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Questions to the London mayoral candidates

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We asked five questions to four candidates standing to be Mayor of London on 6 May, they talk to us about working with the Irish community, the city’s diverse profile and post–Covid recovery.

  • London mayoral candidates. Clockwise from top left: Luisa Porritt, Sadiq Khan, Siân Berry, Shaun Bailey.
    London mayoral candidates. Clockwise from top left: Luisa Porritt, Sadiq Khan, Siân Berry, Shaun Bailey.

Around a third of Irish–born people living in Britain are Londoners. Anyone who has been to Trafalgar Square on St Patrick’s Day (before lockdown at least) or walked around areas like Kilburn, Camden and Ealing, will know how green the capital city is. Like the rest of the community across Britain, the Irish in London are a large political constituency with diverse interests. 

We asked five questions covering some key community issues to candidates standing to be Mayor of London from the four parties which have consistently polled over 5 percent.

  • Luisa Porritt – Liberal Democrat candidate and councillor in Camden.
  • Sadiq Khan – Labour candidate and current Mayor of London.
  • Shaun Bailey – Conservative candidate and Member of the London Assembly.
  • Siân Berry – Green candidate, Member of the London Assembly and councillor in Camden.

The answers have been ordered by question with each candidate’s response in alphabetical order by first name. 

Remember to cast your vote on Thursday 6 May.

1. What is your experience and knowledge of the Irish community in London?

Luisa: London’s Irish community has played a long and important role in London’s history. From helping to rebuild London after the war to playing an indispensable role in the NHS, our Irish community has been at the heart of London. 

Unfortunately, whilst Irish Londoners have always made a great contribution to our city, they haven’t always been treated with respect. Liberal Democrats believe that, whilst it’s important we celebrate London’s Irish community, we also must recognise the discrimination that Irish Londoners have faced in the past and continue to face today.

As a Councillor and resident in Camden, Luisa is a strong supporter of the London Irish Centre in the community there. It’s a great example of the inclusivity and warmth of our Irish community in London and is something she would use my position as Mayor to support. London’s Irish community has a rich history which Liberal Democrats are committed to supporting and protecting as Mayor.

Sadiq: London’s Irish community have enriched our city over many generations, making it a livelier, warmer, more vibrant place to live, work and visit. Without their contribution, London wouldn’t be the city it is today and I am very thankful that so many of them have decided to call London their home.

Irish Londoners like The Pogues, Annie Mac and Graham Norton are a big part of what makes London the cultural capital of the world. I am very much looking forward to attending London’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations in person when it’s safe to do so – it has always been one of my highlights of the year as Mayor.

London is one of the most diverse and international cities in the world. I’m so proud that whoever you are and wherever you’re from, if you make this city your home, then you are a Londoner.

Shaun: Growing up in Ladbroke Grove, I had Irish neighbours, as well as colleagues when I was working on a construction site in my twenties. They were the ones who told me that it was Irish labourers who helped rebuild a London that was decimated after WW2.

I know that London’s a home to many citizens and descendants of Ireland who continue to give to our city. Over the past year, Irish community organisations have been exemplary in working with their neighbours and other communities, and the contribution of Irish emergency and NHS workers has been immense.

Siân: My family has Irish heritage on my Mum’s side, and I have been a councillor in Camden for seven years, which is home to a strong Irish community too. I know the long history of Irish Londoners contributing to the wealth and culture of London and I will be a true ally in City Hall.

 


2. London has a unique and diverse profile of different cultures and heritages – what will be your policy in growing community cohesion?

Luisa: London’s diversity is what makes our city so great. As Mayor, Luisa would protect that by making our city welcoming for all Londoners.

Lib Dems want to deliver a recovery from the pandemic that is led by local communities. At the heart of our plan to take London forward is our policy to reinvent London’s high streets as multi–service community hubs. By making our high streets places for all Londoners to work and socialise, with new shared working and leisure spaces, our high streets will become places for local communities to come together and bond with one another.

Furthermore, we unfortunately know that for some of London’s communities, discrimination blights their experiences as Londoners. As Mayor Luisa would formally reiterate my commitment to making London an anti–racist city and ensuring that the Metropolitan Police adequately tackles cases of discrimination against our different communities.

