London’s Guildhall served as the backdrop for an interesting debate between two would-be and one stand-in Deputy Mayors on Wednesday.
The debate was organised by Central London Forward, a body representing the seven central London local authorities: Camden, City of London, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Southwark and Westminster.
Val Shawcross and Caroline Pidgeon, running mates respectively of Ken LIvingstone and Brian Paddick, were joined by Conservative Assembly Member James Cleverly for an hour of discussion, debate but, and thankfully, very little of the personal jibes and needling Livingstone and Boris Johnson seem determined to scare voters away with.
None of the three will thank me for suggesting that the picture above – kindly lent by Tory AM Victoria Borwick who nabbed herself a front row seat – might just show the line-up for 2016’s Mayoral debates.
Yet on the strength of what those present saw, I think that’s a credible suggestion.
A section on transport saw each of the three repeat their Mayoral candidate’s well known views on fares and investment, James loyally stuck by the line that Ken’s fares cut was unaffordable, Val argued equally passionately that they were while Caroline faithfully put forward Brian’s middle way – Ken’s cuts are unaffordable but so are Boris’s fares hikes.
We’ve heard it all before, though seldom with so little personal hostility.
Perhaps unsurprisingly in a room full of local government types, none made promises about the Freedom Pass scheme.
On knife and gang crime Val slapped down suggestions from James that Ken had never spent money or time on tackling the problem, but the discussion was largely dominated by all three agreeing that these were big issues which all the parties take seriously today.
There was agreement too on the topic of demonstrations, protests and peace camps.
All three paid the traditional lip service to the not so ancient right to protest, but all also agreed that those exercising their rights did not have the right to endlessly occupy public spaces and encroach on their use by other Londoners.
This section seemed less influenced by the thoughts of their Mayoral overseers than transport or gangs, what I think we saw were three rational, serious politicians putting forward their own reasoned views.
We can skip over the debate on police numbers, it remins pretty much as covered here.
On the issue of Housing Benefit James dared to be brave and suggested working households should not normally be paying for others to live in homes which they (those paying) cannot afford themselves.
HB is a vexed issue, but there is a fairness behind James’s comments and taxpayers often are paying to insulate others from the financial pressures which home owners and those in work and paying their own rent face.
But, as Val pointed out, most people are only on benefits for a short period of time and even then would prefer to work.
And Caroline correctly pointed out that we need to increase the supply of homes – especially family sized properties – if we’re going to bring rents down. She also said the coalition’s HB cap won’t work in London.
Two interesting money related comments, Caroline accused Ken of “throwing envelopes of promised cash at anyone who will listen” while James played to the Little Londoner in me and said the capital needs to stop paying for the rest of the UK and keep more of its money for itself.
Val too made a point less often expressed, suggesting that in the coming years London needed a determined push to improve its non-transport infrastructure, including electricity, communications and broadband, if we’re to remain an attractive pan for business.
Unlike Ken, I sense Val’s less keen on hanging bankers, a policy James helpfully pointed out would not improve our attractiveness.
Those of us present were treated to an hour of intelligent, reasoned and good natured debate about the future of of our city, something which I’m sure most of us would like to hear more of over the coming weeks.
As for me, I’m looking forward to 2016 already…