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INTERVIEW: UKIP’s Peter Whittle Says He’ll Fight for the Culture and Soul of London

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UKIP’s mayoral candidate for the 2016 elections will be selected in the coming days and weeks. Breitbart London has speculated on the runners and riders for the contest, and has contacted all the candidates to ask them why they’d be best for the position.

This response is from Peter Whittle, author, commentator, and director of the New Culture Forum think tank. The responses follow:

Breitbart London (BL): What makes you the best person to represent UKIP in London in 2016?

Peter Whittle (PW): I’ve been the party’s Culture spokesman for the past two years, and have campaigned and spoken all over London. I was a London MEP candidate last year, and this year was parliamentary candidate in Eltham, which I chose because it was where I grew up. In other words, I now know the party in London very well, and believe that I’m in a great position to organise and motivate our members and helpers here. They are amongst the very best people in UKIP – and as diverse as the population of the capital. In fact, contrary to popular myth, they are Londoners who reflect their city pretty accurately – you only have to look at our line-up of candidates. I have great confidence in them, and I believe they would have in me.

On a personal level, my family were Londoners going back generations. My parents were from Peckham. I was born in Waterloo (the hospital is now a Premier Inn) and when I was a baby we moved to Shooters Hill, in between Woolwich and Eltham. I went to a grammar school in Blackheath – I’m a firm believer in grammar schools, one of the best agents of social mobility for working class children we’ve ever had in this country. As they have disappeared, so has social mobility virtually ceased.

Apart from a stint working in America, I have lived and worked in London all my life, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. The fact that they were Londoners formed part of my parents’ characters, and it’s the same for me. I hope this comes across in the column I write for Standpoint magazine, entitled ‘Whittle’s London‘. What would be a great strength too is that much of my career has been spent in the London-based media, in television and journalism so I know the nature of the beast.

BL: If it were a straight choice, would you rather be a London Assembly member, or UKIP’s Mayoral Candidate?

PW: I’ve applied for both. We need a great spokesman for UKIP in London with the EU referendum coming up, and also it’s vital that we have longer term elected representatives. On this occasion I’ll leave it to the party to decide for me!

BL: Uber — are you for it, or against it?

PW: It’s not that I’m against Uber as such, more that I’m very for black cabs. I would line up with them in any argument. I completely understand their frustration with the lack of proper regulation, and the indifference of City Hall. The truth is, London’s black cabs are unmatched anywhere in the world. Not just in their unrivalled knowledge of the city, but in terms of safety and sheer driving professionalism.

I haven’t used Uber, though I’m sure I will at some stage, and I know that competition can be a good thing to keep people on their toes. But the truth is, black taxis are part and parcel of the infrastructure, the cultural fabric of London and we should value them as such. Besides which, although he wasn’t a cabbie, my father was a driver of some sort or another all his life, so I feel a vicarious attachment.

BL: Tube strikes and union drivers. What’s the solution?

PW: As a world-class city, London certainly needs a 24-hour service. It’s taken too long – there’s great public demand for it, and not having it strikes most of us as odd, rather like TV closing down at midnight.

I believe there should be changes in ballot rules, with a greater percentage required for strike action. But banning strikes? No. I’m instinctively against that. Banning is a sign of weakness, not strength.

BL: How do you feel Boris has done as Mayor? What would you keep, what would you change?

PW: Well, I think Boris has been very good for Boris. He was a colourful figurehead during the Olympics. But when it comes to the long term problems facing London – housing, crime, social division – I find it hard to point to any great advances. The ‘monetising‘ of London has continued apace under him.  He was very chuffed that the city now has more billionaires than any other. That’s certainly not a benchmark I’d use when measuring success.

BL: What are the best things about London, in your estimation?

PW: Spending all your life here means you can take a lot for granted. It just takes a trip away to make you realise the variety London offers is without equal. So many capitals are essentially living museums; London has that history too, certainly, but equally is one of the most important, relevant cities in the world.  The jostling mixture of old and new too – the skyline shows this off perfectly.

There’s also a dogged, stubborn, pragmatic quality about London and Londoners which I love. VS Prichett once wrote that London is one of the few places which, as you walk through it, can make you feel ‘historical.’ I think that’s right.

As a media, financial and cultural centre, the opportunties in London are vast – the  challenge is to once again make them available to everybody.

BL: What are the worst things about London?

PW: Too many people are leaving London – over 600,000 in the past decade. For young Londoners now, there is nil chance of buying a home. Despite this, there is greater and greater overcrowding, after years of continued uncontrolled immigration. The housing shortage is chronic, and there’s a huge strain on the infrastructure, and on social services.  A survey only this week showed London to be the most congested city in Europe.

I mentioned above about the ‘monetising‘ of London. To take one small example from the past week: a Victorian pub, The Gladstone, popular with old Londoners and young creatives alike, faces closure and transformation by an overseas property buyer into luxury apartments. So a community looses one of its hubs, and gains instead a set of flats nobody can afford.

BL: You have been very critical of Islamism, as you know Breitbart London is also. But many areas of London are heavily populated by Muslims, do you think this could negatively affect you as a candidate?

PW: Islam is not the same as the extreme political ideology of Islamism. We are starting to see moderate Muslims coming forward, and we must do everything to encourage that. UKIP has Muslim candidates and activists too.  I did many hustings and debates during the election campaign with different religious and ethnic groups. Frankly I’ve always found the most hostile and closed-minded group to be middle-class white liberals.

BL: Before UKIP, you were in the Conservative Party. Why did you leave?

PW: There was quite a gap – I left the Tories in 2006, and joined UKIP in 2013. So it wasn’t a case of me defecting. But the reasons why I left were clear: I increasingly saw no real difference between the Tories and Labour on the most important issues of our time, including immigration and the EU. They shared the same broad cultural assumptions, and were increasingly staffed by the same kind of people.

BL: You stood in Eltham in London as a candidate in the general election where you got 15% of the vote. Do you think UKIP can ever win big in the city?

PW: I believe we can make a great breakthrough in London. We’re living in very volatile times politically. If only a few months ago you’d said Jeremy Corbyn was about to be elected leader of the Labour Party, people would have thought you crazy. Yet here we are. We saw too how the polls and commentariat got it so wrong with the general election.

We have solid foundations in London, we are already the third party in terms of votes – we must build and build on that for 2016.

You can read more about Peter’s campaign at www.peterwhittle.london


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