London Mayor Sadiq Khan put reducing violent crime at the forefront of his bid to win a second term at City Hall, with a strident defence of his current policies at last night’s People’s Question Time event in Haringey.
Khan, who has been criticised by rivals for his response to a rising murder rate and concerns about offences involving young people and knives, used his opening speech to declare his own worries about the issue “as a parent and as the Mayor”.
He described addressing the problem as “by far the hardest” he has to deal with, both for the damage such violence does to lives affected by it and the difficulty of tackling it.
In a dig at opponents, including Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey, who shared the stage with him along with fellow members of the London Assembly, Khan said: “Unfortunately, some people are using this to seek political advantage by blaming the wrong things and by claiming there are simple solutions.”
Earlier this week, Independent candidate Rory Stewart published a plan for increasing the number of police officers and PCSOs in local neighbourhood teams. Liberal Democrat candidate Siobhan Benita has implied that Stewart and Bailey have been guilty of “ambulance-chasing” on the issue.
Khan listed the cost of living, the housing affordability problems of young Londoners and “an anti-London government that’s pushing ahead with its austerity agenda” as other major challenges.
He cited his record on funding “more social and council homes”, introducing estate regeneration ballots (which he’d initially opposed), “protecting the Green Belt”, and introducing the Hopper bus and tram fare and a four year freeze of all public transport fares set by Transport for London as achievements of his mayoralty since his election in 2016.
Bailey told the audience, “We have a culture of violence in London which we have to attempt to get under control. One of the big ways to do that is to give young people hope.” He said that over a third of young people convicted of possessing a knife in the past year had gone on to re-offend, underlining the importance of encouraging them into education or training “to keep them away from crime” and break the cycle of their being “in and out of jail”.
Khan responded by renewing his attack on Conservative national governments, asking rhetorically who is responsible for the prison and probation services, and for reducing spending on policing and youth services.
Questions from the audience on safety included one expressing concern about the use of stop and search when it risks alienating the young. Khan in his reply said, “We can’t arrest ourselves out of this problem. Stop and search by itself aint going to solve it” and that there must be a link “across the country” between youth and after school clubs closing down and school exclusions, as well as police budget cuts.
A woman who said she’s lived in Haringey for 18 years, has three children and has three times been a victim of crime, expressed fears that young people she knows are not safe when on the streets in Haringey and her feeling that financial investment by the Mayor in schemes to help young people is yet to have much effect.
She said that she herself now feels “quite unsafe to get home at night, get out of my car, looking around to see if there’s anyone there.” She added that when reporting crime to the police, “It is so hard to get a follow up, it is so hard to know who is dealing with your case, it is so hard to know if something is going to come of it or not.”
Much of the proceedings were dominated by local Hard Left activists who used up time allotted for questions on transport, community safety and housing to demand that the Mayor intervene to prevent the second part of a redevelopment scheme in Seven Sisters which will see new premises built for traders in a small indoor market known as the Latin Village.
The traders are being provided with a temporary new location across the street, where the first phase of a two-part regeneration was “topped out” last year. Developer Grainger has committed to offering traders places at discounted rents in a new indoor market space in the same space they occupy now within new buildings which will replace a long-closed former furniture store on the site next to Seven Sisters Underground station, known as Wards Corner. Opponents of the regeneration have put forward an alternative “community plan”. The Liberal Democrats also oppose the Grainger scheme.
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