This might be an admission of professional inadequacy, but it was only yesterday that I became aware of our newest potential future Mayor. Flicking through the Evening Standard on the way back to Queen’s Park from Brixton (busy at 6 in the evening, but very rapid – thanks TfL), I saw that Siobhan Benita had announced her candidacy, and has received prominent backing from Peter Jones (one of the most fearsome of BBC 2′s dragons, and, because he doesn’t have enough already, the televisual face of Moneysupermarket.com). A cursory search engine enquiry this morning revealed that Siobhan in fact announced just a few days into January.
According to her website, “Siobhan is the modern, credible alternative to Boris and Ken.” Our very raison d’être at London Civic Forum is to broaden and deepen civic participation, so to see another hat tossed into the ring for one of the highest offices in the land is something we welcome, particularly given that the three highest profile candidates all contested the previous election. Siobhan claims credibility from the fifteen years she spent as a civil servant in central government, with some of the news reports I have read indicating that she progressed rapidly and was tipped to become one of Whitehall’s youngest high-ranking mandarins. Clearly a talented operator, Siobhan states that she is not a politician, presumably in order to evade the kind of jibes which pain politicians as selfish careerists with little experience of the real world. I take some issue with this, mainly on the basis that, from what I can gather, all of her professional life has been spent oiling the cogs in Westminster. We should welcome her vision of ‘people not politics,’ but let us not forget that the other candidates have lots of ‘people experience’ too, with Brian Paddick having risen through the Metropolitan Police, and Jenny Jones having previously worked in as unusual a field as archaeology. What’s more, she herself states that she knows how the Treasury works and how to get the best out of it.
It is Brian and Jenny who might be most upset with Siobhan’s description of the “two horse race.” As I’ve previously mentioned, Brian Paddick and Jenny Jones both offer different approaches to Boris and Ken, who in turn differ quite markedly from each other on a number of issues. On policy matters, Siobhan’s lack of party machinery may be both a help and a hindrance. On the one hand, there is no reason why she will not be able to produce coherent ideas stemming directly from her formative experiences in post-election central government, when her concerns over the governmental rhetoric around the public sector were sharpened. On the other, she will likely have more work to do on the kind of issues for which the political parties will already have (possibly sensible and coherent) policies. When Jenny Jones wants to challenge the sanity of the proposed ‘Boris Island’ airport, she only needs to raid the big Green filing cabinet for a wealth of research. Siobhan won’t have that luxury. Nevertheless, Ken won as an independent in 2000, and the Mayoralty isn’t only about flash new policies; the ability to get the best out of existing legislative structures and bureaucracies is vital too, exactly the kind of skill which is furnished by a civil service career.
London elections are no strangers to personality politics (exhibits (a) and (b)), but what is slightly surprising is that a serious candidate with serious motives and aspirations would choose to run as a “Mum for London.” Transport for Mumdon? The Metropolitan Parents? Whatever, it’s great that the diversity of Mayoral possibles has been widened with the entry of another candidate.