Finally, the Lib Dems will always continue to support important cultural celebrations through City Hall as London is at its best when we celebrate our city’s diversity. That includes hopefully organising the St Patrick’s Day celebration in 2022 when Coronavirus restrictions are eased.

Sadiq: During the past year we’ve seen the very best of our communities but the major events that do so much to bring our communities together have had to move online or been cancelled altogether. As we emerge from the pandemic I want them back, better and more colourful than ever. I’m looking forward to celebrating St George’s Day, Diwali, Eid, St Patrick’s Day, Chanukah and Pride alongside Londoners when it’s safe to do so. I’ll also develop, in collaboration with London’s Black communities, an event to celebrate Black culture.

If I’m re–elected on 6 May I will work with partners on the London Recovery Board to support Londoners having access to a community hub to access the support, knowledge and resources they need to participate in their local community. I’ll look to build on the success of the Civil Society Roots Incubator and other Covid–19 response funds to develop a new Community Micro–grants programme, funding activities that help Londoners influence their local communities, particularly those Londoners such as the disabled who experience structural inequalities that can leave them frozen out of local decision making.

Shaun: Amidst the darkness of the past year, it’s been wonderful to see so many places of worship and community centres open their doors to those of all faiths and backgrounds – using their spaces as vaccine centres and to support the communities around them.

This collaborative spirit exemplifies what London is truly about.

I will always celebrate our city’s diversity and my City Hall will be a crossroads for all communities.

As Mayor, I will stand up for London’s values on the world stage and will work with every resident in every community to build a more equal city.

I will establish an Office for Community Policing, support ethnic minority excellence in London, and appoint a Deputy Mayor for Women and Equalities.

Siân: London is known for being a diverse and tolerant city, but we still have a long way to go before we are all equal and everyone’s rights are respected.

Too many of us face discrimination and barriers because of who we are. Greens will ensure that the voice of every single Londoner is heard in City Hall every day. Everyone in London should be able to live a safe, fulfilling and joyful life, free from discrimination, inequality and hatred, and be able to trust public services not to discriminate. Greens will remove any barriers which stand in the way of everyone’s rights being respected.

Too many groups of Londoners also face structural inequalities and direct discrimination based on their race, culture, religion, gender, sexuality, age or other aspects of their identities. Solidarity is a vital part of being a Londoner, and of being a Green, and our policies and values mean a Green will seek to fight for equality for all Londoners and build a more united city. 

On a practical note, our policies for the economy show how Greens always take the lead on fairness, with new ideas and policies for fair pay, decent work and rights in the workplace. And our commitment to create safe and healthy streets, where everyone is able to go at their own pace and stop for a chat with neighbours, will reduce loneliness and foster mental health and community cohesion.

 

3. Many of the city’s third sector organisations have experienced a huge rise in demand for their services despite shrinking resources – what is your plan for post–Covid recovery in the sector?

Luisa: London’s third sector organisations have played a fighting role in stepping up to offer vulnerable Londoners the support they have needed over the last year. We are thankful for all they have done.

Liberal Democrats in City Hall will continue to do all we can to support their recovery. That means providing strategic advice and support to third sector organisations through City Hall – providing them with the strategic support they need to continue operating in the post–Covid recovery. It also means continuing to utilise grants to offer third–sector organisations funding where this is needed and is possible. In particular, the Liberal Democrats have been proud of the mutual aid groups that have been set up over the last year, including Irish Community support groups, that have played a huge role in mitigating the effects of the pandemic. As Mayor Luisa will actively support these groups and help them to continue their important roles in supporting local communities.

Furthermore, as Mayor Luisa will use her position as an ambassador for London’s third sector organisations to lobby the government to continue the financial support they have offered over the last year until organisations have recovered from the impacts of the pandemic. 

The Lib Dems have been pushing the government to extend the business rates and VAT relief holidays until the end of the year, so third sector organisations can recover from the pandemic. We will also push the government to introduce a rent relief fund to help third sector organisations clear debts accumulated through the pandemic.

Sadiq: The community and voluntary sector has been a lifeline for many in our city over the past year. The London Community Response fund has kept many community groups active to provide a vital service for thousands of Londoners. Through the fund, I’ve been able to provide over £11 million to support the most vulnerable, with half of the grants going to groups supporting Londoners from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, who we know have been disproportionately impacted by the crisis.

