“Boris and Ken are tired old men but Liberals look like London”. Or so goes the new campaign video for Lib Dem candidate for mayor Brian Paddick. I’m all for promoting the diversity of my party’s London team but this slogan needs substance to be taken seriously.
As I wrote last week, the Lib Dems – who have never had a non-white person on the London Assembly – are standing a more diverse team than ever before but still need to perform better than our current poll ratings indicate to break that duck. We had three Assembly members elected in 2008, and have two candidates this time around who stand a chance of getting in: Shas Sheehan (pictured above), who is fourth on the ‘list’ system, and Merlene Emerson, who is fifth. Winning our first non-white Assembly members is achievable if we do better than last time with a moderate swing towards us on polling day.
Yet the proof is in the pudding. As a party that has had an all-white Assembly team since City Hall was created in 2000, even when we had five AMs, we have not yet earned bragging rights to compare us favourably with other parties. There are many other issues where we can claim to have better policies than our rivals, like transport and crime, and we should concentrate on that. I’m all for promoting the fact that the Lib Dems have a diverse team running for office but I’m against implying that we are doing better than the other main parties. I hope we will do better than 2008, but if we fail to increase our share of the vote we’ll still have an all-white team while Labour will see at least two of their current three BAME members re-elected while the Tory AM James Cleverly is guaranteed victory on 3rd May.
Humility, context and not a little sensitivity are needed when promoting our diversity in London. Childlike rhymes repeated ad nauseum just don’t cut it with intelligent voters. And as for ‘tired old men’, Boris Johnson has a great many faults but his age (five years younger than Paddick) is not one of them. Far better to be honest with the electorate and say we have failed in the past but are trying and now have a more racially diverse team but we are going to need the support of BAME communities in order to elect two excellent BAME candidates.
Earlier today the blogger and tweeter @MayorWatch did what any serious journalist would do – me included – and challenged Paddick on his claim that Liberals looked like London. Paddick’s ill-judged response was to accuse MayorWatch of wanting the BNP elected, an entirely inappropriate claim that is at best unsubstantiated. The blogger’s demands for an apology are so far being met with silence. The Greens are going around suggesting that unless we vote for them the BNP will get in even though the Far Right’s support looks set to collapse in May. Quite simply, the BNP are not an electoral threat this time around so playing this game is somewhat disingenuous.
Canvassing for the party this weekend it is clear most voters have yet to make up their minds. They want a candidate who speaks to them about jobs, the economy and the NHS. Someone who can set out a plan for growth and a costed policy to reduce the burden of commuting. And yes, BAME Londoners also want a party that reflects the capital’s multiculturalism but they are not easily fooled; they deserve candidates who are willing to engage honestly with them about diversity. Day to day, journalists perform this role on behalf of the public. Politicians may not always like the questioner but must always respect the question. For this reason Paddick should apologise to MayorWatch and move on with the rest of his campaign.
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