I’ll undoubtedly be accused of wearing yellow-tinted spectacles but I honestly thought Brian Paddick won last nights’ London mayor hustings before a 500-strong mainly black audience, with Ken Livingstone coming a close second.
The event began with barnstorming bursts of oratory from OBV’s Simon Woolley and larger-than-life bishop Wayne Malcolm. So when the mayor hopefuls took the stage it was somewhat an anti-climax as none of them could hope to match the stirring words of the evenings’ hosts. Makes you wonder why they weren’t running for mayor instead. Lee Jasper would certainly have made a great independent candidate on the night and transformed the debate. If only…
Woolley earned applause by paying tribute to Lee Jasper and Doreen Lawrence who were the targets of the London Evening Standard’s disgraceful campaign during the 2008 London elections. “We stood by these individuals against the onslaught.” The beneficiary of this campaign, Boris Johnson, tried to look inconspicuous. ‘I was at home watching the telly’, his body language seemed to suggest.
Tory incumbent Boris Johnson ought to be thanking the Good Lord the event was held in a church and the compere, Pastor Nims Obunge, pleaded with the audience to be “respectful” and not heckle or boo. That just about saved the mayor’s skin, but bursts of heckling still occasionally broke out. The loudest boo of the night occurred when Labour’s Livingstone revealed that Boris’s manifesto only mentioned black communities in the crime section, an upper-cut that had the mayor reeling.
The one candidate who managed to avoid putting his flat foot in it all night was former top cop and Lib Dem candidate Paddick, who probably enjoyed his best performance an election campaign that had been misfiring up to now. Playing on his strongest suite of crime and policing Paddick easily outflanked his rivals with a string of more radical promises that registered well on the clap-o-meter.
Should he enter City Hall on 3rd May, London will get a special inquiry into the police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham if the dead man’s family are denied an inquest, and he would appoint an “independent commissioner” to tackle racism in the Met. Paddick even appeared to promise a black bank! “We need an investment bank that invests in black businesses if banks are discriminating against black business”, he said. He also spoke about the need for employers to give a second chance to ex-convicts.
A number of questions from the audience focused on recent deaths in custody and racism in the police. My question, which was read out, asked why Boris slashed funding for Black History Month. The mayor tried to avoid answering this until forced to by Woolley. “Black history is of huge importance and we don’t know enough”, Boris replied. I assume the “we” in this sentence was a Royal We, referring specifically to himself.
Bizarrely, he ended by declaring that he had “written a book about it.” This was news to me. The only book that he could possibly be talking about was entitled The Dream of Rome. Hardly black history by any stretch, but then again in 2008 Boris told an Asian journalist “you can’t out-ethnic me” which of course is incorrect, technically-speaking.
Boris tried to regain some ground by saying he had “written to the Home Secretary today to ask if there was corruption in the Stephen Lawrence case.” “Today?” people in the audience mumbled in astonishment as they turned to their neighbours wearing puzzled looks. One onlooker scoffed: “How long as this been going on, and he wrote today?” Boris also boasted he had put an extra 1,000 police officers on the street as his rivals shook their heads in the knowledge that the same number of cops face the chop.
Ken had his moments. He began by metaphorically waving a bunch of readies and saying to the audience: ‘come and get them.’ Cutting public transport fares – which are the highest in the Western world – would put over £300m back in “people’s pockets.” Free insulation for pensioners would save them £130 per year. And allowing citizens to purchase their electricity from Transport for London, who get their power at half price, would save the average household £120 per year in bills. It’s good to know Londoners will benefit this time around instead of Venezuela, at least.
Of the also-rans, judging by audience reaction the independent candidate Siobhan Benita appeared to score higher than the Green Jenny Jones, although her insistence that she was ‘not a politician’ grated after a while. If she gets elected she will be a politician, whether she likes it or not.
Benita was enthusiastically introduced to the audience as an ethnic minority candidate. I’m all for self-definition but I had previously assumed she was a white middle class woman. Memories of how Labour had turned Toby Harris, Len Duvall and Nicky Gavron into ‘ethnic minorities’ for the purposes of the 2000 election – when their only BAME assembly member was Trevor Phillips – came flooding back.
Jenny Jones has consistently performed poorly in this race, a surprise given her experience and radical politics, and last night was no exception. She fumbled over several answers to much irritation. The nadir was when she said she did not believe the Met were institutionally racist. Or at least that’s what I thought she said amid the umm’s, err’s, hesitations and gurgling.
I can’t imagine Livingstone is weeping over this; a miserable Green showing on polling day can only mean more Labour votes in a knife-edge contest. One hopeful conspicuous by his absence was the BNP’s Carlos Cortiglia whose foreign-sounding name and thick Uruguayan accent meaning he is the candidate that BNP voters are least likely to vote for.
After Boris mounted a passionate defence of stop and search, despite hearing that black people are 25 times more likely to be stopped under the ‘section 60’ rule perhaps he is the best placed candidate to hoover up any floating voters from Dagenham. Section 60 was originally designed to tackle football hooligans but is now routinely being used on London streets to stop people without reasonable grounds, essentially the return of the Sus law, as my old newspaper New Nation put it in 2008.
Tweets on the night revealed a host of observations. @samfcr71 commented: “Boris claimed huge progress in recruitment of black police. Contradicts commissioner in Lambeth last night. Boris does not understand that retention is bigger problem than recruitment. #clueless.”
@writehandmedia tweeted: “Few journalists mention Boris’s slights against black people. Why is that?” @TundeH wrote: “To be honest I’m a bit disgusted that the only mention of Black people in Boris’s manifesto is in relation to crime.” @soniapurnell said: “Tweets suggest that Boris did not wow the #blackbritaindecides meeting but hope to read the full reports.”
@peterdominiczak wrote: “Ken talks about Boris being mayor for the “one per cent.” Boris appeared to shout “what about your tax dodging.”
@TheVoiceNews commented: “Livingstone: I ask you, do you think London’s a better place today than it was four years ago? Ray Lewis: NO!!”
And finally… @AnhMH added: “Ok, nothing to do with politics but Siobhan has a massive diamond ring – it looks pretty!”
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