- Henry Riley
Why Third Place in the Mayoral Race Will Decide London's Future
As the London Mayoral race continues to underwhelm, it seems Londoners and the major candidates themselves will be contented to witness its conclusion. After being dominated by identical campaigns from the Labour and Conservative candidates, focusing on housing and transport, it seemed inevitable that the contest would soon shift to the personal. This would certainly have been less likely if domestic policies were more regularly debated in hustings by opposing candidates with different visions; such as proud right winger Boris Johnson and the staunchly left wing Ken Livingstone. This is clearly absent from the current ideologically centrist candidates summed up succinctly by George Galloway when he stated, ‘both of the main candidates are boring’.
However despite these bleak campaigns, Londoners can feel reassured with the dedication of the third party candidates who finally seem to be significantly reducing the previously entrenched domination by Labour and the Conservatives in this race. With candidates from the Liberal Democrats, Green and UKIP, Londoners certainly can consider a plethora of choices upon marking their ballot on May 5th. With the race all-but officially concluded - if one is to honour the polls - and Sadiq Khan victorious, Londoners can begin to decide who will be their anti-establishment challenger for future elections.
The race for third is far from culminating. This allows the Liberal Democrats a golden (or orange) opportunity to reassert their previously respectable influence by justifying their principals. This has found appeal in previous elections and in particular constituencies where they held hard-working MPs. With experienced London Assembly member and former local London councillor Caroline Pidgeon as their candidate the electorate may opt for her experience of holding the mayor to account as their preference over the major parties’ cherry-picked MPs. The problem for the Lib Dems is one of rationality it would seem. With genuinely achievable policies on housing and transport, for example the pledge of half-price fares up until 7:30 in the morning and a London Olympic syle effort (in terms of tax) to afford a mix of social and affordable housing, one may sympathise with the Lib Dems’ refusal to commit to unachievable policies after tuition fees. The problem however is how people will view such sensible policies from a previously radical party trying to re-assert itself as a third, credible and sensible option.
Like the Liberal Democrats’ Caroline Pidgeon who has gained credibility through competent performances at hustings the Greens have clearly succeeded in appointing a hard-working, well-received fighter for the anti-austerity movement. While many would write off the Greens due to Corbyn’s Old Labour revival, they seem a more phenomenal force than ever before. Though choosing the same candidate for a second mayoral election has never really proven effective in the past. Citing Brian Paddick of the Lib Dems; he received over 9% in 2008 and subsequently four years later fell to fourth place with 4.2%. The same cannot be assumed of Sian Berry, the Green Party’s 2008 candidate, who has undoubtedly grown in recognition through her recent council success in Camden in 2014. Whilst not possessing the same stature as Jenny Jones, she continues to impress on television, such as recently on ‘BBC Daily Politics’. Her radical policies such as closing City Airport in London and reducing air pollution to legal limits by 2020 have certainly attracted media and electorate attention. However, this election undoubtedly poses the Green Party’s biggest electoral challenge to-date, their first major post-Corbyn battle will define future endeavours, though I suspect it unlikely that we will witness their electoral annihilation. Nonetheless, with a candidate whose Mother is a Liberal Democrat Councillor and whose father was formerly one, Londoners may question how socialist Ms Berry will turn out to be if she is to follow her liberal roots.
The phrase ‘London is not UKIP’ is one frequently adumbrated across the capital, however I suspect critics will soon be silenced by the inevitable successes of the only major LGBT candidate Peter Whittle. Since their electoral achievements in the 2015 General Election, across a left leaning London UKIP have slowly emerged as the favourites for the third spot. With Mr Whittle consistently polling on 7% and the Lib Dems and Greens tied on 6%, the capital could soon see UKIP gains, though considering they haven’t had any assembly members since the 2004 election one would have expected this to be long-overdue. This comes despite receiving cross-party criticism that Mr Whittle frequents the subject of immigration and the EU all too often, for example in relation to housing shortages. If UKIP are to impress then the issues that their party are renowned for must be placed at the forefront of any campaign, despite not being London-centric concerns, immigration and the EU, in light of the upcoming referendum, are sure to render support for the party. I would boldly suggest that UKIP would not be polling as successfully if they had selected a candidate more willing to discuss issues, for instance the environment, rather than immigration and the EU. This is the difference between Peter Whittle and Suzanne Evans; who, despite once being a Merton councillor, only in 2015 stood in a Shropshire constituency. I would suggest that the founder of the New Culture Forum Think Tank is not one to be disregarded and snuffed at, but equally does not have the focused vision London desires.
As the election grinds to a lethargic ending Londoners need to consider their future Mayoral endeavours. If voters are consistently forced into the ‘least-worst option’, rather than a preferable one, the two party mould will continue to manipulate the electorate. For if Londoners continuously feel unfulfilled by narcissistic parliamentarians the only option is endorsing the party soon challenging in a three-party mayoral race. This election with two ideologically centrist candidates must be the one to break the mould. Londoners have the choice of rehabilitating the Liberal Democrats, de-Corbynising the Greens or focusing on immigration and the EU.