++ Breaking news: Siobhan Benita stands down as candidate for London Mayor

With the London elections postponed until May 2021, members in the capital have today received an email from Siobhan Benita, the Lib Dem candidate for London Mayor.

She writes:

I am writing to let you know that, after much consideration and with sadness, I am standing down as the Liberal Democrat Candidate for Mayor of London.

The demands of being a candidate are significant, particularly for an election of this scale, The nature of the role, which is unpaid, makes it very difficult to combine with other work. Sadly, at this stage, I’m simply not able to commit to another full year of campaigning.

It has been a privilege to campaign as the Lib Dem candidate for the past 18 months. First selected in November 2018, it has been a long journey through the European Election, General Election and London campaign up until it was postponed due to Coronavirus earlier this year.

I am immensely grateful to you and all the fabulous party members, volunteers and friends who supported my campaign and shared this experience with me. I will continue to campaign alongside you in the coming months.

London is the best city on Earth and that is because of the amazing people who live and work here. I have been both inspired and humbled by all the individuals and organisations I’ve had the pleasure to meet across the capital.

Londoners have enormous resilience, creativity and passion and I have every faith in their ability to overcome even the most challenging times that lie ahead.

I remain a committed Liberal Democrat campaigner and I wish the very best of luck to my successor. We successfully doubled our vote share in London during the General Election and, with so many committed and hardworking members, I know we can achieve a fantastic result in May 2021.

The party will be in touch soon about the process of selecting a new candidate. In the meantime, I look forward to campaigning with you in our hope for a better London very soon.

Kind regards

Siobhan Benita

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  • Michael Sammon 27th Jul '20 - 9:07am

    Really gutted to hear this. I can’t think of anyone better to represent us at any level. Big job to find a substitute now. I hope whoever it is, keeps on about legalising E scooters and lots of other exciting liberal policies that were in Siobhan’s campaign.

  • John Marriott 27th Jul '20 - 9:16am

    And the cynic might say that her chances of actually winning might have been pretty slim in any case. Now, I know that the credibility of the Lib Dems rests on the ability and willingness of the party to contest elections, big and small. However, unless you have the wherewithal, which usually means plenty of cash, a candidate, however willing, is going to struggle.

    I hate to think how much of my own money I lavished (the verb comes from my nearest and dearest) on my campaigns and the campaigns of others over the past few decades. In fact, it was the demand from the Regional Party back in 2015 that I and my fellow Lib Dem county councillors pay 10% of our allowances to our Federation without a say as to how that money would be spent, or face expulsion, that finally persuaded me that Liberal Democracy was a lost cause as far as Lincolnshire was concerned.

    Did we raise funds. Yes, in the early years when we had the time; but it was bloody hard to raise money, knock on doors, produce and deliver regular FOCUS leaflets and to recruit, while all the time trying to keep up with my ‘day job’ and find time for family commitments. Yes, money IS important and some parties find it easier to raise than others.

    They say that money talks. However, in my case, all it seems to say is “Goodbye”.

  • Unfortunate news as she is a very good candidate would hope to see her as an MP one day.

    I think the realistic focus should be on gaining an additional assembly member.

    That said, what is Chuka Umunna doing at the moment? Or Luciana Berger?

  • Pity she has gone. What are Chuka Umunna Sam Gymah Tom Brake and Luciana Berger doing these days?

  • John Marriott’s post was an eye opener for me on the difficulties of public service and the time, money and cost to private life this service brings. The money angle is probably why the Liberal Democrats have difficulty in getting elected in all areas of governance, my old adage has been ” money buys power ‘ sadly!

  • Peter Martin 27th Jul '20 - 11:37am

    “what is Chuka Umunna doing at the moment? Or Luciana Berger?”

    Probably wishing they hadn’t quit the Labour Party and were still in paid jobs!

    As Siobhan says ” the role, which is unpaid” is also demanding. So good luck with getting anything done for nothing from those two!

