The list reads like it could be the line-up from Strictly Come Dancing: an interplanetary space warrior, a YouTuber prankster and a former crime drama star forging a new political career path. But in fact, these are the candidates taking on Sadiq Khan in next month’s London mayoral election.
They are a varied lot - and there is a record-breaking number of them. While 12 nominees ran in 2016, a total of 20 have put their names in the hat for this year’s City Hall contest, which currently sees Khan in the lead, followed by Tory hopeful Shaun Bailey, a former youth worker who has has served in the London Assembly since 2016. Other candidates include UKIP’s Peter Gammons, Mandu Reid for the Women’s Equality Party and the Greens’ Sian Berry.
The 2020 race was delayed by a year due to the pandemic and sees candidates competing for a three year term instead of the usual four. Perhaps the 12-month delay is what attracted so many applicants. Piers Corbyn, 73, the anti-vaccine activist brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, is among a number of Covid contrarians to have joined the race, alongside anti-mask London Assembly member David Kurten and former actor Laurence Fox, the anti-woke, anti-lockdown Reclaim Party leader running with a ‘Free London’ slogan.
A wave of younger rivals are taking Khan on, too. Gen Z YouTubers Max Fosh, 26, and Niko Omilana, 23, have both taken to their social media followings to up the hype around their mayoral bids - Omilana has been increasing his video stunts to boost publicity for his so-called Niko Defence League movement, and Fosh’s version of a battle bus is a small red Volkswagen emblazoned with a QR code to his campaign video. The rivalry is already taking to the roads - last week Fosh posted a video of his car pulled up next to Fox’s big red battle bus emblazoned with an image of a gagged Winston Churchill.
So who to vote for? From the Brexit-bashing financier to the millennial Lib Dem promising to boost women’s safety on the streets, this is a guide to the key mayoral candidates.
Current mayor Sadiq Khan has held City Hall for an extra year due to the pandemic. Achievements include the Hopper fare, cleaning up London’s air and banning derogatory advertising of women on the tube, but critics say he hasn’t done enough to tackle knife crime and was too slow to give TfL staff face masks over lockdown.
His pledges for a second term include a fund to re-skill Londoners post-Covid, support for more than 170,000 green jobs and a review into decriminalising cannabis.
USP: A modern Muslim mayor who is as comfortable at the Pride parade as he is mingling with Jacinda Ardern and Justin Trudeau.
Khan might be the frontrunner in the 2021 race, but Tory candidate Shaun Bailey is in a strong second place, trailing the current mayor by 26 percentage points, according to the latest opinion polls. The 49-year-old former youth worker was brought up by his mother in a council house in Ladbroke Grove where “people carried knives, sold drugs and you had all that drama”. Bailey has served as a Conservative in the London Assembly since 2016.
His mayoral policies have catchy slogans, such as 100,000 homes for £100,000 each so that first-time buyers can get on the property ladder, while other imaginative ideas include a competition to design murals around the city. He also promises to “hustle for the city” and provide an extra 8,000 police officers and 4,000 youth workers to make London safer if he gets the job. He says he doesn’t regret a recent tweet ensuring to “deliver for the safety of women and girls”, despite criticisms that he was using Sarah Everard’s death to promote his campaign.
USP: Tory politics with a Labour background - Bailey’s favourite politician is Labour’s Frank Field, he comes from a Labour-supporting family and has voted for them, but he says he became a Tory because “I want my community to achieve things on their own and not be told what they can’t do.”
Khan might be calling this election a “two horse race” between him and the Tory candidate Shaun Bailey, but co-leader of the Green Party Sian Berry certainly proves a worthy number three. The Camden councillor came third in the 2016 mayoral race with more than 150,000 first-preference votes and is seen as the leading lady in this year’s fight, with climate change an increasingly hot political topic across the capital.
The daughter of teachers and brought up in Cheltenham, Berry went to a local grammar school before attending Oxford where she studied Metallurgy and the Science of Materials. She moved to London 25 years ago and is now in her sixth rented flat – something that has spurred her into fighting for tenants’ rights. Although imposing rent controls on landlords is currently beyond the power of the mayor, Berry has vowed to lobby for “protection from soaring rents”. She also wants to introduce a £14 an hour living wage and piloting a universal basic income in the city.
USP: Leading woman in the race on the front foot of the green agenda.
With her eco-initiatives and plans for safer transport, Camden councillor Luisa Porritt, 33, is probably Sian Berry’s biggest rival in the mayoral race. The London-born Lib Dem candidate (MEP for London from 2019 to 2020) is expected to appeal to a millennial, anti-Brexit demographic with an interest in the environment. She studied at The Paris Institute of Political Studies in 2013 and has suggested London could learn from the French capital on affordability and road safety. She also hopes to “rewild” the city through schemes such as topping buildings with plants and solar panels.
The former journalist also has multi-cultural appeal. She has Spanish, Turkish, Egyptian and Austro-Hungarian heritage and says she hopes to relate to Londoners from all backgrounds. Her Instagram is a mosaic of posts supporting religious festivals from Holi to Passover, with posts supporting causes from Black Lives Matter to the freeing of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
USP: Free bikes on Sundays. Porritt has pledged to make London’s Santander Cycles available every Sunday for a year and extend the scheme’s availability to Lewisham and Greenwich. “One of the reasons I started cycling more was to avoid harassment on public transport,” she said in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder. “I felt safer at night getting on a bike because you are moving constantly.”
With the safety of women and girls high on the agenda after the Sarah Everard tragedy, increasing attention is turning to Mandu Reid, who has been a leading voice in the fight for greater women’s rights over the last month. The head of the Women’s Equality Party and the first black leader of any political party in the UK has demanded that politicians of all stripes “treat violence against women and girls as a political and policing priority.”
