Shaun Bailey wasn’t given much of a chance when he took on Mayor of London Sadiq Khan on behalf of the Conservatives earlier this year – yet he put up a tougher fight than most people expected. He tells The House about life as one of the Party’s most senior ethnic minority figureheads, of his optimism around the prospects for today’s Black children – and of his plans for the future.
1. How much has Britain changed in its approach to issues of race during your lifetime?
At its heart, Britain has always been a welcoming country that strives to be a more equal, more fair and more just place. And our country has made a lot of progress in my lifetime. When I was a kid, I was chased out of estates by white supremacists. Today they hide in their caves in increasingly obscure chat rooms. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot to do – but Britain is heading in the right direction quicker than other countries.
2. Have you experienced racism? If so, when was the last time?
Sadly, yes – and recently. I spoke up after Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford, and Jadon Sancho received racist abuse online, only to receive some myself. I was furious to see racists target these young lions who made England so proud. You will rarely get racist abuse in the streets now, but social media lets racists direct horrific abuse to anyone, anywhere, any time.
It’s no wonder young people think racism is worse today than when the National Front paraded on the streets – they get it straight to their phones. Social media companies need to take responsibility for stopping hate online and shutting down abusive accounts.
3. Do you think the life chances of a Black boy growing up in London today are better than you experienced?
I was raised by a single mum in a council house in Ladbroke Grove, at that time a very deprived part of London. I’ve been homeless, out of work, and know what it’s like for teachers to treat you differently because of your skin colour.
While I think a Black kid’s life chances are better today, the challenges I faced remain for too many. And sadly, I do think violent crime is trapping more young people than it did when I was young. But that can change. There are more role models today, paving new paths for young Black Londoners. And if politicians put our heads together, we could make our streets safe, build the homes London needs, and lift people up.
4. Are you optimistic about the future for Black children in London today?
I am optimistic, but I am concerned about the impact of violent crime on their lives if we don’t make London safe. Too many young Black Londoners do not feel safe. And if you are afraid, you can’t concentrate on school and getting ahead.
Not only did the number of homicides soar to an 11-year high before lockdown, but the number of Black victims rose by over 68 per cent between 2016 and 2020, compared to the previous period. The Mayor’s policing policies haven’t worked. That’s why I am calling for the Mayor to review his policing policies to keep Black Londoners safe – to ditch failed ideas and find new ones. Unless the Mayor conducts this review, he risks failing a whole generation of Black Londoners.
5. Do you think the Conservative Party can be the natural home for Black voters?
I think the Conservative Party is a more natural home than the Labour Party ever could be. Every time I listen to Labour politicians, they bang on about how you can’t change your lot if you are Black. It’s depressing and puts people down. In comparison, modern conservativism is all about empowering people and giving them the tools to get on in life.
6. What do you say to those who are critical of Black and ethnic minority Conservatives, and the implication that to be a Tory is to somehow be betraying their race?
Frankly, it’s racist to assume that someone must think a certain way because of the colour of their skin. The number of white, left-wing activists who accused me of betraying my race on Twitter during the recent election campaign was astonishing. When I spoke to Black Londoners – they got it. It’s about rejecting division and spreading opportunity.
7. What is your attitude to the so-called “woke” or culture wars?
I think woke activism is divisive and unhelpful. Too often, this narrative focuses on the wrong thing and distorts the truth. Fighting past battles and trying to rewrite old wrongs won’t take our country forward. Instead, we need to unite people. That means spreading opportunity and bridging divides, not debating Winston Churchill’s statue.
8. How do you feel about being a role model for Black youngsters considering politics as a career or vocation?
I stood to be Mayor of London because people who share my skin colour and background are underrepresented and misrepresented in our public life. Too often, others speak on our behalf and assume to know the solutions. If my campaign inspired young Black Londoners to stand, then that will be the sweetest victory of them all.
9. Was running for the mayoralty a positive experience? Would you do it again?
It was tiring but worth it. You get to talk to Londoners from every corner of our city and move the conversation forward. I stood because I had something to offer. If I felt like that again and the London Conservatives wanted me, who knows. But, right now, I am enjoying more time with my family, getting some rest and focusing on the London Assembly.
10. What’s life like now for Shaun Bailey? And what comes next for you in politics – or beyond?
For now, I am back as a London Assembly Member, and I am privileged to be Chairman of the Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee. At the moment, I am pushing the Mayor and Metropolitan Police for a new strategy to tackle the disproportionate killings of Black Londoners. I will always be a voice for Londoners.