London's mayoral election is an embarrassment

23 April 2021

9:27 PM

23 April 2021

9:27 PM

Count Binface, a man who claims to be a 6,000-year-old ‘independent space warrior’, is running to be London mayor. In the normal run of things, this sort of joke candidate would get little to no attention – but the 2021 London mayoral contest is not your average election. In fact, it is potentially the worst election of any kind ever witnessed in a liberal democracy.

Londoners, desperate for something that has been utterly lacking from all the major candidates, have scoured Binface’s manifesto and found that amongst the joke policies, there are some not half-bad ones in there. ‘No shop to be allowed to sell a croissant for more than £1,’ has been pounced upon as particularly noteworthy. The fact that maximum pastry pricing is one of the meatier policy announcements in this election says a great deal about the whole campaign to be London’s next mayor.

The efforts of the major parties have been risible. Sadiq Khan has run on a ‘more of the same’ platform, which would be all right if he hadn’t managed to do pretty much sod all since getting the job in 2016. Worse, he’s often come across as smug and lackadaisical – this election is in the bag for him, he knows it and appears to be not ashamed to show it. Shaun Bailey’s campaign, meanwhile, has been gaffe strewn and has failed to cut through at all.

The other major parties have been an equally depressing sight. Luisa Porritt, the Lib Dem candidate, has at the heart of her campaign a policy that makes me want to scream, entitled ‘Homes in the heart of our city’. It basically assumes that post-Covid, businesses will no longer require office space, so hey, let’s turn it all into affordable housing. Except we have no idea at all what working patterns will be like after restrictions are over, and there is every reason to believe the office could bounce back in a major way. Assuming that life during lockdown constitutes some new way of doing things that will carry on, even when restrictions are no longer required, is a mistake.

Sian Berry, the Green candidate, has had the best campaign by a long way. Although to emphasise again, this has been a very low bar. Her acceptance of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism was perhaps the one unexpected highlight of the whole campaign from any quarter, and otherwise she has been a solid performer in hustings.

Of course, the problem, as ever with the Greens, comes down to the detail of their policies. I could never vote Green in London for one simple reason: they complain endlessly about the lack of affordable housing in the capital and yet spend all of their time trying to do whatever they can to block any new buildings from going up, anywhere, for any reason. Want to demolish some low-rise council building in central London and put up something that would house thousands more low-income families? You can guarantee you’ll have Green activists swarming all over you within seconds, trying to stop you any way they can.

As to the rest of the candidates, the less said about them, the better. Like Bailey, none of them have cut through at all, despite some spending gargantuan sums of money on advertising or having large national profiles to build upon.

Which brings me neatly back to Count Binface. Don’t laugh but I am seriously thinking of voting for him on the 6 May. He is one of the few candidates in the whole race that doesn’t come with horrendous downsides – I mean, unless you think declaring yourself a millennia old alien counts. He isn’t threatening to bring in rent controls, doesn’t want to stop all new builds and then complain about the lack of housing, hasn’t assumed we can turn all of central London into a large housing estate because the days of the office are over. Binface is, weirdly, one of the better candidates in the whole contest by default.

But there may be a better reason to ‘Vote for Binface’ than any of that. By doing so, you’d be sending a message. Parties, get your act together and take the running of London seriously for once. Either that, or let’s scrap the mayoralty altogether. If the job can’t be done well, let’s not have anyone do it. I never thought I would think this way, but this contest has me believing that perhaps getting rid of the office of London mayor isn’t the worst idea in the world. If we have to suffer a campaign as bad as this one ever again, the days of the mayoral office may well be numbered.

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