I’ve also helped community groups to adapt to change through my £1 million London Resilience Fund, and I’ve worked with Locality to create a £750,000 fund to protect community–led spaces that have been supporting those worst affected by the pandemic.

Recognising that the charity and voluntary sector play a key role in responding to coronavirus, I launched a new scheme with TFL to reimburse the Congestion Charge for coronavirus response work. I have worked with partners such as Google to provide free training on digital skills to charities and matched corporate offers of support with the needs of third sector organisations.

Working with the London Recovery Board and the voluntary sector, I will lead the charge to rebuild a greener, fairer, and brighter future for London after the pandemic.

Shaun: The pandemic has highlighted how essential the third sector is to this economy with many charities going above and beyond to cater for those less fortunate. I will continue to work with the many incredible charities in every borough to ensure this work is continued.

Other efforts to support communities on a local level include my plan to build 32 youth centres for every London borough in order to target the root cause of crime, and instead steering young people towards education, training opportunities and enhancing life chances.

Siân: In all our work, we will bring in more collaboration with the voluntary and community sector, particularly with minority, ethnic and disabled communities. A Green Mayor will meet with community organisations more often than they do with business groups

Volunteer, civic, community and faith groups play a huge part in London’s life and community, but too many voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations struggle with premises and covering staffing and core costs. A Green Mayor would aim to provide no grants to the VCS that were shorter than three years, and would make sure full costs, including core expenses and evaluation, were covered by grants. We will embed good practice in proportional value–for money and social impact assessment into all our work with the VCS.

We will create a new strategy for financial health in our first 100 days. This will aim to address cross–cutting issues relating to health and deprivation affecting the financial health of Londoners. For this strategy, we will bring together voluntary and community sector organisations working with marginalised Londoners, education providers, technology innovators, and financial service providers to provide access to affordable credit, help with budgeting and financial advice.

 

4. NHS staff and key workers were crucial in keeping London safe and functioning over the last year. How will you ensure the city is an affordable place for them to live in?

Luisa: The Lib Dems are grateful for the contribution our key workers make to London. In particular, London’s Irish Community makes a vital contribution to our NHS.

Tackling London’s affordable housing crisis is one of the London Liberal Democrats’ three key priorities in our plan to take London forward. I will do this by providing the bold ideas and strong action London needs.

As Mayor Luisa will establish a City–hall owned London Housing Company to take control of delivering the homes we need directly, and reinvest any profits back into genuinely affordable homes. Our London Housing Company would be a strong player in London’s housing market and would be able to offer the joined–up approach we need to build affordable homes.

The first job of the London Housing Company will be to identify the empty sites which could be converted into quality, affordable homes. The pandemic’s acceleration of the shift towards remote–working is set to create a significant amount of empty office space in London and, as Mayor, Luisa would follow the example of Rotterdam and convert this into high–quality affordable housing.

It is only by increasing the housing supply in London by creating the genuinely affordable homes that London needs, that we will be able to tackle our housing crisis. The Lib Dems will do just that.

Sadiq: We owe so much to our city’s key workers who have been saving lives and keeping our city going – the nurses, doctors, teachers, transport workers, posties, emergency service workers, and many more. That’s why I’ll commemorate those Londoners, including key workers, who have lost their lives to Covid–19, by planting a new garden of blossoming trees in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

I will make changes to planning guidance to help key workers get priority for new intermediate homes, such as for shared ownership and London Living Rent. I’ll also ask TfL to look at ways in which the Santander Cycle Hire scheme can support frontline workers on an ongoing basis beyond the pandemic, in recognition of their heroic efforts over the last year.

I will use my platform as Mayor to continue to champion the NHS and other public services in London, and fight for the funding they need, including lobbying the Government for a fair pay rise for nurses.

Shaun: We need a city that everyone can afford to live in. The contribution of 14,000 Irish NHS workers in Britain over the pandemic has been invaluable, and it must be rewarded. 

As Mayor, I’ll make homeownership for Londoners a reality – by building 100,000 homes and selling them for £100,000 each.

I would also reverse 10 percent increase in council tax, reverse the congestion charge hike and ULEZ expansion, and the stop the new £5.50 outer London boundary tax.

