Green Berry could hold balance in race for London Mayor

Sian Berry could be the model political candidate.

Green Party mayoral candidate Sian Berry

Green Mayoral candidate Sian Berry

Today, the Green Party’s candidate for London Mayor has declared that she would withdraw nearly £650,000 of City Hall funding from London Fashion Week if the organisers do not reform their use of “ultra-skinny” cat-walk models.

Berry, who was the Green candidate for London Mayor in 2008, was selected by her party earlier this month from a short-list of six.

Like the LibDems, whose candidate is Caroline Pidgeon, the Greens have been, well… green in its candidate selection ahead of next May’s London elections, since Berry doubles up as a London Assembly candidate as well as running for the top job. The Greens currently have two London Assembly Members under the list system, Jenny Jones and Darren “No Relation” Johnson, and both are standing down come the election next year. Berry is top of the Greens’ list for the Assembly.

Berry, a 41-year-old borough councillor in Camden, is already campaigning hard on issues affecting London, with her Fashion Week ultimatum today. “Support for London Fashion Week should come with the clear message that those who recruit and employ models have a responsibility for their welfare as well as the messages about body image that they promote,” she said.

“I would like most of all to work with London’s fantastic fashion industry to promote healthy and positive body images.”

The role of Berry in a London Mayor election which is expected to be a two-way battle between Labour’s Sadiq Khan and the eco-friendly Tory Zac Goldsmith (the Conservative selection ballot is on-going) could be crucial.

Under the supplementary voting system, in which the London electorate gets to express a second preference as well as a first choice for the role, the number of Greens who opt for Old Etonian Goldsmith as their second choice might swing things. Green Party membership in London has recently reached 12,000, a substantial number not just as Berry’s likely core vote, but as a source of campaign funds and campaigners.

According to the Grauniad‘s London-watcher, Dave Hill: “A good result for Berry next May would be finishing third… This would emulate the major 2012 achievement of Jenny Jones in edging ahead of the LibDems and further cement the valuable Green presence in London politics.”

Berry holds strong, progressive views on the high cost of housing in the city and the over-indulgence of property speculators, which could make for a few interesting exchanges in election hustings with Labour’s Sadiq Khan, whose selection campaign received funds from a Croydon-based property developer, Anwar Ansari.

“The current system isn’t working. People with normal jobs, on normal wages can’t afford to live in the city and are having to live miles away and facing high transport costs,” Berry said when interviewed by The Guardian.

“Money’s going to waste because of that kind of inefficiency. We can run London in a more efficient way that’s also fairer and greener for people. All of those things come together. There would be something to be presented to George Osborne at the end of that, which said, ‘we’re not wasting money.’ We want to see more people come to London and more jobs for people, and higher wages, and that’s economic growth. What we don’t want to see is more resources used.”

Environmental campaigner Jenny Jones: Croydon has axed more trees than it has planted

Jenny Jones, a current Green Party London Assembly Member, stands down in May. Berry may replace her

Berry advocates “a much more self-sufficient city”, through more recycling and composting, and growing more food locally, rather than shipping it in by polluting HGVs.

But it is in housing, and the need for the London Mayor to have more devolved powers and control in the city, where much of the election debate could be found over the coming eight months.

Berry wants to get the law changed to allow for rent controls in London. “It would have the power to bring in caps on rent rises, in or between tenancies like they have in Germany.”

She also wants the power to define what is “affordable” housing according to local wages, rather than local property market prices. Under Boris Johnson, “affordable housing” has been taken to be 80 per cent of the market rate, whether purchase price or rent, and which in London is always a lot.

And Berry’s ideas for empowering local communities, with expertise to review development schemes, might have had a good role to play in the “regeneration” of Croydon. “We’ll create a Community Homes Unit in City Hall to restore the balance when housing developments take place and give the community the same level of expertise as developers and councils to redesign their own areas.

“At the moment what happens is developers and councils with big PR firms produce a load of nice drawings and lots of numbers and local communities are asked to just accept or reject a finished plan. They end up running quite negative campaigns against what is being proposed when actually they have a lot of good ideas themselves and just need help to create alternatives that are credible and viable.”


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