Photo credit: http://www.obv.org.uk/news-blogs/london-mayoral-hustings-policing-dominates-debate/
Yesterday, I went to this event:
It was billed as one of the largest Mayoral Hustings, and its purpose was to help decide who will be the next Mayor for London. BME communities across the capital make up a third of all Londoners, and so the collective BME vote could be a deciding factor in London's Mayoral election.
I went along to this hustings as I wanted to see all of the Mayoral candidates in action and to hear what they had to say; both on the key issues in their manifesto that they considered to be a priority, and on issues that the Black communities felt were important to them and that they were questioned on. I went along with an open mind, and as a direct result of attending the hustings I changed my vote on the basis of what I had heard and what the candidates had to offer. I do not belong to a political party, and have never belonged to a political party. I prefer to vote for the person or the party who at that particular election has the best policies on the issues that I care about.
The format for the event consisted of each of the candidates being allowed to speak for 5 minutes to outline their manifesto and then Q&A. Siobhan Benita as an Independent had less time and was also not on the panel for directly answering Q&As so she had significantly less time to make her argument and to respond to questions. That was not fair. Just because she does not belong to a political party and is standing as an Independent does not mean that she has any less of a right to be there or is any less of a candidate; in fact, for me, her Independence is a strength not a weakness. My own view, and the view of others in the audience, was that she should have been given the same amount of time and she should have been given equal standing and equal billing.
I also wanted to comment briefly on the venue chosen. By choosing a Church made up of a predominantly Black congregation I felt that the event was excluding people of other faiths, in particular Muslims, especially as the event started with prayers to a Christian God; it also meant that the audience was 99% "Black" ie those from African or Caribbean heritage. The South Asian communities were not represented and they were largely absent from the event. My own view is that if you want to hold an inclusive event, open to everyone, the event should not be being held in a Church (I am saying that as an evangelical Christian!).
In terms of my write-up, I am just going to cover the original "pitch" that the candidates made. Anything written in italics are my thoughts. I am covering the candidates in the order in which they spoke.
Siobhan Benita, Independent
Siobhan explained that she was an Independent and that she was proud of that; she was not tied to a particular party or any particular policies; she was free to develop the policies that she felt were the best for London. She spoke about her Education and Youth manifesto and encouraged people to read it. She really believed in engaging young people, and would have a Young Mayor for London and a youth assembly. If she was elected Mayor she would commission an external review of the Metropolitan Police as she believed that there were some endemic fundamental problems that need to be investigated and then robust solutions developed. She spoke about fixed price houses as she felt that much of the housing in London was unaffordable for normal families.
As I said, Siobhan had significantly less time to make her pitch than the other candidates.
Find out more about Siobhan here:
My over-arching comment on Siobhan was that I knew absolutely nothing about her before the event but she is a very impressive candidate. She spoke eloquently and had a wise head on her shoulders. I was very impressed by her and what she had to say and what she had to offer. I want to see and hear more of her!
Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrat
Brian made it clear that he was not a professional politician and, like Siobhan, said what he thought not what he was supposed to say. He was a man of integrity, and was standing on his 30 year career history and record. He had served as a police officer in Brixton during the 80s and the 90s and was the Borough Commander of Lambeth from 2001 to 2002 (and yes I was a Lambeth resident at this time; I have been a Lambeth resident since 1996 and have very fond and happy memories of Brian as our Police Commander). He said that he had written a report on stop and search stating quite clearly that the disproportionate use of stop and search against the Black communities was not acceptable, and that something needed to be done. His bosses had binned his report. He firmly believed in targeting criminals, not the way people looked. He also spoke about the experience of being removed from his post as Borough Commander of Lambeth against his wishes and against the wishes of the local community (this is not a "politican's statement"; this is the absolute truth). He spoke about the rise in knife crime and the fact that too many young people were dying on London's streets. He said that something needed to be done. Young people were overpoliced and underprotected. One of his priorities was to tackle knife crime. He spoke about the scourge of gangs, and the need to offer young people a positive alternative to gangs. He wanted to work with the Black Churches, and other faith communities; to listen to, and look after, young people. He spoke about a voluntary luxury hotel levy on 3* to 5* hotel rooms in London to fund work with young people; he wanted to create a community fund targeted at working with young people. He wanted to transform London and end discrimination. He said that the education system had to engage young people. He had a track record of standing up for diversity and for Black people; and for listening to communities and what they had to say.
Find out more about Brian here:
Brian's pitch really appealed to me. It is very true that he has consistently spoken out about issues that he believes in, at a personal cost to his career; ultimately he prematurely ended his career with the Metropolitan Police by speaking out on the Jean Charles de Menezes case. He does say what he thinks and stands up for what he believes to be right. He talked about the issues that are closest to my heart - gangs, knife crime and young people - and offered a workable solution, which was inclusive of all communities and involved working with communities and young people. He also had a way of funding these young people projects. I liked his statement about young people being "overpoliced and underprotected". And he is right that his record speaks for itself in that he has always stood up for diversity and Black communities against the establishment and has paid the price for doing so.
