The Liberal Democrats appear to be a dark horse in the run-up to December 12 elections. Amidst such political drama around “getting Brexit done”, London's mayoral elections in May 2020 seem a million years away. But this hasn't stopped Siobhan Benita, the Party's London Mayoral candidate to support Sonul Badiani-Hamment in South Ealing. Knocking doors, distributing pamphlets, and asking locals about their concerns, Benita appears to be killing two birds with the same stone- canvassing for Badiani for general elections and herself for the Mayoral one.
“I have grown up in a Labour household and have voted Labour in the past where the Party was relied upon by the people to fight discrimination, to battle anti-semitism, to stand up for the EU citizens,” says the Anglo-Indian civil servant. “So, on one side you have Boris Johnson who is taking the Party to the extreme far-right pushing forward a reckless Brexit which is going to damage the economy. Then you have Jeremy Corbyn who is under investigation for anti-semitism, and a leader who won't say which side of the Brexit he is on- Leave or Remain.”
#OystersForChristmas for homeless
Bidding to become the first female Mayor of London, Benita like her party is more focussed on designing policies as opposed to practicing public relations politics. As Christmas lights up the city, she proposes that an estimated £400m left unused on Oyster cards should be given to the homeless and those sleeping rough in the harsh winter. Branding it as the “#OystersForChristmas campaign”, she urged mayor of London Sadiq Khan to combat homelessness. Now, she is also proposing to create a City Hall unit that is solely responsible for reducing the rate of rough sleepers in London. You can sign her petition by clicking here.
'Feel Safe, Be Safe'
Earlier, as part of her strategy to combat knife crime, substance abuse, and anti-social activities, she had introduced the 'Feel Safe, Be Safe' five-point action plan. Having examined the success of legalised cannabis in other European countries, Benita as part of this model proposes for a drug policy reform to support people who are suffering from substance addiction.
“Young people are at their most vulnerable in the hours after leaving school and before parents are home - between 4 and 6 pm. I would introduce a Youth Happy Hour, co-ordinating activities in every single borough during this crucial window. I know that Londoners are ready to step up as a community to help, but Sadiq has failed to facilitate anything.
“He is one of the most open-minded moderate Labour leaders that I know of to the extent that we share some of our core ideologies and policy beliefs. He is very good at the selfie and his Public relations. But at the same time, he has shown a lack of leadership in working with the core community groups and youth centres. My message to Sadiq is “What are you still doing in the Labour Party?” Come and join the Liberal Democrats,” she urges.
#LondonIsOpen: Working with women and entrepreneurs
But whilst Sadiq in her opinion has failed to achieve considerable ground in solving young people's problems, she also believes that immigration in the UK has remained unaddressed as is the issue of increasing racism.
“My mum was born in India but after her dad tragically died at a very early age, my grandmother brought her and her two siblings to start a new life in London. They arrived with very few possessions but local people rallied round, including the butcher and milkman who used to give my grandmother leftover food. That’s the London that I still love today – kind, open and welcoming.”
Perhaps, Benita's drive to ensure free childcare for all women stems from this understanding of the impediments that women across communities and cultures face today whilst balancing their family and professional lives. Now, attending multiple workshops with the women's networks and other organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) she has received a true flavour of the South Asian Entrepreneurial spirit, the potential of which she wants to further harness by way of such policies for women entrepreneurs.
Whilst all these policies, ideologically promise to enrich London's political, social and economic fabric, how much of those are financially and practically feasible only time will tell. Today, many political pundits have touted the upcoming general elections as a litmus test for Liberal Democrats and it remains to be seen if the city will elect its first female mayor in Siobhan Benita.