The selection of Shaun Bailey as Conservative candidate for the new seat of Hammersmith is a tremendous coup for David Cameron, as the Tory leader is well aware. What better advert could there be for the new, all-inclusive, socially-responsible party Boy Dave says he wants to build than an articulate, black youth worker from a lone parented, council estate background who wants more support for marriage, believes in self-reliance and has told Conservative Home that,
"The liberal elite promote policies that are crushing the poor. Labour’s policies have created a dependency culture and all the people I know who have done badly are products of [it]."
And who's going to tell him he's wrong? Take time to read this pamphlet he wrote for the Centre For Policy Studies, with its wealth of grounded experience and personal tale of his avoidance of a life of crime thanks to a wider family network and his membership of the Army Cadet Force which, he says, introduced him to the best of Britishness. And you can read more of his views about crime, discipline and community here and here.
I've come to know Shaun a little from our two joint appearances on ITV's The Moral Of Story. At times, I find him a conundrum. Given his disdain for the "liberal elite" I was genuinely surprised by his strident belief that Britain should apologise for the slave trade on the grounds that its failure to do so contributed to an anger among young black men which helps fuel anti-social behaviour. I'd expected him to denounce what others on the Right would decry as an example of the "victim mentality" they blame that "liberal elite" for encouraging among ethnic minority communities.
But maybe there is no contradiction there. After all, combining black pride with patriotism and other conservative attitudes didn't make James Brown appear compromised or confused (not that I'd push the comparison too far: Brown wasn't always an ideal role model and I've yet to hear Shaun sing). Whatever. Such things aren't going to be Shaun's problem. It's how he's going to fit into the wider Tory circle that interests me. Some who dislike Cameron's not-nasty approach wryly remark that Shaun is too "traditional" to be a true Cameroonian, what with his plain talk about discipline and nuclear heterosexual families.
I think they're wrong about that - in fact, he fills the Cameron prescription perfectly. On the contrary, it's those continuing signs that even seemingly up-to-date Conservatives still don't get it about race that make me wonder how True Blue he'll ever truly feel. Patrick Mercer didn't get it that most people now recognise that there's a difference - a world of it - between making fun of someone for having red hair and doing so of someone for having darker skin than you. Councillor Brian Gordon seems not to have heard that, these days, "blacking up" is considered rather impolite.
Of course, what happened to John Taylor in Cheltenham in 1992 is unlikely to happen to Shaun in inner London 15 years on. What's more, Shaun is confident, resilient, determined and not alone. But that line of his on the slave trade suggests a side to him that even the most reconstructed Tory might shrink from. I wish him luck in Hammersmith. Though a firm non-Tory, I even hope he wins. I just hope he doesn't end up disillusioned.