Liberal Democrat City Hall challenger Luisa Porritt gave the “two-horse race” argument short shrift yesterday, speaking to businesses at the latest London Chamber of Commerce & Industry online roundtable with the main London Mayor candidates.
“It’s in the interests of Labour and the Conservatives to pretend that, to tell people it’s first past the post,” Porritt said. “But there’s very little risk there is going to be a Conservative Mayor of London. People can be more flexible with their preferences.”
Asked what would persuade Londoners to give a vote to the Camden councillor and former London MEP, who was selected only in October last year after Siobhan Benita quit the race following the postponement of the election to May this year she stressed a strong pitch on “levelling up”.
“That rhetoric is very misleading,” Porritt said. “And in the process the government seems determined to level down London. I’m really worried about the attitude the government is taking. We are being ignored to appeal to voters they won at the last election. The government seems to have given up on London.”
She added: “There’s a lazy perception that we are all incredibly rich and should be squeezed like a cash cow. That’s not the reality for many Londoners. We’ve got serious challenges and inequalities in our city and we shouldn’t be ignored. There’s a real need to make the case about why London is so important to the rest of the economy.”
Porritt also spoke of taking a head-on, Londonwide response to recovering from the pandemic, by converting empty offices in the centre into housing – her “homes in the heart of the city” plan – eyeing up the 25,000 empty homes in the city and supporting boroughs to “reinvent” their high streets and the “600 local economies that make up London.”
More residents in the centre, not in “rabbit-hutch” homes but high-quality, affordable housing, would boost demand, she said, while home-working, City Hall investment in a “locally-led economic recovery”, and strategic planning would make “every neighbourhood an attractive place to live and to work”. It would a move away from the “old-fashioned, retail-led model of the high street”.
The Mayor could also be more creative with devolved adult education funding, Porritt argued, by supporting young people in particular at risk of becoming a “lost generation” with a new London Apprenticeship Hub, offering help and information and conducting a Universal Basic Income trial.
Porritt also proposed more “safe and efficient” routes for cycling and walking, and support for the green economy, including requiring “green roofs” on all large developments. “It’s vital to seize the chance to deliver a green economy. We don’t have to choose between tackling the climate emergency and economic growth,” she said.
Europe – and the “self-inflicted economic disaster that is Brexit” – featured heavily too, befitting a candidate who had studied in Europe, got into politics after the 2016 referendum, and became a London MEP in 2019.
Porritt would work cooperatively with fellow mayors in Europe, she said, and “always put my energies into fighting for a strong relationship with the EU.” She cited the “chipping away” of the status of the City of London as part of wider impact “already showing we should be in the single market and the customs union”.
And finally, she would build bridges with Whitehall. “Having someone new is an opportunity to heal that. The current Mayor has a particularly bad relationship with government. Perhaps it’s time to reset that.”
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