Friday, 22 February 2008

Shaun Bailey - the Tory tough guy

Shaun Bailey - the Tory tough guy

The fog on the Thames hung over Hammersmith as if from a scene described in a Dickensian novel. I was out freezing my fingers to the bone, waiting for Conservative Shaun Bailey, prospective MP for North Kensington who was meeting a mainstream men’s fashion magazine for an interview about his clothing. When, exactly politicians became associated with style, I don’t know, but that, it seems is the world we live in now. I took this opportunity during my internship to ask Mr. Bailey a few more pressing questions, in an effort to get some insight in to what direction Mr. Cameron was taking the party.

Shaun Bailey is by no means your average tory. He is a heavy set, bald headed black man, who was brought up by a single mum in his constituency of North Kensington. He’s is proud to represent the community he grew up in, saying “I understand it better than I do a community of pig farmers in Berkshire!” Perhaps having a dig at me? A Berkshire country boy, hijacking this photo-shoot for my own unsolicited and questionable intentions. He claims he avoided the perils of an impoverished black community - drugs and violent crime - by getting involved in the army cadets, which taught him discipline and gave him what he describes as an appreciation for British culture.

I don’t doubt Mr. Bailey when he says he cares about his community; he has worked for years as a social worker and also running charities to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds in Britain. Despite his admirable CV his views come as a surprise on some issues. He says that Labour is ripping off the working class of Britain by making them dependent on the state. In his words “we’re born with only one instinct, to suck.” I can see where he is coming from, but I wonder what alternatives he could offer to the welfare system.

Youth crime is a major issue to Bailey. He says he was stabbed, that crime is a problem and he blames things like MTV, which he attacks as being guilty of subjecting impressionable young men to graphic sexual imagery, and glamorised violence which encourages dissidence and anti social behaviour. Although he admits to being a fan of MTV bass and challenged me to watch the channel without feeling horny. I think I’ll pass. This struck me as somewhat ironic. I myself am not keen on MTV and modern society is undoubtedly somewhat desensitised to sexual imagery in the media, but if he hates media institutions that broadcast sexual imagery so much what’s he doing on a shoot for a magazine whose front covers are often plastered with the greased up, spread legs of pop stars and actresses?

He has no time for liberal policy on crime, “The liberal democrats are ludicrous!” he says referring to the rival party's policies on crime. Clearly Bailey isn’t a supporter of the softly softly approach on young offenders, but I was unable to pin him down on exactly what measures he would like to see taken to reduce crime. Maybe something along the lines of the military discipline he experienced in his youth? After all Cameron is calling for a return to conscription.

Race is clearly going to be an issue for a man like Bailey, he just doesn’t fit into the stereotype of a conservative MP candidate, race aside he has an obvious London accent, and an easy-going humorous nature. He says his black mates, see him on TV and are amused by his extensive vocabulary and tuxedos, although he admits, he only dresses very smartly when his party require him too, saying “you have to be a team player.” He feels that race is still an issue that needs to be resolved in Britain, supporting the notion of a public apology for the atrocities of racism, which he believes would not only resolve feelings of victimisation amongst black communities but also would relieve middle class white guilt, which he identifies as being a source of a lot of problems in the nation.

The photographer had asked him to bring some items with him that he liked, he brought an RC car, a CD of Martin Luther King speeches and most interestingly from my perspective, Frank Miller’s version of Batman “The Dark Knight returns” I couldn’t resist asking him about comic books, being a fan myself. His comic book fascination started for him, as with most as a child. He got a job at a comic book shop on Portobello road, which he said was the best job he could have imagined having, although his Mum was pretty pissed off when his boss used to pay him in comics. I said I was surprised he was a Batman fan, what with Batman being the rich kid of the superhero world; he didn’t seem bothered by this, saying that it was only Miller’s batman that intrigued him, on the grounds that the heroes he prefers are the ones who really fuck up the villain. It seems you have to be cut throat in modern politics. His favourites in childhood were Hulk and Thor, and he admits that they had two major effects on him, firstly that he did a lot of weights to get beefed up like the disproportionate bodies of his animated idols and secondly the idea that those who are strong should protect the weak.

So is Shaun Bailey a super hero for Black Britons? I have no doubt that Bailey is too intelligent to be manipulated by Cameron without knowing it, and his intentions seem sincere, he is well respected within his constituency, several passing joggers and cyclists stop to pay their respects to him, one even asking how he could make a donation to the party, another bursting into a round of applause after overhearing his passionate speech to me and the stylist on the shoot. But I am ever the sceptic, whilst it is refreshing to hear some common sense being spoken from a politician who most people would find it difficult not to identify with, I get the feeling Cameron is assembling a team of faces that look good as opposed to a team of people regardless of race and gender who are best for the job.

Bailey stresses a difference from his beliefs and that of the Conservative party of the 80's. A Thatcherite he aint. He believes the NHS is a symbol of Britain and is appalled at how the Labour government have constructed a system of targets that are set by people with no real understanding of hospitals. He suggests giving power to the hospitals to run themselves; I inquire whether he supports any system of privatisation of the health service which, to my relief, he denies.

He is an outspoken euro-sceptic, saying that New Labour have put us so far in debt that even the French with their spiralling national debt are warning us.
“When the French say you're in too much debt, you’re in trouble!” He doesn’t go in to much detail about his mistrust of Europe, but makes it clear he thinks that European authorities and New Labour are ripping off the British public, and I could see he was pretty angry about that. His say that it is easier to jump on a band wagon late than to jump from a sinking ship.

One issue which we touched on really intrigued me, getting back onto the subject of crime, and the streets, I ask him about the new proposals for stop and search. Although these proposals are being made by Labour, its obvious the Tories will lap them up like a bat at blood. I realise that Bailey is likely to have a far better understanding of the realities of police oppression than me so I was suprised when he said he supported restoring police power for searching.
“You don’t seriously support a return to the suss laws do you?” I ask, his reply is difficult for me to argue with
“We’re the ones who get stopped and searched yeah?” referring to black men
“but we’re also the ones who get shot and stabbed, I’ve been stabbed, It’s not fun” Due to his unique background in the current political spectrum, Bailey is an authority on those issues he is so keen to address, but this does not necessarily mean that he is right.
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