Boris Johnson has a nickname for his final year in office as London mayor: "Operation Juddering Climax."
The Conservative politician is juggling the end of his eight-year tenure at City Hall with his new role as an MP, already eyeing up bigger jobs. As a result the race has already begun to replace him as Mayor of London. For Labour, the election in May 2016 is a golden opportunity to prove it can win votes again. Party insiders say it's "vital" to win the contest after a devastating defeat at last month's general election. High-profile Labour politicians are battling it out to get on the shortlist.
But there seems to be no rush from Conservative HQ to select a new candidate to replace Boris. Just three Tory candidates have declared they will run – Stephen Greenhalgh, London's deputy mayor for policing and crime; Andrew Boff, a London Assembly member, and Ivan Massow, an entrepreneur and gay rights campaigner. None of them have the highest profile and all are bracing themselves for better-known Conservatives to come forward at the last minute.
Names in the frame include Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park, who has vowed to resign if the government agrees to build a new runway at Heathrow. So far he has failed to comment on his plans. Nick de Bois, a former Conservative MP who lost his Enfield North seat in May after just one term, could also make a last-ditch bid for the job. He confirmed to BuzzFeed News he was mulling it over: "The chance to champion London's corner is a tempting proposition."
Syed Kamall, a Conservative MEP, is also likely to go for it. A source close to him said: "He hasn't decided yet. He's got such an important role with the EU referendum right now, acting as a bridge between Brussels and London and he wants to make sure that that is properly under way before he can really make any decision."
Meanwhile Karren Brady, Tory peer and vice-chairman of West Ham, and Sol Campbell, the former Arsenal and England defender, are also yet to rule out a bid.
Sources in Tory HQ insist that no discussions are taking place with any potential candidates yet.
There is also still no clear process for when and how the Conservative candidate will be selected. The winner will likely be chosen by party members in London later in the autumn, after Labour's candidate is announced on 13 September.
Tory sources say this is to see who Labour selects as their wannabe mayor and make sure the Conservatives have a candidate who can best rival them. Former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell is currently the bookies' favourite to be Labour's candidate, though she faces stiff competition from ex-transport minister Sadiq Khan.
Prominent backbenchers David Lammy and Diane Abbott will also be among the names put forward to Labour supporters. Unlike the current Tory line-up, all four are well known to many Londoners.
BuzzFeed News spoke with the three Conservative candidates to find out what they made of the process so far.
Greenhalgh was leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council for six years before he was appointed by Johnson as his deputy mayor.
As council leader, he had gained a reputation as a cost-cutter – something he's keen to continue if elected mayor. His most eye-catching campaign pledge is to slash Tube fares by 3% a year, saving regular commuters more than £900 over four years.
"It's good that the party already has three people to choose from but I'm absolutely convinced that there'll be a longer list on judgment day," he says. "Not a day goes by when a name is not mentioned from the great Palace of Westminster."
He admits that he needs "to work on name recognition" and make sure more voters know who he is. But he adds: "I didn't go into politics to build up my media profile, for me its all about delivery and making things happen."
Greenhalgh, a 47-year-old father of three, believes he stands out from the other candidates as the only member of Johnson's team seeking to succeed him as mayor. So will Johnson endorse him? "He won't endorse anyone," he says.
And Greenhalgh is not phased by the prospect of going up against a high-profile Labour MP. "Because of our centralised system, there's an assumption that you're not a serious politician until you become an MP," he says. "I think that's a huge disservice to council leaders."
And yet Johnson is abandoning his mayoral post to become an MP. "Everybody's got to follow their dreams," Greenhalgh says quickly. "I'm a great believer in having the freedom to dream our dreams. The prime minister's welcoming him back on his team; for Boris, at the age of 50, to retire himself from frontline politics would be absurd."
He insists it's "perfectly possible to be a backbench MP while continuing to be an active mayor", adding: "You should always see your mandate through. He [Johnson] calls it Operation Juddering Climax, it's the focus on delivery and making the most of your time."
Greenhalgh warns against famous faces joining the mayoral race with no experience. "We've got to decide whether we're electing the lord mayor which is largely ceremonial, and people feel they're a bundle of fun and not terribly important, or recognise that this is an office where this is about governing for the benefit the people of London," he says. "It is a serious job requiring someone with the skills to make a genuine difference."
Andrew Boff, leader of the London Assembly Conservative group, is no stranger to the mayoral election. He's failed to be selected as the Tory candidate three times before.
Boff believes a lack of affordable housing is the central issue for Londoners and has pledged to create a "southern powerhouse" together with the south east to boost development. He also wants to see more direct democracy with Londoners allowed to vote on certain petitions.
Boff, an openly gay 57-year-old, tells BuzzFeed News that he's sick of the "celebrity culture" that seems to surround the mayoral race. "This job is open to anyone in London," he says. "You do not have to have a public profile but you do have to have a story and a message.
"The whole media swings around the personalities and who makes us laugh or who makes us feel good, who can eat a bacon sandwich. We've got to get away from this in politics, we've got to start talking about the ideas that Londoners want to see come to the fore. The celebrity side is totally, absolutely, 100% irrelevant."
He expects other candidates to come forward later this summer but adds: "I think I've got the talent, the experience and the passion about this city and people being involved in the running for the city that I think it's going to result in me being selected." Labour's candidates are just "sounding like tired old remnants of the '70s", he says.
Ivan Massow launched his campaign last month by introducing himself in a candid YouTube video as "gay, ex-alcoholic and dyslexic".
The financial services entrepreneur says London needs a mayor that "understands the issues normal people face". He tells BuzzFeed News: "I felt that I could add something to the Conservative race that was a little more than the standard of career politician line-up you tend to get with these sorts of jobs."
Brighton-born Massow, 47, has lived in London for more than 25 years and briefly shared a flat with now Tory ministers Michael Gove and Nick Boles. "I came to London with very little and nothing in the way of a formal education and I had sometimes amazing successes in business and that was all great," he says.
"And then you lose someone you love, maybe you start drinking too much and your business is affected. I think it's important to have a round understanding of people who are just trying their hardest and just making it work."
He doesn't believe that a "regular Tory" can become mayor. "They have to take someone like me on," he says. "I just don't think London will put up with a traditional Conservative candidate."
And he agrees with his rivals that being high-profile is not important. He points out that Johnson was not hugely famous when he became mayor in 2008. "You forget how much Boris was just a regular backbench MP who'd been on TV once or twice," he says.
Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Emily Ashton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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