London Mayor 2021: Women’s Equality Party leader Mandu Reid on childcare, stopping violence and bringing ‘political sunshine’

London Mayor 2021: Women’s Equality Party leader Mandu Reid on childcare, stopping violence and bringing ‘political sunshine’

The leader of the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) has better credentials for the job of London Mayor than many might assume and, in some respects, than any of the other 19 candidates on the ballot paper for the 6 May election.

An articulate and energetic advocate of women’s rights, Mandu Reid has the advantage of 12 years’-worth of varied experience working for the Greater London Authority (GLA), spanning the tenures of all three chief occupants of City Hall so far.

She’s seen how the institution works from the inside. So when asked to explain how elements of WEP’s manifesto would be put into effect, she isn’t lost for answers, either about the practicalities of implementation or the wider relevance to London of policies WEP wants introduced.

A pledge to “make a landmark investment in childcare” by “extending the current free childcare allowance to parents studying or in training” stands out, not least because the cost of childcare often goes forgotten in discussions about the capital’s high cost of living. WEP says its measure would “support parents who have lost their jobs, stop families being driven into poverty and help keep our nurseries open and our economy running”.

The case is made that sectors hardest hit by the pandemic – hospitality, retail and the arts – employ a lot of women, so investment in childcare is an investment in economic recovery too. Reid elaborates: “It isn’t just because we’re the Women’s Equality Party that we think this is a good idea. This could and should be an important buttress of our plans for recovery in London.”

She would like the policy “woven into” the next Mayor’s economic development strategy – one of the seven London’s Mayors are required to produce – and funded out of the share of Business Rates raised in the capital that the GLA is able to retain. Reid believes this would be wholly consistent with supporting the capital’s economy, because “you want to keep people in employment, so there’s a natural logic there”.

This need not be seen as an issue solely about women. “Even if you won’t care about women’s rights, let’s just look at the difference this could make to getting more women into the workforce, paying their taxes and not claiming benefits,” Reid says. Before Covid, London’s “maternal employment” levels lagged behind those of the rest of the UK, she stresses. The gap will be even greater now.

The capital’s map of childcare provision is complicated. A report by London Councils published earlier this year found that the pandemic’s impacts on early years learning could deepen social disadvantage. Reid says that WEP’s plan would be delivered by allocating funds on “a borough-wide basis to match supply and demand”, allowing its further distribution to be “handled at local authority level”.

She adds that she would create a post of Deputy Mayor for Care, encompassing social care as well as childcare, to be a “super lobbyist” for more support from national government in the longer term and to chair a “London board for childcare” which would include representatives from local authorities.

Despite Sadiq Khan describing himself as “a proud feminist” who has appointed women to many senior posts, Reid feels he hasn’t done enough and that the lack of an intervention of the type WEP proposes betrays a tendency to be over-cautious. With big opinion poll leads and a damaged capital emerging from the Covid catastrophe, she maintains that he has “an opportunity as a politician to do really radical, bold things,” but is too risk-averse.

Reid makes the same charge in relation to WEP’s central concern about violence and sexual assaults against women and girls, saying these have “soared” while the rate of charges brought for such offences has dropped sharply: “A proud feminist Mayor would never have allowed these things to happen.”

She also expresses dismay with the culture of the Metropolitan Police, citing the Observer reporting last month that nearly 600 complaints of sexual misconduct were made against Met employees as a whole between 2012 and 2018, of which 119 were upheld. The revelation followed the murder of Sarah Everard, for which a Met officer has been charged.

“This isn’t just any employer,” Reid says. “This is an employer that is meant to serve and protect.” The wider criminal justice picture includes treatment of rape allegations which the Met’s deputy commissioner has described as a matter for “dismay” and “shame”. Covid and lockdown has also brought reports of increased domestic violence against women, another feature of what WEP calls “the shadow pandemic”

Reid and WEP promise to introduce a “comprehensive perpetrator strategy” with a view to ending violence against women and girls across the board rather than only “managing” it. Reid emphasises that this is about far more than policing. As well as effective formal sanctions and reforming a system “that allows too many perpetrators to get away with it,” she wants to nurture a wider culture change so that “soft sanctions” operate too.

Citing the stigma that now attaches to drink driving, she hopes to build a “climate of disapproval” against sexual harassment and violence, something she thinks men can help with. Extra City Hall money raised through Council Tax would be put towards this intervention project. Reid wants investment in “holistic programming”, taking in school children and universities, educating the young about “what sexual harassment is and what’s wrong with it”.

Reformed abusers too can be of value in changing behaviour, she feels, rather as they are with gang crime. But she is scornful about more “bobbies on the beat” being purchased with extra City Hall funds. “That’s not going to do anything for individuals who are on the receiving end of domestic abuse. Are these bobbies going to sit on my sofa while I’m in the throes of a violent argument with my partner?”

Reid’s past City Hall experience is varied. She first worked there during Ken Livingstone’s time on “internal project management”, helping to fix troubled projects and get new ones off the ground. Then came extensive “operational planning for the Olympic Games,” a period for which she blames acquiring a few grey hairs but which also gave her great satisfaction. “I’m nostalgic for what we managed to do that summer in our city. The feeling in London has become so different since then, basically post-Brexit referendum.”

Although she is her party’s leader, Reid, unlike her Green Party counterpart Sian Berry and others, is not running for a London Assembly seat too. She explains that being a London AM would not enable her do her national party job, but she enthuses about WEP’s Londonwide list candidates, topped by Harini Iyengar and Christine Dean. WEP finished sixth in the 2026 mayoral race and came close to winning an Assembly seat that year.

Reid says she has found campaigning for Mayor frustrating in one way, because so much of it has had to be done from her living room in Lewisham, but also a pleasure, “because I love London and I’m so proud of our manifesto. I know the difference it could make and how brilliant the women on our list are. I think there is a chance we will bring some political sunshine to Londoners on 6 May.”

On London has produce an 80-page guide to the 2021 London Mayor and Assembly Elections, written by On London editor Dave Hill and elections expert Lewis Baston. Make a one-time donation of £6 to the website and a copy will  be emailed to you. Thank you.

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