Tory candidate on academies, police...and his Diwali remarks
PUBLISHED: 07:44 07 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:54 07 February 2019
The Convervative candidate for mayor of London has apologised to readers of the Kilburn Times offended by his historic comments linking Diwali holidays to the community becoming a “crime-riddled cesspool”.
Shaun Bailey sat down with the Times at his City Hall office on Friday, outlining his priorities to tackle crime, build houses and improve transport.
But first Mr Bailey, a London-wide Assembly Member who leads the Greater London Authority (GLA) Tories, confronted infamous remarks whose recent revelation threateaned to derail his challenge to Sadiq Khan at the May 2020 election.
In May 2005, Mr Bailey wrote: “You bring your children to school and they learn far more about Divali than Christmas.
“I speak to people who are from Brent and they’ve been having Muslim and Hindi days off. What it does is rob Britain of its community. Without our community we slip into a crime-riddled cesspool.”
Some 17.8 per cent of Brent’s population was recorded as Hindu in the 2011 census.
“If you feel offended you must understand that was never my intention,” he said. “It’s not my way to offend.
“I’m more than happy to apologise. Around Diwali I was invited to lots of different places [where] people wanted to speak to me about it and they were surprised about how open I was because for me it is about how people come together.”
He added: “If I’ve caused offence, it’s just a straight up sorry. This is unreserved.
“If someone wants to talk about me about racism – wow, I could talk to you about racism. Being a black boy growing up in London, I could tell you a thing or two about racism.
“I have seen racism hopefully of the like my children will not conceive, understand or even imagine.”
He said he was “not a slick career politician” and the comments were “confined to a very particular conversation about education”.
“I’ve been to Gurdwaras across Eid – sorry, across Divali – and spoken to people, and they understood.
“They were saying: ‘Why did you say this?’ And I told them about the context.
“OK, don’t get me wrong, they weren’t happy – they weren’t leaping all over the place about it – but they understood. At that time it [the debate on multiculturalism] was being used as a way of trading on our differences and what I’m saying to people is we need to trade on our similarities.”
We then asked him about some of Brent’s hot topics.
Quizzed on the Village special needs school in Grove Park, currently being forced to merge with a multi-academy trust despite its “outstanding” Ofsted rating, Mr Bailey defended the record of the academies programme introduced by Labour but accelerated massively by the Conservatives. Teachers, unions and parents have spent two years protesting the Village plan.
“Two million children now go to good or outstanding schools because of academies,” he said, “so if you agree with it or not is probably a personal, philosophical thing.”
The 2016 Tory mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith came second in Brent and Harrow on first preference with 67,042 ballots, trailing Sadiq Khan (who got 75,143) by 8,101. Mr Bailey concedes Labour has been more popular than the Tories in Brent and Harrow recently, but said: “I’m the least partisan of politicans you’ll meet. What I want to do is offer people an alternative. [...]
“London feels a little less safe than it used to be; housing is even more rare and expensive than it used to be and my plea. My bargain to Londoners [is] I will really work hard to solve these problems.
“I have new innovative ideas to solve that, which haven’t been done before. Because I’m not particularly partisan, I’d be looking to support councils and social landlords to get things done.
“You don’t have to be a Tory to vote for me.”
Current mayor Mr Khan has linked the government’s 20 per cent funding cut for the Met since 2010 to a sharp drop in officer numbers and an increase in crime.
Mr Bailey said he did not support cutting the Met’s budget, but added: “My thing is not needing more money to get 1,000 extra bobbies and 800 more detectives. [...] Other police commissioners, they’ve achieved drops in crime with less money. We are the best funded force in the country.”
Asked about permitted development rights, which let private firms dodge the planning process for certain types of development – including turning offices into homes – he said loss of workspace and councils’ ability to ensure the quality of housing built without planning permission were his concerns.