Born and bred in west London, Shaun Bailey is running as the Conservative candidate for the city’s top job in next year’s mayoral election. Here’s his story so far…
‘I was born in the old Paddington Hospital in 1971 and grew up in west London with my single-parent mother. We were really, really broke, though my brother and I never knew it. We were surrounded by lovely people in a diverse, multicultural area: I came across a lot of Irish people, Nigerian families, Vietnamese kids… We got on marvellously, and that really structured my view of the world.
Notting Hill Carnival for me was big: our annual finances to an extent relied on it, because my granny and my late grandad ran a patty stall. I was constantly pressing my mum to go off to the soundsystems, where I learned to dance and became a real hip hop fan. There’s a direct link between me getting into Public Enemy and me getting involved in public life.
I started working with a youth group in Neasden, and that’s how I got into youth work. I started looking for jobs for boys, as an alternative to them selling drugs. The MyGeneration charity was an extension of that and it grew far beyond what I had ever imagined. We were running an education project, a girls’ group, anti-crime programmes and an enormous football club to attract people to the job club. I used to joke to the kids, “You’re my best chance at having rich mates, so you’d better do well!” But it was tough to raise funds. I realised that I was running out of steam and I gave the projects to people who could keep them going financially and emotionally.
I remember speaking to one of the parents and they said, “Shaun, you always preach to the children and it’s time for a demonstration.” That’s how I went into politics. A strategist called Steve Hilton had seen me speak. He introduced me to David Cameron – this was when he was the leader of the opposition and I had no idea who he was. There was a vibe there, and they said to me, “You should become a Tory candidate.” It was not something I had dreamed about, but I thought: if I get into politics I could show the kids there’s nowhere a poor kid can’t be.
I remember a lot of people were surprised that I was a Tory. People from the left would say, “Shaun what are you doing? You’re in the wrong party.” I’m in the centre, but in this political climate you need to have a party label. I’m not the slickest politician: I say a lot of things that get me in trouble, but the point is people are thinking it.
After I lost the election to become MP for Hammersmith in 2010, Cameron’s office called and said, “Would you consider being a special adviser?” Being in Downing Street was amazing: you experience stuff at such a high level. My brother said to me one day, “Your mates are in prison; you could have been in prison. But instead you’re meeting the prime minister.”
In 2015 I was elected to the London Assembly and last year I was picked as the Conservative mayoral candidate for 2020. It’s a much bigger platform, and – win, lose or draw – my goal is to highlight the issues that people really care about. The idea of winning does scare me: you are responsible for the welfare of 9 million people! But my whole life has been characterised by overcoming challenges. “Giving Londoners a stake in society” is my slogan, because London gave me everything.’
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