The current Mayor has wasted 9.56bn at TFL along with his £4.68bn tax grab. Now he plans to pass this cost on to Londoners when people can least afford it.

Siân: In the London Assembly, with my colleague Caroline Russell, I have exposed how many nurses and police officers are forced to live outside the city, putting us all at risk. And we have put forward amendments to the Mayor’s budget to help fund more homes for key workers at a truly affordable London Living Rent. As Mayor, I will get this plan off the ground straight away.

As Mayor I will also help key workers by expanding transport concessions to give free travel for nurses and firefighters, not just police and Transport for London staff. The current Mayor’s companion pass for disabled freedom pass holders is a start but we need to help more of the most vital workers who keep London safe and healthy.

 

5. What steps will you take to improve air quality in London?

Luisa: Cleaning up London’s polluted air is another of our key priorities in our plan to take London forward. The Lib Dems will clean up London’s air by investing in a clean and green transport system and in supporting Londoners to have more environmentally friendly habits.

We will scrap the £2bn Silvertown road tunnel that will increase pollution and congestion in the East of London and invest the savings into public transport projects. 

The Lib Dems will speed up the greening of London’s bus fleet, aiming for an entirely zero–emissions London bus fleet by 2028, nearly a decade earlier than Sadiq Khan’s current target of 2037.

We will also support active travel. We will double the current levels of investment in cycling infrastructure, make TFL’s cycle hire scheme free on Sundays for a year and invest in mapping and establishing green London–wide walking and cycling routes with newly planted trees.

Sadiq: Over the past five years I’ve taken the boldest action of any major city to vastly improve London’s air. I rolled out the world–leading Ultra Low Emissions Zone and invested almost £53m to take 9,000 older and more polluting vehicles off our roads. Because of my action, we’ve seen a 94 percent reduction in the number of Londoners living in areas with illegal levels of pollution. Clean air is also an issue of social justice, with the most vulnerable Londoners being more likely to be impacted by poor air quality. My ULEZ is predicted to reduce the gap in air quality between the richest and poorest parts of London by around 70 percent by 2030.

I am determined that as we emerge from this pandemic we don’t replace one health crisis with another. That’s why if re–elected I will expand the ULEZ to the North and South Circular, I’ll monitor all road–charging schemes to ensure they continue to bring the maximum benefits of improved air quality and reduced congestion, and I’ll carry out work to identify where further action is needed to eradicate hotspots for air pollution. I’ll also fight for updated legislation that introduces a national target of WHO–recommended standard for PM2.5 by 2030, and also gives London additional powers to clean up London’s air pollution beyond transport. This is all part of my Green New Deal for London.

Shaun: As Mayor, I will clean up London’s air with a zero–emission bus fleet by 2025, taking 1.1 million cars off the road.

I want to protect and enhance the greenbelt. To do this, we will use the planning powers already available to the Mayor to their full extent and use all of our brownfield sites.

In addition, I’ll invest in innovative green technologies for London. For example, Pavegen’s tiles use the kinetic energy produced by the weight of pedestrians’ footsteps, which cause electricity generators to displace vertically, as well as ensuring London is carbon neutral by 2050.

Siân: We believe London urgently needs the actions and policies on tackling pollution and improving air quality, and our manifesto for a new start for London includes them all, including the extension of the school streets programme to the roads outside colleges and universities, and bringing forward by more than ten years the target for cleaner buses.

I recently announced plans to make London a zero carbon transport city by 2030 using the powers of the Mayor alone, and I strongly believe this can be done with the right commitment and the right ambition from our next Mayor.

Greens are clear that we need fewer vehicles and fewer miles driven, not just vehicles with cleaner exhausts, which is why I have also set a specific target to reduce traffic miles in London by 40 percent by 2026 and 60 percent by 2030, with a comprehensive set of policies that will:

  • improve city planning and aim for access to services within 15 minutes locally on foot
  • make streets safe and accessible for children, older and disabled people to walk, wheelchair or cycle
  • improve public transport and reduce fares, and charge for driving in the city at a fair rate
  • scrap the polluting Silvertown Tunnel.

For a full list of all the candidates standing in the London Mayoral election click HERE.