She grew up in Swaziland and attended the first ever school in Southern Africa where black children and white children could study together. With its diversity and rich culture, she says London is the “first place that ever truly felt like home”.
USP: The first black leader of a UK political party on a mission to fight for women’s rights.
What American-born Brian Rose lacks from not being originally a Londoner, he makes up for with self-belief. The former Wall Street banker and recovered heroin addict has spent seven figure sums commissioning billboards and a blue battle bus emblazoned with himself in a pin-stripe suit and the caption: “Your next mayor of London”.
Rose, 49, moved to London in 2002 and is the founder of London Real, a podcast and online talk show with two million subscribers. His pitch includes pledges to build 50,000 homes by Christmas, turn on-street parking into green spaces and celebrate the end of lockdown with a month of street festivals. He thinks the government’s response to Covid has been “disproportionate” and happily shakes hands with members of the public in campaign videos.
USP: American YouTube mogul.
Former Lewis actor Laurence Fox, 42, has become something of an anti-woke male pin-up in recent years, so it’s no surprise his mayoral campaign promises to “free London” from what he calls a “cathedral of wokery”. The professional provocateur launched his own political party, Reclaim, last year, emblazoning his battle bus with a picture of a gagged Winston Churchill statue (he’s promised to protect all statues if he becomes mayor). Fox’s backers include former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and Reform UK leader Richard Tice.
USP: A fierce Twitter personality. You’ll find @LozzaFox tweeting #AllLivesMatter and anti-lockdown sentiments. He believes Britons have a “sovereign choice” to decide whether or not to get vaccinated (he says he’ll refuse the vaccine until at least 2023).
“Don’t believe everything you see on a bus.” That’s the slogan of 26-year-old old Harrovian Max Fosh, who went to the same school as Fox (albeit many years later) and has admitted he is running as a candidate simply to wind up the right-wing provocateur (a picture of his red car pulled up next to Fox’s red bus has received 19,000 likes on Instagram). The Newcastle graduate boasts 394,000 followers on YouTube and 79,000 on Instagram and has joked that he signed up to run for mayor to fill the historic “posh bloke” quota on the ballot.
USP: Public schoolboy charm. “So who will win?” Fosh asks in a faux-serious campaign video outside City Hall. “A political party with £5 million in backing, or one YouTube-y boy with a few thousand subscribers. Well, I guess we’ll find out.”
At 23, Omilana is the youngest of the 2021 mayoral candidates - but he has a following to match some of the biggest players. The Gen Z YouTuber boasts more than 3.27 million subscribers on his personal channel and has a further million followers on Instagram, where he posts prank-style videos from going undercover at a racist march to opening a fake Starbucks.
A recent clip shows the prankster dressed in a blazer, tracksuit bottoms and neon green sunglasses to announce his candidacy as founder of what he calls the NDL (Niko Defence League) Movement. “As you can see, I’m taking this extremely seriously,” he says under the hashtag #NikoForMayor. “There is no greater leader in this country than me so please my friends, vote Niko for Mayor of London on May 6th or your breath stinks.” He announced his “manifesto” on Monday alongside a screenshot of a blank page on Apple Notes.
Another anti-lockdowner, UKIP candidate Peter Gammons wants to house the homeless in refurbished WW2 bunkers and enlist Richard Branson and Elon Musk to help him turn London’s underground tunnels into high-speed transport pods. According to UKIP, Gammons is also an “internationally respected motivational speaker and an award-winning and best-selling author”, but Twitter seems to be more distracted by his surname, which just so happens to be a pejorative term for a right-wing politician.
USP: Aptly-named UKIP veteran who wants Elon Musk to help him build transport pods.
If you’ve heard of Jeremy Corbyn’s older brother, it’s probably because he was one of the anti-vaxx figures at the centre of all the anti-lockdown protests. The grey-haired former weather forecaster, 74, wants to end “Covid con rules” and has likened vaccination to Auschwitz. He’s also a climate change sceptic.
USP: Jeremy Corbyn’s conspiracy theorist older brother.
Self-proclaimed “space warrior” Count Binface is no stranger to politics. Formerly known as Lord Buckethead (see where this is going?), the so-called ‘interplanetary’ mayoral candidate is the alter-ego of British comedian Jon Harvey and has stood in the last two general elections since being announced on Twitter in 2018 - you might remember him speaking in Latin to Boris Johnson and dancing the dab in front of Theresa May.
This time, he’s crowdfunded the £10,000 needed to run and his 21-point plan for 2021 promises to marry “fiscal responsibility, social awareness, and not being an anti-vaccine nutjob”, with pledges for London to join the European Union and for London Bridge to be renamed as ‘Phoebe Waller’.
USP: Intergalactic appeal. Binface is the only self-described extraterrestrial candidate in the race and claims to be 5965 years old.
Unlike most of his rivals, Hewison’s reason for standing for candidacy is singular: to fight the “disaster” that is Britain leaving the EU. “Brexit just isn’t working,” the pro-European campaigner told The London Economic last week. “I am putting myself forward in this election because I feel, morally, no father can just stand by and watch the rights of their children being stripped away without taking action.”
As well as being the leader of the Rejoin EU party, Hewison also runs a company that offers training courses in the financial sector. A homemade candidacy promo video sees him standing in a suit in his living room insisting that he has lived in London for 28 years and says never has he seen the level of “pessimism, despair and social injustice” that he sees today.
USP: Brexit bashing. Hewison has admitted he doesn’t think he will become mayor - he thinks Khan is “harmless” and will win again - but wants to stand for the “politically homeless” and promote “common sense things”, such as Erasmus-style grants and a “Brexit bureaucracy busters office” to help businesses and individuals trying to trade with or travel to Europe.