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Elections over, the Tories must find their next London mayor

Politics is a relentless business.

Once one election is over, preparations begin immediately for the next race. So while I genuinely hope that campaigners from all parties managed to enjoy the bank holiday weekend, I know postmortems on the local election results will already be underway, and – crucially – their future electoral success will be directly proportional to the honesty of these assessments.

Yesterday, City A.M. featured Tim Bales insights on Labours performance, so today my focus is on the Conservatives.

Read more: A Labour party that couldnt even smash the locals should be worried

Last weeks local elections were widely presented as a score draw, with the Conservative partys success being largely illusory, based on superior expectation management.

I think this analysis is unfair.

True, Labour secured a very modest net gain in terms of its tally of councillors compared to 2014, when these seats were last contested, but this success fell short of the level expected for an opposition party on course to win the next General Election.

Moreover, the Conservatives picked up more seats outside London than Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined, performing particularly well in Basildon, Nuneaton, and Peterborough.

The Conservative losses were largely confined to London, which is why Brandon Lewis and his team will be paying particular attention to the capital in their post-match analysis. After all, the route to a comfortable parliamentary majority for the party requires a strong performance in London, so they cant and wont it write off.

Conservative activists should be quietly satisfied that the “Red London” threat did not come to pass. (Back in April, for example, the New Statesman ran a story on “How one of the worlds richest cities turned against the Tories and embraced the radical socialism of Jeremy Corbyn”.)

Many commentators were clearly put off the scent by Labours over-exuberance, the Conservatives quiet realism, and the uncertain effect of one million EU citizens having the opportunity to vote for the first time since the Brexit result.

But despite successfully fighting off Labour in Barnet, Wandsworth, and Westminster, the Conservatives cant afford to be complacent.

I expect that those in Conservative HQ this week will now be looking ahead to the 2020 London mayoral election. And whereas many quality candidates previously saw the race as a Red London bloodbath to be avoided, some will now be quietly weighing up their chances.

Prior to Corbyns unexpected success in the 2017 General Election, there was a good chance that Sadiq Khan would not seek reelection as mayor of London. Now, he is almost certain to run again.

But with his declining popularity (according to YouGov, 61 per cent of voters said he was doing well as mayor a year ago, compared to 52 per cent today), there is now a slim path to victory for next Conservative mayoral candidate.

The Tories should now capitalise on the momentum from the local elections by selecting their candidate, finding someone who can provide a focal point for London Conservatives.

City Hall has always been led by big personalities – Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson, now Sadiq Khan – so the process needs to have the prominence and interest of a US primary. After all, the mayor of London wields more power than a senator or most governors in the US. It is a position of international significance, and the selection process should live up to that.

So who are the runners and riders?

From the backbenches, former education secretary Justine Greening, the MP for Putney, is widely touted. So is Ed Vaizey, who represents Wantage, and who demonstrated as culture minister his ability to win over non-Conservatives – a vital quality for a successful mayoral candidate.

Former London Assembly member James Cleverly clearly has the campaigning nous and stamina, as he has proved as the partys new deputy chairman.

And London MEP Syed Kamall might feel tempted to put his hat into the ring once again, particularly since he will leave the European parliament in 2019.

Two of Johnsons former lieutenants should also consider applying: both Munira Mirza and Kulveer Ranger were extremely effective in City Hall, and would make strong candidates.

It is also rumoured that George Osborne has his eye on the job. But should he find himself too busy with his other multiple positions, I hope the editors of rival London newspapers might consider giving it a go.

No doubt other candidates will emerge in the months ahead, but there is a strong case for the selection process to start soon. London Tories need a figurehead to lead their campaigning.

The winner might not necessarily become the next mayor of London, but they will, through their campaigning, play a vital role in preventing a Red Britain.

Read more: Heidi Alexander quits as Labour MP to take on transport reins at City Hall

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