London Mayor race: Siobhan Benita asks ‘take a chance on me’

17:34 02 May 2012

Siobhan Benita

Siobhan Benita

Archant

The sole independent candidate in the race to be London Mayor insists she is the fresh voice which London needs.

Siobhan Benita slammed this year’s crop of City Hall hopefuls as more of the ‘same-old same-old.’

The race to sit in the City Hall hotseat is entering its final hours.

When the polls finally open tomorrow, former civil servant Siobhan Benita wants Londoners to take a step into the unknown by marking an ‘X’ next to her name.

The 40-year-old former top civil servant has struggled to make an impact in the polls.

But there have been small victories: like overhauling Liberal Democrat rival Brian Paddick in the some of the betting.

“Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone try and play the maverick,” she told London24.

“But if you stand back a bit you see Ken is the epitome of old Labour, you can’t get more old Lab than Ken. Meanwhile, Boris is a classic Tory.”

“So it’s funny they’ve managed to get this image for being mavericks – as they’re not. They’re funded by a huge degree by their parties and they will toe a party line.

“In the London Assembly, the parties bring old arguments from history which gets in the way of things getting done.”

But how radical a choice does Mrs Benita represent to voters wishing to upset the established order?

A high-flying civil servant, she worked at the Treasury for the man dubbed ‘GoD’ by mandarins at Whitehall – Sir Gus O’Donnell.

As well dodging flying stationary during Gordon Brown’s reign, she also waved Tony Blair off from Number 10 when he quit Downing Street in 2007.

Such a glittering civil service record does not easily fit the profile of a radical, poised to storm the barricades of Power in the People’s name.

Meanwhile, a political philosophy which is broadly left of centre places her comfortably on the centre ground.

But working at the heart of government will come in handy when navigating City Hall, she insisted.

She is banking on that trade-craft making up for her lack of experience in the political bear pit, if she pulled off a miracle.

“I’ve worked at there heart of government and I’ve done cut and thrust,” Mrs Benita told London24 at the South Bank Centre.

“But you’ve got to ask yourself if you always want the same kind of person in this job; then you will always end up with what you’ve got.

“I’m saying what we’ve got is not good enough.

“From my time in my previous job I know how much negotiation goes on and the public do not see the reality – which is a shame.

“People are voting for a fresh modern leader, a more inclusive collabtive figure.

“I think the mayor role is a hoslitic one to get everything working in the best interests of London. There are so many people in London who are trapped, for whom there is no social mobility.”

Manifesto promises include creating 70,000 more primary school places to help nurse a culture which staves off the causes of future possible riots.

Free travel for job-seekers and an expanded apprentice scheme to help youngsters, also figure.

Taking a stronger hand in London’s schools is part of the plan – similar to an aspiration voiced by Mayor Boris Johnson.

Throughout the election campaign, Mrs Benita has complained of being dogged by rules governing how much TV air-time candidates get.

“It’s not right for democracy that new voices do not get heard. I’m quite happy for people to hear me and not like me, but it’s not right that voters don’t get to hear me at all.”

Her team even renamed the BBC the ‘Ban Benita Campaign’ – leading some pundits to quip they were hearing an awful lot from a candidate gagged by a media plot.

So can Siobhan Benita reach out voters outside of the cosmopolitan elite and make an impact at the polls?

Don’t bet against it, the bookies have said.

They slashed odds on a victory for her recently, pushing out Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick.

“I think I’m the best candidate for the job,” Mrs Benita said.

“There’s a lack of new ideas and people more than ever are disengaged from party politics.

“My platform is to remind people that for the London mayor election you don’t need all that.”

How many poor bookies do you know?

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