The Liberal Democrats and their mayoral candidate Luisa Porritt launched their London Elections manifesto yesterday with headline pledges on employment, housing and air quality and the claim that it presents “an exciting vision of London that embraces change”.
Speaking from a shared working space in the Lib Dem stronghold of Richmond, Porritt said London is at a “crucial moment” as it strives to recover from the human and economic losses brought about by the pandemic and invoked “the London spirit” of strength, resilience and a “forward-looking” outlook.
“Make no mistake, some of the unprecedented changes we’ve seen to the way we live and work over the past year are here to stay,” she said, describing increases in home-working and online shopping as accelerating trends that would otherwise have take shape over ten years.
Contending that Lib Dems are alone in understanding that adjustments made during the pandemic will be permanent, she stressed her view that she would be able to encourage the re-purposing of London high streets to meet new local needs as people spend more time in their home neighbourhoods. “As Mayor, I’ll establish a Reinvent the High Street taskforce to showcase best practice, gather data, raise funds, provide technical support to councils to make these transformations a reality,” she said.
Proclaiming the daily commute “dead”, Porritt promised to introduce a “flexible travel card” which could cover four days a week rather than five and save Londoners money. Underlining her conviction that many businesses will be shedding office space, she described this as “a once in a generation opportunity to finally fix our housing crisis” by converting vacated offices into high-quality, zero carbon homes.
Porritt also maintained that travel using the greener options of walking or cycling would be simpler if people are covering shorter distances. The manifesto commits to doubling expenditure on cycling infrastructure by 2024, the “biggest extension of the cycle hire scheme since it began” and making the scheme free to use on Sundays for one year. It also contains a reminder that London Lib Dems have been long-term supporters of the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street and part of Parliament Square.
She criticised current Mayor Sadiq Khan for “motoring ahead” with the Silvertown road tunnel, describing it as the Mayor’s “dirty little secret”, which he prefers voters not to know about. The manifesto says Khan has “failed hopelessly” to green London’s bus fleet at speed and that a future Mayor Porritt would fast-track the process, “ensuring all London’s buses are electric or hydrogen by 2028”.
There is also a significant pledge to “pioneer a smart, fair and privacy-friendly pay-as-you-go road charging scheme” which would price motorised vehicle charges “according to distance covered, number of journeys made, pollution levels and contribution to congestion”.
Porritt said her approach to mayoral powers and responsibilities over policing would be a further expression of Lib Dem localism. “We believe that people feel and are safer when there’s a visible and trusted police presence in our neighbourhoods,” she said, promising to double the number of “neighbourhood police officers” and re-open police stations closed during the Khan mayoralty.
She accused Khan, who has been maintaining that the contest for City Hall is a “two horse race” between himself and Conservative Shaun Bailey, of seeking re-election purely on the basis that he is not the Tory candidate, and proposed herself as a stronger challenger on the grounds that “the Conservatives can’t win here”.
Porritt was joined at the launch by fellow Lib Dems Ed Davey, MP for Kingston & Surbiton and her party leader, by Kingston Council leader Caroline Kerr and by Richmond Council leader Gareth Roberts, who is contesting the South West London Assembly seat, which has been held since its was first contested in 2000 by Conservative Tony Arbour, who has retired this year.
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