Don’t stitch up the primary: Londoners deserve a real choice for their next mayor

City A.M.: This weekend, the Conservatives will be holding interviews with the candidates who want to be included in the party’s open primary for next year’s London mayoral election. The word on the street is that the list of candidates will be culled to only two or three and that Ivan Massow, despite being the second ranking serious candidate in most polling, is less of a party insider and will therefore not make the cut. I believe this is wrong for a number of reasons.   

First, the party encouraged a broad spectrum of candidates to throw their hat in the ring and invest up to £100,000 in their campaign. Massow is the living embodiment of “broad spectrum”. And for the last year, he has not only invested in his campaign but also given up all his business interests to work full-time visiting people from all walks of life in London, to develop a range of innovative policies based on his entrepreneurial experience. To be excluded from the ballot at this stage to me seems unfair and unwise. Or as Matthew Parris has written more forcefully in The Times, it smacks of a “stitch up”.
 
Second, what is the point of an “open primary” if you then close the candidate list? It reminds me of the Chinese government’s guarantee to hold democratic elections for the post of Chief Executive in Hong Kong, only then to announce that only those candidates it approved could stand, sparking the massive “umbrella” protests earlier this year. We expect more from the Conservative Party. The Labour Party is going to have six candidates, so what is CCHQ frightened of?
Third, the Conservative Party is, if nothing else, dedicated to offering people more choice. There is a genuine desire among the electorate to see more people standing for office who do not come from the “Westminster political bubble”. So not only will this decision limit the choice in the mayoral election, but it will also act as a disincentive for others with experience outside of the political arena to stand in the future.
 
But most importantly, I believe Massow has the potential to reach the parts of London other Conservative candidates cannot and win the election itself. Having run the Conservative advertising campaign in the 2005 election and been the only political commentator to predict consistently on TV, press and radio since October last year that there would be a “small Conservative majority”, I believe I have some experience in this area.
 
The one part of the country where Labour improved its vote in May was London and, irrespective of the current state of the party, they will throw everything behind securing the mayoralty.
Now I know Zac Goldsmith is an open and fair-minded person. It is not his fault he went to Eton – it was an accident of birth. But I am also certain that he would not want the public to think having gone to Eton is a birth right to high political office in the Conservative Party, as it will sound the death knell for aspiration and the sort of meritocracy all Conservatives desire and believe in.
 
Maybe Goldsmith will be the chosen candidate by the participants in the Conservatives’ open primary, but I am sure he would want to win in a fair and open fight. It is what London, Goldsmith and Massow deserve.

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