While crime, transport and housing were top topics at yesterday’s packed mayoral hustings organised jointly by the LSE and the London Chamber of Commerce, it was the absence of leading contenders Sadiq Khan and Shaun Bailey, who pulled out very late, that prompted some initial tough talking from other contestants. “If they can’t be bothered to turn up I don’t think anyone should vote for them,” said Liberal Democrat candidate Siobhan Benita, calling for “empty chairs” at future hustings, with Green Party candidate Sian Berry adding that Khan in particular had questions to answer: “He needs to come to these debates.”
Alongside some free hits on Khan’s record in office – he’s been a “mascot mayor” according to Benita, fresh from her own campaign launch – some key policy differences began to emerge.
A Green Mayor would reform TfL’s “unfair” and “outdated” fare zones and reduce fares over time towards flat fares across the city, with funding gaps made up by road pricing for drivers, said Berry. Independent candidate Rory Stewart, calling for “smart” fare systems for differential pricing, argued that higher fares are a better way to help Transport for London’s budgets than through land deals, while Benita, who is yet to unveil detailed transport policies, said that keeping the fares freeze would be “completely irresponsible”. She supported fares levels pegged to incomes, and pledged to introduce “express” night buses to reduce journey times back Outer London.
There was more agreement on housing, with Benita, Berry and Stewart – who announced key housing policies earlier this week – each calling for more homes on TfL and other public land and less reliance on private developers to deliver them. Berry called for a new focus on small sites, community-led housing schemes and cooperative working with communities, while Benita urged more use of innovative modular, off-site building and a City Hall-led drive to reduce the numbers of empty properties in the capital, plus an “intergenerational” approach, helping older people out of unsuitable homes.
Benita and Berry also backed Chamber of Commerce proposals, outlined in its business manifesto for the mayoralty, for a City Hall commissioner to manage “sustainable” freight transport demand. “We have to lay a green lens over every policy that comes out of City Hall,” said Benita. Stewart, though, was sceptical about appointing new City Hall “bureaucrats”. He pledged to appoint just three deputy mayors, in contrast to Khan’s much larger team.
Tackling violent crime brought consensus around the view that a broad approach was needed, including “early intervention and prevention”, according to Benita, who pledged City Hall support for a London-wide youth service and a shift to no permanent school exclusions, alongside pressing for drugs law reform, piloting cannabis legalisation.
Candidates also called for more sensitivity on police “stop and search” tactics. “We learned in the 1980s that just ramping up enforcement and coercion doesn’t work,” said Berry, while Stewart underlined the importance of neighbourhood policing. “That information and those community relationships are what is going to make us safer.”
It was left to Clare Coghill, Labour leader of Waltham Forest Council representing Khan, to defend the incumbent’s track record, saying he had brought about “significant change”, on housing, on crime, and on tackling climate change, in difficult times, keeping fares down, supporting London’s boroughs and making up for government inaction as well as offering “global leadership”.
Represting the absent Bailey, Stephen Greenhalgh, the former leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council who was City Hall deputy mayor for policing and crime under Boris Johnson, said the Tory contender was the “man with the plan” to make London safer, alongside a housing policy focused on brownfield land, safeguarding the Green Belt and protecting back gardens from development.
For Benita, it was time for London, which “always dares to be different”, to elect its first female, Lib Dem Mayor, while Berry, stressing Green City Hall representatives’ success in getting their policies adopted, urged voters to “cut out the middleman and go to the people who will do what is needed straight away”. “Being Mayor is about action”, concluded Stewart. “The Mayor has the capacity to do good in this city. We need a Mayor who is going to fix things, not say it’s someone else’s fault.”