Also, being an openly gay man, at one time the United Kingdom's most senior openly gay police officer, he knows what it is like to be "other"; to be discriminated against and to be hated; to have to take on prejudice and fight it every day; that gives him a unique insight amongst the candidates. And I don't believe that being a woman is the same; women make up half the population and although they face discrimination they do not face hatred from certain quarters.
On the basis of his pitch, I decided to vote for Brian!
Ken Livingstone, Labour
Ken spoke about the fact that small things can make a big impact. He spoke about how he was going to cut fares on buses (what I found worrying was that he got the current fare which people have to pay on buses wrong - do your research!). He spoke about energy prices and bills going up and up, and the fact that he was going to help people insulate their homes. He spoke about how his focus was giving money back into the pockets of Londoners. He also spoke about the fact that there were not enough council houses available for rent and that here were too many people on the waiting list. Jobs in the construction industry had been lost. He would like to start building council houses again, good quality homes, which would mean people would have a better quality of life. He stressed that he was a man for all Londoners.
Find out more about Ken here:
However, for me, I found it surprising that Ken did not touch on crime and policing. He did not talk about the Metropolitan Police or their relations with BME communities. I felt that he was not interested in crime and policing, that it was not a priority for him; I personally want a Mayor for whom the policing of London's BME communities and young people in general is a priority and a passion. He did not talk about the things that I am most concerned and passionate about; giving young Londoners hope and opportunity. He did not talk about gun and knife crime or gangs. I was disappointed. Also, on the flyers given out, the only issue covered was fare cuts on London transport. I am not denying this is an important issue. But to only talk about a single issue in your leaflet, and to choose transport fare cuts, does not work for me. There was no mention of Policing or Crime. All the other candidates covered a range of issues in their leaflets; Siobhan covered a range of issues on a one page flyer. People are not stupid and I do not want to be treated as an idiot. Leaflets and flyers should cover the whole range of issues; not just one issue and one message. Labour can and should know better!
Jenny Jones, Green
Jenny did not speak about "green" issues, she spoke about the Green Party's strong social agenda and a more equal, more healthy, and more affordable, City (this was exactly the right decision!). She said that London was one of the most unequal parts of the UK, and she wanted to lift families out of poverty. Parents who were having to work two jobs just to pay the rent and to feed their children, would not be able to spend time with their family, and this was not a life. She wanted to increase trust in the police. Stop and search alienates communities and makes young people very angry. She wanted better prospects for young people.
Find out more about Jenny here:
Overall, I just felt that Jenny was not credible as a Mayoral candidate. She did not have the gravitas, the confidence, or the self-assurance of the other candidates (this is not a gender issue; Siobhan had all these things in spades and was 100% credible as a Mayoral candidate). I felt that Jenny was out of her depth, and looked uncomfortable and ill-at-ease. She was completely outclassed. Later on, her answers to questions were hesitant and poor. I am afraid I would definitely not trust her to run London. However, I was very interested in the Green Party's vision of a more equal, healthy and affordable London, so I will look into the Green Party more than I have done to date.
Boris Johnson, Conservative
Boris said that it was a straight choice of going forwards or going backwards. He wanted to carry on going forwards and to continue cost-cutting. Crime was down 10%; bus crime was down 30%. This had been achieved by putting uniformed officers onto public transport. He would continue the policy of free travel for young people, but they should be standing up for older people and pregnant women. He would continue to put more police on the streets of London because more police on the streets meant crime would go down. The murder rate had reduced significantly over his term of office. He wanted to build more houses; 52k houses had been built; 55k houses would be built. He wanted more jobs; 200k jobs over the next 4 years. He talked about apprenticeships for young people. Last Summer had seen London plagued with riots; he wanted more for young people; better education; a continuation of his mentoring programme; an expansion of Team London. He would lead this City. He would cut council tax. He would also bring the City together; so everyone was working as one. He wanted to move forwards not backwards.
Find out more about Boris here:
For me personally, I thought Boris's pitch lacked a big idea, a strategic vision for London. What does he want to achieve?; what is his priority? I did not get a feel for that at all. I did get that he was a no-nonsense politician, with a common-sense approach, who is and would be approachable. But I want something more and something better than that.
I would like to thank OBV for organising the event and for giving me the chance to see and hear the key Mayoral candidates in action. It was really helpful to me and ultimately decided my vote. That is as it should be in a democracy.
So as a direct result of attending the hustings, and seeing and hearing what the candidates had to offer, I have switched my own vote from Ken Livingstone to Brian Paddick.
Vote Brian Paddick for Mayor of London on Thursday 3 May 2012:
Brian Paddick, Caroline Pidgeon and the Lib Dem London GLA team
Photo credit: http://www.brianpaddick.com/