So far, the Tory candidate selection has been a predictable process: the regurgitation of old names rather than the recruitment of new talent. But tonight, this changed. Kemi Badenoch, former head of digital at The Spectator, has been selected for Saffron Walden in Essex– a seat with a Tory majority of almost 25,000. I suspect that we’ll soon be hearing a lot more about, and from, Kemi. Originally from Nigeria, she moved here as a teenager, worked her way up in the City and was an associate director at Coutts before she joined us at The Spectator.
She is currently deputy leader of the Tory group at the London Assembly, and is – to put it politely – not a caricature of a Cameron moderniser. She lives in Wimbledon and I thought she might contest Richmond Park, but they recycled Zac Goldsmith instead. She was shortlisted for the Labour-held Hampsted & Kilburn, but lost there.
Tonight she has prevailed in one of the safest Tory seats in the land and defeated the favourite, Stephen Parkinson, an adviser to Theresa May, on the first ballot. I can see why they went for Kemi. You’re unlikely to meet a more staunch Conservative – and someone who loves of the British way of life because she chose it, rather than was born into it.
When the Brexit referendum was on the cards, and The Spectator didn’t declare its position until the end of the campaign, Kemi would ask me what I was thinking: surely this is a no-brainer? Britain, or the EU – do we really need to mull? She’d often be puzzled as to why so many British people had a low opinion of Britain: she thought she’d moved to the greatest country in the world, and couldn’t work out why everyone didn’t see it that way. And Londoners, she thought, were often the worst offenders.
So she became a London Assembly Member who deplored the “London elite” and the capital’s “distant relationship with the rest of the country.” She gave speeches about how London Remainers don’t understand the way the rest of the country lives and took aim at a “subset of people who think they’re smarter, more tolerant and even better-looking than everyone else”. Her enemies: divisive identity politics, liberal elites, “short-term virtue-signalling policies which store up problems for the future”. She’s pro-Uber. Likes low tax, sound money, light regulation. Sees Brexit “as a springboard so we can start thinking for ourselves again”. She asks liberal Londoners “to start helping the rest of the UK instead of just sneering at them.” You get the idea.
When Michael Howard spoke about the British dream, he could have been talking about people like Kemi. She’s a rare combination: an original thinker, a robust debater and someone who defies all kinds of caricatures. If she is elected – and it’s a fair bet that she will be – then Westminster will certainly be a more interesting place.