as an example of failed multiculturalism, saying that “extreme groups have actually built up no-go areas for white British people”.
Sajid Javid is a well-known face in national politics, having had stints as home secretary, health secretary and chancellor. While he’s expressed no interest whatsoever in running for mayor, we’ve included him off the back of a curious article in the Evening Standard that argues he would make a “truly serious rival” to Khan. The article, which was written by the paper’s former editor Emily Sheffield, insists that Javid has the “gravitas, public profile, and extensive political experience to take on Khan and Labour”.
Has he declared? No, and he probably won’t — Javid hasn’t commented on the idea of running for mayor, and is rumoured to be thinking about a career in finance.
Our final category is reserved for Andrew Boff, who is a member of the London Assembly and a former leader of Hillingdon Council. This won’t be his first stab at the candidacy — he’s already made, err, five unsuccessful attempts. To be fair to him, he finished second on three of those occasions.
CV highlights: Before joining the Assembly, he ran his own IT support company. After he joined the Assembly, he explored the idea of making “a managed area of street prostitution” somewhere in London.
Has he declared? Yes, he was one of the first to say he would definitely enter the contest.
What does he want for London? Boff is best known for having libertarian views, and has famously come out in favour of legalising cannabis and self-ID laws for trans people. How this impacts London specifically is less clear, given that rules on self-ID and drugs are handled by the central government. During one of his many attempts at the mayoral candidacy, he said about cannabis that if he won he would use his mandate as mayor to “argue with Government to change the law”. One of his more London-centric policy ideas is to give away bits of public land to people who want to build their own homes. On a slightly less libertarian note, he once made the case for imposing a height limit of six storeys on residential buildings, except in five specified parts of the capital.
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