“It’s been pretty good actually,” UKIP’s Lawrence Webb tells me when asked how his Mayoral campaign is shaping up.
Selected as UKIP’s candidate in September, Webb says: “It’s very hard to maintain a campaign over a very long period but there are things I’ve been doing off camera and I’ve been involved with some for more than a year.”
“The bigger pubic campaign will start at the end of February, that’s when it starts to be in the mindset of the electorate.”
One of the issues he’s concerned about is the effect of Mayor Boris Johnson’s 15-year age limit on Taxis as part of the war on London’s poor air pollution.
“The 15 year age limit on cabs is really 12,” he observes, before posing the question: “are you really going to buy a 12 year old cab knowing it’s going to be off the road and have zero residual value in three years time?”
Webb says he’s concerned that the limit, and the extension of the Low Emission Zone, will drive some traders out of business.
Employment will be a major part of his message and he’s been meeting opponents of the HS2 rail link, a project he warns could make it harder for Londoners to find work.
“What I think it’ll do is, rather than bring jobs to London, it’ll bring commuters from Birmingham. People in London will find it’s a negative impact because suddenly they’re competing with people who think ‘the journey time makes it worthwhile.’”
A fully costed manifesto is promised for the beginning of March, but while Webb is confident he has a well informed message for Londoners, smaller parties often struggle to attract the media space needed to share that message with voters.
How much of an issue is media access for Webb?
“It’s difficult, although we are already getting more media attention than we got this time four years ago, clearly everyone knows what our view is on the European Union but outside of the Euro elections it was rarely in the news.”
“But now people are aware of the Euro debt crisis and what that means, EU regulation on the City, and all these things are much more in the public domain than they’ve ever been. There’s just a much greater awareness of UKIP and what we stand for.”
Webb says the party is hopeful of regaining seats on the London Assembly, repeating their achievement at the 2004 election.
Last year I noted some polls suggested this was possible, but it seemed more likely if Europe played heavily in the news agenda around the election.
Would a consistent run or European stories help the party?
“We’re not a single issue party” he says, “one of the biggest issues we’re campaigning on is jobs for London.”
Webb says EU regulations on the City risk hitting ordinary Londoners far harder than bankers.
“The cleaning contractors, the IT companies, the catering firms, the nearby sandwich bars, restaurants, bars, pubs and cab drivers – they will all see their businesses take a massive hit if the City of London is unfairly targeted.
“We are not talking about the so-called ‘1%’ here, we are talking about tens of thousands of hard working everyday Londoners.”
Although Webb is on the list of UKIP’s London-wide Assembly candidates, he’s placed third. Would he not have preferred to head the list as well as the Mayoral ticket?
“The whole [media and public] focus is on the Mayoral election and that’s where I really need to be concentrating. It’s a team effort, and having a couple of guys on the list who can go out and campaign fully for the list is beneficial.”
“I need to focus on the Mayoralty, I don’t want to be sidetracked by the list. And you’d have people saying, ‘You’re not serious [about the Mayoralty], you just want to get elected on the list.”
Does he really believe he could win London’s top job? “We’re a political party and we fight elections, we fight them to win,” he says, but he’s happy to concede that “the place we’re most likely to win is on the list getting a couple of people on the Assembly.”
“That would be a success in our eyes, and to beat Brian Paddick in the Mayoralty would also be a huge success in our eyes.”