By Joe Rossiter
Laurence Fox’s pinned tweet is his campaign launch video. In it, he walks around an empty restaurant telling viewers he wants to “reclaim your freedom” and your right to move, as well as ensuring that nobody has to see their relatives for the final time on an iPad. These are agreeable statements, but usefully vague. No serious candidate runs on the platform of restricting freedom, prohibiting movement or forcing relatives to die alone.
Much of Fox’s campaign conforms to this ambiguity on policy, though he does have some clear plans. His manifesto includes a pledge to suspend fares on London’s tubes and buses for six months to revitalise the capital, justified on the basis that the transport system is key to the city’s overall financial recovery. However, it cuts off a vital revenue stream despite his Reclaim Party asserting that the city “risks going bust” because of “soaring” debt under Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Other policies include scrapping Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – the scheme that closes residential areas to vehicles trying to bypass busy main roads – and underused cycle lanes, as well as introducing “tough New York style community policing” to tackle the uptick in crime. At least on the surface, Fox is running to lead London. However, these three promises are highly similar to the Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey – why not endorse him instead?
Fox’s campaign and social media exploits suggest that London is not his main focus. He has promised to “end the divisive and discriminatory wokery that has infected our city”, focusing on protecting statues and condemning campaigns to rename streets and buildings connected with figures linked to the slave trade. He regularly tweets against potential “vaccine passports”, having made a “do it yourself” vaccination card on account of “deep needle anxiety”. This does not seem, however, to extend to his multiple tattoos.
He boasted about buying a mask exempt badge from Amazon and having a “large group” for lunch during the second lockdown. He was sued for libel in April after calling three people, including a drag queen and a mental health campaigner, “paedophiles” on Twitter. It came after he said that supermarket Sainsbury’s “promoted racial segregation and discrimination” during their Black History Month campaign in October.
Fox is clearly more interested in fighting a culture war than leading London. It starts with ‘freedom’: refusing to wear a mask, be vaccinated or obey coronavirus restrictions. It continues beyond the pandemic, however, into ideas of preserving history, fighting the “woke mob” and advocating defunding the BBC. Fox himself is careful and meticulous in the language he chooses to campaign with, but the implications of his rhetoric, most clearly visible in the replies to his tweets, are ugly.
This battle, however, is one that Londoners have little interest in. Polling commissioned by his own party showed that, when asked to rate Sadiq Khan on a scale 1-10 from “too ‘woke’” to “not ‘woke’ enough”, 67% rated the Mayor 5-10, undermining Fox’s attacks on his political correctness. The issues affecting Londoners’ everyday lives are secondary to Fox’s crusade for statues and free speech.
What might be seen as the fatal flaw in his effort is the fact that he has chosen to pursue a conservative, anti-woke agenda in one of the country’s most diverse and liberal cities. But City Hall was never his true aim and he is at odds with the city’s mood on countless issues. For example, July 2020 polling showed that a majority of London respondents supported the Black Lives Matter protests (55%), yet Fox has called white privilege “pure racism”.
If he cared about London, he would have more detailed plans on a wider range of issues for the city. Instead, he puts out vague proposals designed to generate publicity, accompanied with broader assertions on “wokery”, the media and virtue-signalling. These are presented with phrases such as “one human race”, assertions that that no one can reasonably disagree with, but which serve to mask the inequalities that exist in the city and beyond.
His popularity in London is extremely low: he is tied with Count Binface on 1% and 4 points behind Independent candidate Niko Omilana, a YouTuber who told voters to support him “or your breath stinks”. Ultimately, Laurence Fox was never fighting for London: the mayoral election is his outlet for a culture war that Londoners, in the midst of a pandemic and with very real issues to tackle, do not care about.
Photograph: myles davidson via Flickr.