This morning’s Conservative mayoral radio debate will have left London Tory listeners with a clear impression of choice between candidates representing all corners of the ‘broad church’ party.
On the panel of the BBC London Radio mayoral debate were London Assembly member and self-proclaimed libertarian Andrew Boff, Deputy Mayor for Crime and Policing Stephen Greenhalgh, Richmond Member of Parliament Zac Goldsmith, and London Member of the European Parliament Syed Kamall. During the debate, Kamall further burnished his reputation as a ‘Thatcherite’ Tory, often proposing quite radical free-market solutions to London’s problems, while Boff had most to prove, being a relative unknown among the pack.
On some subjects all four men found accord. All neatly dodged the potentially controversial question on rising tensions between the Islamic and Jewish communities in London, and on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in general. In trying to portray himself as a peacemaker who could bring communities together, Boff cited his involvement with discredited charity Tell MAMA.
Dedicated to recording levels of Islamophobic violence, the charity made big claims about the level of persecution in Britain against Muslims in the wake of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby by Islamist killers in Woolwich, London. The group was de-funded by the government after it was revealed only 17 of 212 incidents claimed actually took place – and none of them was serious enough to warrant hospital treatment.
On the subject of dodgy charities, the panel was also asked about Kids Company, the London-based organisation which today announced it would be closing down after revelations about poor management practices, misuse of public money, and potential sexual abuse of minors.
While Tory favourite Goldsmith, and deputy mayor Greenhalgh insisted they would be responsible with public money, Kamall went for the kill and said he was sceptical of government giving money to charities at all.
Instead, he held up examples of grass-roots charities which gave opportunities to young people to create wealth and opportunities for themselves without relying on significant handouts from the public purse.
The big issues up for debate were the main concerns of most Londoners – transport and the cost of housing. While Kamall and Boff got distracted on the side-issue of homelessness – without acknowledging the main cause of the problem in London as mass immigration – Goldsmith called for London to get building.
Goldsmith said he wanted public bodies such as Transport for London, the NHS, and local authorities to release some of the “thousands of acres” of land they hold to allow development within London. In remarks that will re-assure many who are concerned about the sudden proliferation of glass and steel towers across London, Goldsmith called for a return to Victorian-style “high density, low rise development” and for the city to reject “giant, alienating, tower blocks”.
Although Boff offered long term vision on London’s airports, remarking that he was “not interested where the third runway is, I’m interested in where the fourth, fifth, or sixth is”, Kamall was again unafraid to offer a free market solution. Referring to the Victorian era when Britain led the world in infrastructure development and construction, he said “in the old days we built infrastructure by inviting private companies to suggest solutions. These days Whitehall ‘invents’ everything”. Instead of the government directing investment, companies would instead compete to provide capacity where the market dictated.
On the repeated strikes by London’s black cab drivers, he took a similar approach, calling for a level playing field for competition between traditional taxis and modern mobile-operated services such as Uber. Greenhalgh on the other hand offered an idea perhaps suited to another party, and which even drew some amusement from the BBC presenter, when he suggested what London needed to do was to tax companies like Uber more.
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