Class is as a big a barrier to success in London as race – and the two should not be treated separately, the Conservative Mayoral candidate has said.
Shaun Bailey, who grew up on a council estate in Ladbroke Grove, Kensington and Chelsea, said he had more in common with “a white kid from Dagenham than a rich black kid from Hampstead”.
But Mr Bailey accused the current Mayor, Sadiq Khan, of failing to tackle the violence and inequality that he says plague black working class communities.
“It feels like (Mr Khan would) rather chase black people’s votes than help them get ahead,” he claimed.
The Conservative London Assembly member was second in the race for City Hall in the latest poll, conducted in March.
But he lags behind the current Mayor, currently bagging 24% of the vote to Mr Khan’s 49%.
A second round run off would see the current Mayor win a second term with a comfortable two thirds of the vote, according to the Queen Mary University survey.
Mr Bailey’s speech, his first major in-person event since coronavirus lockdown, saw a revamped approach and banners emblazoned with a new slogan, “Shaun Bailey for a more equal London”.
It comes with his campaign under new management at 5654 communications agency, where James Starkie – formerly Priti Patel’s chief of staff, andan advisor on Dominic Raab’s Conservative leadership campaign – is a partner.
Home Secretary Ms Patel was at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) think tank event along with Chingford and Woodford Green MP and CSJ founder Ian Duncan Smith to support Mr Bailey.
But the Conservative Mayoral hopeful denied that his campaign has changed direction, saying safety has always been his “number one” priority.
“If it looks strange for someone like me to be stood behind this podium that’s because it is,” he told the CSJ audience.
“A background like mine doesn’t typically lead to a life such as this – and by background I’m not talking just about the colour of my skin.”
The council estate where he grew up was a “Dulux colour palette of nations”, he said – but the communities were brought together because they all “struggled to make ends meet”.
Mr Bailey said that class bond drove his career aspirations, pushing him towards two decades of youth work, and latterly to politics.
As Mayor he would “help every single Londoner get on in life, no matter what their race or their colour or their class”.
Mr Bailey acknowledged that racism is still a problem in Britain, recalling the discrimination his grandparents faced when they arrived in the UK.
“It’s uncomfortable to hear that the country that I love so much hasn’t always been the most welcoming,” he said.
“But this kind of bigoted racism is dying. The kind of racism I faced as a child is moving away, but it doesn’t mean that everything is perfect.
“People are still being left behind, and most of those people come from a background that looks like mine.”
Mr Bailey said he has faced attacks from both sides of politics, being told to “go home to my mud hut” and called a “coconut” or “bounty” – a term suggesting that a black person is white on the inside.
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But he criticised recent Black Lives Matter protests for creating an “us and them debate” that is “not calculated to win hearts or minds”.
“We will only defeat racism when everyone in society sees its in their best interest to do so,” he explained.
“Toppling statues won’t create a long-lasting dialogue between communities.
“Destroying capitalism will not help poor black or poor white kids get ahead in life. Renaming the streets will not wash away past sins.
“Demands like these have led to ‘black’ becoming the most divisive word in the country and that suits nobody.”
As a youth worker Mr Bailey said he saw poor white communities where no one “felt like they had any privilege at all”.
“Talking solely about race means we ignore the challenges of class.
“To improve the lives of everyone in our country we need to understand what it means to live a working class life,” he added.
The Conservative candidate said the current Mayor is failing to help black communities with a record that is “all talk and no action”.
Mr Khan was previously a human rights lawyer, but grew up in Tooting Bec where his father worked as a bus driver.
“If we’re being honest, Sadiq Khan has forgotten his roots and betrayed these communities by not delivering the access that he should be looking for,” Mr Bailey claimed.
A spokesperson for the Mayor dismissed Mr Bailey’s comments as “complete rubbish”.
“This is really desperate stuff from the Tory candidate who simply has the wrong values for London and is lashing out with personal attacks in desperation,” they said.
During his four year term, the Mayor has adopted a public health approach to violent crime – but attacks remain high, with homicides hitting a new decade high last year.
But Mr Khan says knife attacks on young people are decreasing, an early sign his long term approach is working.
Police numbers have risen to 31,000, with more recruits set to join the Met – though budget pressure caused by Covid-19 could jeopardise this progress.
The Mayor has recently supported protests pushing for racial equality in the wake of George Floyd’s death in America, and has set up a commission to review statues in London and ensure they are representative of the city.
The London Mayoral election was due to be held earlier this year but was delayed because of corornavirus – it will be held next May.