The Liberal Democrats, without a party leader for more than six months, have now lost their London Mayoral candidate, too, after Siobhan Benita withdrew from the contest this morning.
What is often regarded as a “two-horse race” between Labour and the Tories looks like it might soon be just that – provided London’s worried Conservatives don’t pull the plug on their hapless candidate, Shaun Bailey.
Benita is the second candidate to leave the contest, following Rory Stewart, the former Conservative minister standing as an independent, who dropped out in May.
The elections were due to take place this year, but were postponed until May 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Like Stewart, Benita cited the campaign extension as being too much of a burden.
“It has been a privilege to campaign as the Lib Dem candidate for the past 18 months,” she said.
“The demands of being a candidate are significant, particularly for an election of this scale. The nature of the role, which is unpaid, makes it very difficult to combine with other work. Sadly, at this stage, I’m simply not able to commit to another full year of campaigning. I wish the very best of luck to my successor and look forward to supporting their campaign for a better London.”
Benita is a former senior civil servant who in 2012 stood as an independent in the mayoral election, coming fifth behind the LibDem candidate, Brian Paddick. She joined the party in 2016, shortly after the Brexit referendum, and was selected as the LibDems’ mayoral candidate in November 2018.
Her manifesto included using money from unused Oyster cards to help fight homelessness, legalising cannabis in an effort to tackle rising levels of knife crime, and reopening closed police stations. The LibDems are now choosing a new candidate.
The announcement will strengthen Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan’s position as the election campaign is expected to get underway in earnest in the autumn, as the centrist appeals to LibDems for their votes. It is also a boost for Sian Berry, the Green Party’s Assembly Member and mayoral candidate, improving her prospects of finishing runner-up to Khan next May.
Mayor Khan reacted to Benita’s withdrawal with some grace: “Siobhan has played an important role in the debate on London’s future, particularly on issues such as Brexit and the need to review our outdated drug laws,” he said.
“I know how hard the decision must have been and I wish Siobhan the best of luck for the future. I look forward to welcoming a new Liberal Democrat candidate to the debate.”
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