London Mayoral Frontrunner, Sadiq Khan asserted his wish to make ‘London a byword for Cycling’ at a Times Hustings.
A week from now, Londoners will determine who should lead the most cosmopolitan city on Earth, where unique challenges regarding inequality, the environment and transport are primary concerns for voters. Today, the Times and London Cycling Campaign came together for a Hustings chaired by the intrepid Emma Tucker of the Times, who posed the necessary questions regarding transport and cycling stances of the budding Mayors. With only a narrow window to showcase their policies to a still undecided public, the alternative candidates were bold and visionary with their ideas, though their electoral success seems unlikely.
The issues raised included prospective policies for reducing heavy traffic in London, tackling the growth of private hire vehicles, enabling safer cycling journeys and using mayoral powers of appointment and budgeting for a sustainable London. Often, the candidates, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, Green’s Sian Berry, UKIP’s Peter Whyttle, Liberal Democrats’ Caroline Pidgeon, Conservative’s Zac Goldsmith and Women Equality Parties’ Sophie Walker, were in agreement over the giant problem of London’s dreadful air quality, expensive public transport and the hundreds of people, fatally or grievously injured cycling in the city. However, ideological disagreement was profound over the nature of tackling ‘dirty old banger’s otherwise known as older vehicles, as Whyttle argued, a ‘social cleansing’ of the poorest would occur if Sian and Sadiq’s scheme to ban the use ‘dirty diesel’ in the capital was successful.
The technocratic position of Zac and Sadiq was pressed repeatedly by apt questioning by both Tucker and an engaged audience, as neither would commit to funding above the current 1% on cycling. ‘Sadiq’s austerity program for Tfl’ was highlighted by Sian, who argued passionately for new £1.5 billion expenditure over 10 years for to fund new cycling superhighway and a London wide low emission zone. His rehearsed positions and policy knowledge came slightly unstuck when both Zac and Caroline pressed on the apparent ‘£1.9 billion hole’ in Sadiq’s fiscal plans came under fire as he repeated his claim that ‘half of the budget’ could be saved via efficiency savings on the underground.
Unexpectedly, of all the candidates, Caroline Pidgeon came across as the woman of the hour, articulately arguing her own case for London and attracting much applause on her ‘pledges’ to create an ‘electric charging network’ within London, electrifying single-decker buses, and drastically increasing investment in cycling infrastructure. It was a strong showing for the alternatives but fundamentally this race was Zac versus Sadiq who despite being on the defensive, took Sam Coates question, about his own thoughts on Ken Livingstone and Anti-Semitism within the Labour party, proclaimed he will be a ‘mayor for all londoners’.
All Londoners will have their say next week, as is the cycle of British politics.