Sunday, April 08, 2012

Why I will vote for Siobhan for Mayor

The London Mayoral contest has become unpleasant and dispiriting. It is categorised as a “Boris versus Ken” battle with the camps of the two main candidates descending to pretty unpleasant negative campaigning. For the Conservatives and Labour it is important not because the job itself is that significant but because they couldn't afford to lose. After the disaster of Bradford West  Labour needs to win to restore its momentum in the opinion polls. For the Conservative leadership the publicity attached to one of their political stars, Boris Johnson, being rejected would be very damaging (even though privately the Cameroons might not be too displeased). The other Party candidates are no hopers – Brian Paddick the LibDem is lightweight and he has no chance of bucking the trend against the LibDems who are understandably criticised as a Party for their Coalition duplicity. The Green Jenny Jones is sincere and pleasant – but London is hardly a happy hunting ground for the Green Party philosophy.

Until recently those of us opposed to Johnson had little option but to vote for Livingstone. Some distinguished political commentators of the Left, notably Jonathan Freedland, baulked at doing this – and for very good reasons as he explained here. But suddenly it seems that there is a choice. The independent Candidate Siobhan Benita,  despite being largely ignored by the Media, has crept into the spotlight and many, myself included, like what we see.

Arguably never has there been a better time to be an independent in British politics. All three main parties have struggles with their credibility and especially their leadership. The Conservatives are caught between the Rock of trying to run a Centrist Government on the one hand and the Hard Place of trying not to alienate their core support on the other. On the latter objective they are failing and Cameron has become a bête noire of the Tory Right. There have been defections to the extreme Right and fiercely nationalist UKIP who are now up to 11% in the Opinion Polls. The LibDems are not just tainted by their Coalition decision and actions but have lost their Unique Selling Proposition  which was that you can oppose the Tories without signing up for Socialism. And Labour, whilst leading comfortably in the Polls, has a void of effective leadership at the top with Ed Miliband  having signally failed to establish himself as either a credible Prime Minister or even as someone with the common touch. He seems in many ways every bit as elitist as Cameron.

Into this depressing maelstrom comes the London Mayor elections with two cartoon characters seemingly having the contest to themselves. Will Nasty Red Ken finally biff Boris the Bullingdon Cad? Well excuse me if I don't enthuse about that gruesome choice.

Siobhan Benita is a 40-year-old senior Civil Servant who resigned her post to stand as an independent candidate for London Mayor. Her website starts with the statement that she is “not a Party politician” and who would doubt that in the present climate in Britain that is a clear advantage? She has a sensible, if unremarkable, manifesto  . It contains one thing that made me think – she is in favour of building a third runway at Heathrow Airport. To me the point about this commitment is,  whether you agree with it or not,  that she had the courage to say what she believed (I happen to agree with her – but, as I said, that’s not the point). Every other Political Party is opportunistically against the third runway – even the free market and pro-business UKIP.

Siobhan is a refreshing breath of fresh air in the increasingly malodourous London Mayor campaign. She is clearly clever – the support of the former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell is evidence of that. I asked a distinguished political commentator of the Right, who has interviewed her three times, what he thought of her. He told me (confidentially) that she is a “Nice woman, but very politically naive, and has very bad advisers and no strategy. But could do well.” This is slightly cynical but actually not as negative as it seems and very shrewd! That she is “Nice” combined with the fact that she is clever is a good start point. Her naivety can be seen as a positive as well of course. She can say that both the Emperor and the presumptive Emperor have no clothes (and she’d be right – literally in fact).

So if over the next couple of weeks Siobhan Benita can get some good Media exposure. If she can project her image as not just the “Not Boris or Ken” candidate but something more. If she can beef up her team and secure some big name supporters.  And if she can project her policy proposals in such a way that she is not seen as a “policy wonk” but what she is – a caring and credible candidate? Who knows. Remember the climate is right and the public is open to persuasion – and many of us want to believe in politics again. If the canny, but tainted, George Galloway can come from nowhere to win a by-election in Bradford with little more than a month’s campaigning there is time enough for Siobhan Benita to win in London. There really is!