Liberal Democrat London Mayor candidate Siobhan Benita has launched her bid for City Hall with headline pledges to bring down levels of homelessness, violent crime and air pollution and a stress on making more of the “kindness” of the city that should not be “mistaken for weakness”.
Speaking at the First Dates restaurant in Paternoster Square by St Paul’s cathedral this morning, the eve of St Valentine’s Day, Benita told an audience of supporters and campaigners about “my love affair with this city”, calling it a place of “excitement and new beginnings” as her mother and father had found when coming to the capital from India and Cornwall.
Benita described knife crime in London as “out of control” and rough sleeping as “at its highest level in years”, while air pollution is “toxic” and commuters are “suffering every day”. These are all areas where “a good Mayor can make a difference” she said, emphasising her civil service experience in shaping policies.
Praising Extinction Rebellion and school student climate change demonstrators for putting pressure on national politicians, she said “there is no issue bigger than how we collectively deal with the climate crisis” and declared her ambition to “reach zero carbon by 2030”. She criticised Sadiq Khan for pressing ahead with the planned Silvertown road tunnel under the Thames and also confirmed her opposition to “airport expansion” and her support for “a move towards smart road-user charging”.
Benita also promised to “standardise” domestic waste recycling across the city, later explaining that this would entail collaborations with boroughs or clusters of them, a project that would be assisted by forthcoming national legislation.
Addressing rough sleeping, Benita said, “We can’t keep walking past the sleeping bags, the cardboard cities and the huddles of tents as if this is just an inevitable part of London life.” She added that recognising this form of homelessness as “a public health issue” is part of the solution, given the difficulty rough sleepers have securing the support they need with financial and addiction issues. Benita said she would “take direct action” to improve the supply of new affordable homes “by building to rent on TfL land” and relying less on the private sector and would also look to “quick-to-build modular homes” when circumstances for doing so were right.
She appeared to signal that she would end Sadiq Khan’s four-year freezing of TfL public transport fares, saying that it “mainly benefits tourists” and had contributed, along with the “extreme mismanagement of Crossrail”, to underinvestment in transport networks.
Benita said that “knife crime” is the thing Londoners have been telling her they are most concerned about and highlighted Sadiq Khan’s recent remark at a People’s Question time event in Haringey that the issue keeps him awake at night. She upbraided the Mayor for his “default response” of blaming central government and for, in her view, making out that his hands are tied.
Benita said that having authored the interim report of the Commons all-party youth violence commission, she recognised that “solving knife crime is not easy”, requiring strong enforcement but also “a relentless focus on prevention and early intervention”. She said she would restore “a model of community policing that works” by re-opening neighbourhood police stations that have closed, doubling the number of local ward officers and ensuring that every secondary school in the capital has “a dedicated police liaison officer”. She also committed to a long-term goal of ending permanent school exclusions.
The “convening power of the Mayor to create a new London youth service”, would be deployed if she became Mayor, filling the space where an effective body co-ordinating people and resources on a borough-by-borough basis ought to be, with a particular focus on the two hours after the end of the school day. This would be overseen by “a young mayor for London”, paid for out her own salary.
Earlier, Lib Dem London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon had introduced Ed Davey, the party’s national co-leader and MP for Kingston & Surbiton. Davey praised Benita’s expertise, stressed a need for a less toxic political dialogue and, in a joking reference to her being one of his constituents, said “it is time that New Malden had its place in City Hall”.
Former police officer and client of and adviser to Mayor Khan Leroy Logan said “serious violence has been normalised” with “too many of our parents and children living in fear” and many people no longer bothering to even report crime while conviction numbers fall. He described Khan as “a massive disappointment” and as having “isolated himself, from even people in City Hall” concerned with working with young people.
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