Cameron ally ‘frontrunner’ in Tory mayor race

A close ally of David Cameron is the “frontrunner” in the contest for a Conservative candidate for London mayor, the party’s policy chief has said.

Oliver Letwin said he thought Nicholas Boles, the director of the Policy Exchange think tank who announced his candidacy yesterday, was “absolutely admirable”.

His comments come as speculation heats up about who will stand for the Conservatives in the mayoral elections in 2008. The candidate will be chosen through a public competition later this year.

Tory central office has refused to say how many people have put their names in the ring, although reports suggest London assembly member Richard Barnes and former parliamentary candidate James Cleverly are in the running.

Two councillors for the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Victoria Borwick and Warwick Lightfoot have also put their names forward.

And yesterday the most high-profile candidate, Mr Boles, confirmed he would be standing. He is a close friend of Mr Cameron’s and last year became the first openly gay Tory to contest a winnable vote. He lost the seat of Hove by 420 votes.

“Lots of people have encouraged me to stand for the nomination as the Conservative party’s candidate for Mayor. People from right across the London party. And people who have never voted Conservative in their lives,” he told conservativehome.com.

“I’m very attracted by the idea of running for mayor. It would be an opportunity to present a new face of Conservatism to the capital.

“I love London and believe it needs to be led by someone who unifies people and makes things work – neither of which can be said of Mr Livingstone.”

Speaking to London’s Evening Standard, Conservative policy chief and former shadow chancellor Mr Letwin said Mr Boles “is the current frontrunner and I think he is absolutely admirable”.

He added: “To contest the mayoral contest requires 100 per cent commitment – no one would underestimate the severity and ferocity of that challenge. A lot of people would think twice or thrice before putting their hats in the ring.”

Two-time Tory candidate for mayor Steve Norris last month suggested that he may not run again in 2008, to allow the party to choose a more representative candidate.

“I always think about third time lucky and I think about somebody like me whose just about everything that David Cameron says he doesn’t want in his candidate: white male, middle class, middle aged,” he told GMTV.