THE BLOG

'Strong Moderates' and the London Mayoral Campaign

18/09/2015 16:22 BST | Updated 18/09/2016 10:12 BST

I can't hide my disappointment at being denied the right to run for Mayor of London after two years of work with a volunteer team of 40 - that was a very sad goodbye dinner as we sat for that last supper and mused over the ten or so gentlemen who sealed my fate. But onwards and upwards.

The other evening, I literally stood and hugged poor Tessa Jowell for what seemed like minutes - she too had put done so much work. I admired her so much as an opponent. A wonderful woman now unexpectedly jobless. Not for long I bet - quality shines through. It shone through every aspect of her campaign and never has it been more important to have good strong moderate voices in the Labour party.

It's strange seeing the word 'moderate' together with the word 'strong'. But moderate is strong, moderate is good - understanding that luxuriating in elitist far-left ideology may make you feel like a saint in your local ashram - but life's more complicated and rightly so. Statespeople like Tessa need to balance all needs and weigh up the price and effects of everything while keeping their eye fixed on the common good. You can see Jeremy Corbyn learning this live on telly day by day - the stuff we learned when we were teenagers because we weren't as cosseted away in an ideological bubble as he was. The role of state, the value of Europe - that you have to get along with different people. That the role of socialists is to pretend you'll kill capitalism/the rich if you don't get what you want, not actually kill them.

I digress, this is about the mayoral election - and in fact the Conservative election. Now I'm left with who to support for Mayor in my own Conservative party, as today, voting opens. I've had the great privilege to get to know all of the four candidates personally - some I've known for years. I won't make you read the entire blog before I give you my little précis of the four candidates - I'm going with Zac. He's a thoroughly decent guy and one of the only candidate who didn't rush to crazy promises. Syed Kamal was also very considered - but didn't quite have Zac's statesmanship or charisma - that thing we need a Mayor to take with him to meetings in Beijing and award ceremonies in Tooting alike - the sort likability summed up by Kipling "when all men count with you, but none too much".

In hustings however, although not pushy, Zac rose to the top quietly and politely. I'd speak to him afterwards and he'd be slightly concerned that he hadn't said enough as usually, Andrew Boff had taken over half the floor time for all four candidates. But Andrew Boff, cuddly and amusing, would be a little like having a chatty Postman for Mayor applying not dissimilar intellectual rigour. After years of speaking endlessly in empty local government chambers, he says rubbish so confidently that you doubt yourself - he has stood for Mayor every time so far and probably will again - he's even stood for Mayor of Hackney three times. What he really needs is a silly hat.

The only candidate I haven't mentioned is Stephen Greenhalgh. You have to have a special sort of respect for Stephen. It's hard to find many close friends - but I met lots of people who are scared of him, and I respect him for that - I quite like a bully. When I first met him he slid in front of me a print-out of the Ladbroke odds for Mayor that put him near the top "oh", he noted "just realised you're not even listed". Greenhalgh is a street fighter and despite slimming down for the contest, I'm guessing to appeal to the lady voter (or me I'm not sure), he still looks like the bruiser he is and good for him.

It surprised me that he got onto the ballot almost as much as Boff did. His main policy angle is reducing Tube fares by 3% per annum which would cost TfL, one of the UKs most successful public bodies, £1.9bn (or in practical terms the Piccadilly Line upgrade and Bakerloo extension, you don't get this sort of cash by saving paper clips).

So, back to Zac and why I'm backing Zac. Well on housing, despite being as committed as all the parties to building more, he hasn't written off all tall buildings like Boff. He's just more cautious now that there are 300 skyscrapers in development and contrary to their appearance, they don't produce high enough density of housing to meet current demands. Transport; he has invested a lot of time meeting TfL and working out how to keep London moving in partnership with them which Greenhalgh simply hadn't done. But we all know London needs to be carbon neutral by 2020/25 - an electric city and with more cycling, I didn't sense that the other candidates had fully grasped how important clean air is and how to achieve it. And for all Zac's 'softer' credentials - he's the only one to have really gone out on a limb and said we need to reverse our hesitation over stop and search if we are to beat knife crime that is causing such misery on our streets. In fact, only a softer, considered, more centre candidate can make these points effectively before the Corbynites start screaming 'hateful Tories'.

Finally airports. None of them want Heathrow so there's no argument there. I'd have gone with Heathrow if I'm honest, but Zac's plan is a good one too - beef-up transport to the remaining airports which are mostly running at only 50% capacity because people can't get to them easily (Stanstead especially), allow Heathrow to dominate the hub activity which is only 32% of air travel and move more direct/European flights from crowded Heathrow to an improved/larger Gatwick. The next step is to maybe plan a world class Boris airport for our world class city when the dust has settled with all the lovely river crossings and infrastructure East London needs? I'll be bending his ear :o).

If you've signed up to vote in the Tory Mayoral ballot, today is the day to cast it. I hope you chose someone who'll improve on Boris's legacy - because London needs to remain world class - not just for our sakes, the world needs us.