Jewish News speaks to the two frontrunners aiming to take Boris Johnson’s mantle by becoming London’s next Conservative mayor
Syed Kamall, a practising Muslim, was sitting in a London synagogue to mark Remembrance Day when the congregation rose to sing the National Anthem. “And I thought, this is an amazing experience,” writes Jenni Frazer
Kamall, who has been a member of the European Parliament for the past decade, representing London, hopes to parlay some of that experience and enthusiasm into his bid to become, first, the Conservative nominee for London mayor, and ultimately secure mayoral office.
He is, he says, “a Londoner born and bred” – his parents are from Guyana and he grew up in a happy environment in north London.
He is used to inevitable questions about interfaith dialogue, but, rather refreshingly, thinks that policy is made not in the conference rooms of Brussels, where he attended a cleric-laden summit of imams and priests and rabbis recently, but “in the school playground”. From his own Edmonton playground, the young Kamall made close friends with Christians and Jews and developed an understanding of the other pupils’ feasts and fasts.
It’s something that he has carried with him into the European Parliament, where he has worked closely with Shimon Cohen and the Shechita UK campaign.
As an MEP for London, his work has ranged from “standing up for Londoners, particularly in the financial services sector”, to, quite literally, getting on his bike and trying out cycle lanes to see if they are fit for purpose.
He won’t say much about the “Corbyn effect” and any potential benefit that might accrue to a Conservative campaign, insisting his campaign is “not about an anti-Labour bounce”. But he is keen, he says, on sitting with people and “challenging them, eye-to-eye.”
His mantra is “How can I help?” rather than “You can’t do/say that”.
Resolutely cheerful, Kamall acknowledges that he is “inevitably” going to be asked about Israel, although he wants to concentrate on what he can do for all Londoners. “I have made one speech in the European Parliament on the issue,” he says, “in which I criticised Fatah for corruption, Hamas for terrorism, and Netanyahu for continued building of settlements.”
He can’t bring world peace immediately, he jokes, but reckons that these are fairly solid positions with which he believes many Jewish voters might agree. He has had contact with the Conservative Friends of Israel but prefers to deal with across-the-board organisations, such as The Abraham Fund or OneVoice.
His dream, he says, is to harness “Israeli technology know-how combined with the Arab gift for trade” to create an economic powerhouse in the region.
Because Kamall has been in Brussels for so long, his name is not so well-known as some others vying to become mayor.
So I ask him to tell me one thing about himself potential voters might not know. “Well,” he says, “ I used to play in bands. I was a bass player and singer.”
In fact, he says, warming to the subject, “I still have an acoustic bass in my office in Brussels. And I was in Latvia last month and went on stage and sang and played Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix.” Beat that, Boris.
• Other Conservative candidates for London mayor: Stephen Greenhalgh and Andrew Boff