WALTER CRONXITE on the latest low-powered London election selection
London’s Liberal Democrats are gathering in a phone box in Canary Wharf this morning for their annual conference, where their candidate for Mayor in 2020, Siobhan Benita, will give her first set-piece speech since her selection was announced this week.
The harsh political reality is that Benita’s selection, alongside that of the deeply unimpressive (and slightly worrying) Shaun Bailey for the Tories, demonstrates that Labour’s Sadiq Khan is a virtual shoo-in for another four-year term.
The low quality of the Conservative candidates and the FibDems’ choice of Benita are because no “big beasts” from their parties wanted to take a risk with the political careers for the opportunity of being well-beaten by Khan in what has become an overwhelmingly Labour-supporting capital.
In 2015, the LibDems chose Caroline Pidgeon as its Mayoral candidate ahead of Duwayne Brooks. Benita was selected from a three-strong shortlist which included Rob Blackie (a former adviser to the Namibian government), Dinesh Dhamija (an e-commerce entrepreneur) and Lucy Salek (an aid worker). What do you mean, you’d never heard of them?
Notably, Pidgeon, who remains widely respected for her work as a London-wide Assembly Member, opted to focus on getting re-elected in that capacity. No sense in wasting time and effort and losing sleep over a contest you could never possibly win, is there?
If the other parties thought they had a chance of unseating Khan, then surely one of their eager London MPs might have thrown their hats into the ring, as Zac Goldsmith did in 2016. But there has not been a peep about running for London Mayor from the likes of Tom Brake, Chris Philp or, even, gaffe-prone Gavin Barwell seeking to revive his crashed-and-burned political career.
Benita may be familiar to London-centric political anoraks, as she ran for Mayor in 2012 as an independent candidate against the then-incumbent Boris Johnson.
Even without the backing of a “major” political party, or the LibDems, Benita finished fifth in 2012, polling 83,914 (3.8 per cent), beating UKIP and getting close to ex-copper Brian Paddick, that year’s LibDem candidate. Paddick managed to be pushed back into fourth place behind the Greens.
This time round, the LibDems say, Benita, a former civil servant, will make community policing, clean air and affordable homes her priorities “if she is elected”. Hohoho.
“Only the LibDems have truly stood up for Londoners against Brexit and we will continue to be a strong, liberal voice for our city,” she claimed, already sounding like a stuck needle on a record taken from Tom Brake’s collection of Sacha Distel albums.
“Liberal Democrats have had a string of great electoral successes right across London. Now is the time to get behind Siobhan and demand better,” was the message from “Sir” Vince Cable, the facilitator of Tory austerity and the man who flogged off the Post Office on the cheap for David Cameron. Cable’s commitment to his party is such that he has already admitted he probably won’t be Liberal Democrat leader by the time Londoners go to the polls in 2020.
A quick visit to the high street branch of a thriving bookmaker’s business this morning showed that while Lord Sugar and George Gallloway can both be backed at 100/1 to win the 2020 London Mayoral election, Sadiq Khan is already hot favourite at 2/5 on (meaning you have to stake £5 to have a chance to win £2). Tory Shaun Bailey is rated at 3/1.
The bookmakers must think Sugar and Galloway have better chances than the LibDems’ Benita, who they haven’t yet bothered to price up at all.
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