Why should I be Mayor of London Tomorrow? Mayoral candidates debate

The five main candidates in the contest to become London’s Mayor appeared before a business and student audience of over 400 at the LSE last month and made their respective cases why they should lead the city into what is certain to be a challenging future. The candidates – Siân Berry (Green Party), Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), Sadiq Khan (Labour), Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat) and Peter Whittle (UKIP) – referenced findings and research from London Tomorrow, LCCI's thought leadership programme which is focusing on the challenges and opportunities arising from London’s growing population. Opening up LCCI Chief Executive Colin Stanbridge moderated the proceedings and gave the candidates two minutes to make their case – the order having been decided by drawn lots – before questions from himself and the floor. Zac Goldsmith said that London had boomed over the last eight years under Boris Johnson but there was plenty for the next Mayor to do in delivering much-needed housing, keeping London moving, making the streets safer, protecting the environment and tackling pollution. It was easy as a Mayoral candidate to make promises but you had to deliver, just as he had in his own constituency with the result that he had achieved the biggest increase in parliamentary majority of any MP in London. “London is a great city and if I am backed I will make it greater still.” Peter Whittle told the audience of his London roots which he said informed his whole character. He praised the work of London Tomorrow and noted that infrastructure was the key theme. He believed that this had been neglected in the capital and that its growing population required us to look at the demand as well as the supply side. He noted that he was the only candidate who would assert that London had an exciting future outside the EU. Siân Berry spoke of the ‘power of good ideas’ and mentioned three which would feature in a Green Mayoralty. She would abolish fare zones making travel more affordable for commuters in the outer boroughs. City Airport would be closed and the land used for housing while private renters would be protected. Sadiq Khan praised London as the greatest city on earth but one that was facing huge challenges, the housing crisis being the biggest. What the capital needed was a Mayor with experience, values and vision; one that would support business and deliver a safer and pollution-free environment. He believed he was the man with the right qualities to put London back on track. Unlike the other candidates, said Caroline Pidgeon, she had held the current Mayor to account on key issues such as transport. As a working mother she knew first-hand about work-life pressures and, after over 20 years in the capital, she was ready to take on the Mayoral role. Housing would be a priority and she had costed plans for 50,000 new homes in London. The election, she believed, was wide open and the voters would decide which candidate genuinely had the experience to lead London.

Housing rules

Naturally enough housing dominated the next session – all candidates had put the subject at the heart of their Mayoral agendas. Caroline Pidgeon proposed the continuation of the Olympic precept paid by Londoners to fund housing development. Peter Whittle believed that Londoners should be given housing priority. Sadiq Khan also spoke of homes for Londoners, with half of the new build classed as affordable housing and a London Living Rent linked to a third of earnings. The scandal of investors selling to buyers in the Middle East and Asia should be stopped. Zac Goldsmith spoke of extending the housing supply and tackling ‘land banking’, the biggest culprits being the public sector. Like most of the candidates he believed that the green belt was sacrosanct and that there were sufficient brown field sites for development.

Continuity

Colin Stanbridge raised the subject of Mayor Johnson’s extension by just one year of Bernard Hogan-Howe’s contract when the Metropolitan Police Commissioner wanted three years – the consensus was that he was doing a good job and that continuity between Mayors was needed. From the floor candidates were asked how they would work with and for business. Responses acknowledged that housing was high on the business agenda too, as well as the need for greater digital connectivity (Goldsmith), support for local high streets (“they look like ghost towns”: Whittle), the creation of a business advisory board (“but not made up of political patsies”: Khan), and investment in digital, infrastructure and the workforce (“it’s a scandal that only ten per cent of mums return to work”: Pidgeon). On cycling in the capital Siân Berry was supported in her view that there should be investment in more superhighways in the outer boroughs. All candidates agreed that there were too many private hire vehicles on London’s roads and all committed to a reduction in air pollution.

Interest

There was huge press interest in the debate and it was aired as a live webcast attracting scores of comments at #londontomorrow. It was the top local story after the 10 o’clock news when BBC political editor Tim Donovan called the debate “reasoned and reasonable”, focusing on which candidate could do most with the resources and land available. And, as Colin Stanbridge said after his polished and humorous chairing of the event, the size of the audience and the interest shown on line made a nonsense of the contention that enthusiasm for political debate was waning.

The Mayoral debate was held at the London School of Economics and Political Science and introduced by Professor Tony Travers, director of LSE London. LCCI chief executive Colin Stanbridge put the debate into context, namely as part of London Tomorrow, the Chamber’s thought leadership programme, in association with EY and supported by London City Airport, which is focusing on the challenges and opportunities arising from London’s growing population before inviting the five candidates to make opening presentations followed by questions from the audience.

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