  • I was a councillor for over 8 years, it is alright having time from work to attend meetings, but that is less than half the story. Yoiu cannot simply walk out on your responsibilites, depatmental meetings, management meetings, managing emrgencies, having to travel to other work places, etc etc. I found it almost impossible to attend day time committee meetings and it reached the point where either work or the meetings had to go. (There is a limit to how much you can expect colleagues to cover for you). Obviously it was the latter. In a way I was relieved by Cleggs Tuition Fees that swept me away with most of my cohort. I know that other Conservative and Labour councillors suffered from the same problems and two stood dlown because of it.

  • John Marriott 27th Jul '20 - 3:42pm

    You make a very valid point. The kind of single minded commitment required to represent any political party effectively at any level has probably wrecked more than one marriage or partnership. It used to be common for aspiring Tory politicians to have made their money before venturing into politics in a serious way. For Labour that used to mean getting union sponsorship. Unfortunately most aspiring Lib Dem politicians have never enjoyed that luxury. It’s no coincidence that my own career, which began in 1987 with my using two of my free periods to attend afternoon District Council meetings most Thursdays (until the council eventually switched to evening meetings), only really took off after I took early retirement from teaching in 1999.

  • @ David le Grice. As someone with long connections in Penrith & the Border I wouldn’t be in a hurry to recruit Mr Stewart, David. Be careful what you wish for.

  • That’s a shame, she seemed like a good candidate. Best of luck to her.

  • @Theakes – day-time Council meetings should never be the norm. They discriminate against working people and reduce the breadth of expertise on the Council. And it packs Council chambers with retired people. In Kingston we have always held Council meetings in the evening and term time only. In addition allowances can be claimed for baby-sitting/caring cover. It’s perfectly doable. As a result we have a very diverse Group in terms of age, work and life experiences.

  • Chuka, Sam & Luciana have recently found new jobs, so I doubt they would be at all interested.

  • Mary.
    Could not get to many evening meetings either, duties involved a lot of evening work and in management there is no nine to five. Work is now 24 hours a day in many areas.

  • Maybe Vince or Tom Brake? Lucy Salek or Dinesh Dhamjia would have been a credible candidate as well.

    In reality although Sadiq Khan is a mediocre mayor he is very likely to get re-elected.

    Focusing on increasing representation on the assembly is a realistic prospect and should be the main focus.

  • John Marriott,

    No candidate should be expected to pay anything towards the cost of their leaflets, but councillors should contribute. Paying 10% of one’s councillor’s allowances I think is good practice. It can be used to finance leaflets across all wards held and target ones. My local party also requires each councillor to pay one sixth of the cost of peacetime leaflets, but they are not required to pay anything towards the cost of leaflets during the local elections.

    It seems odd that when you were asked for 10% of your councillor allowances it was not set out how the money would be used and how much of your leaflet costs it would be used for. I do not think it strange than every councillor would not be part of the decision making process for which target wards the money should be spent in. I am surprised that your Council Group did not consider the ALDC advice on standing orders and councillor / local party agreements when negotiating what agreement should be in place with your local Federation of Local Parties.

  • John Marriott 28th Jul '20 - 9:33am

    @Michael BG
    I appreciate your comments. I really don’t want to make myself out to be a martyr. However, I must say that, considering the amount of time and energy I had put into supporting the party and actually getting things done in my area, using methods from the ALDC playbook, I did feel extremely bitter about how I and our relatively small County Council group were treated both by our local Federation, Region and ultimately HQ.

    I believe that, at the time of our ‘dispute’ the rule book stated that councillors were expected to ‘make a contribution’ towards campaigning activities in their area. The percentage came, I believe, from local custom and practice. What really rankled was that, despite the odds, over a period of several decades, some of us by sheer hard work had been able not only to get elected but to stay elected through several council cycles. We did it, not by slavishly following the party line but by being ourselves and supporting people. We certainly didn’t do it by regularly attending conferences or debating the true meaning of liberalism at committee meetings.

    My particular argument with my local party was that, despite the success I and others had had by pursuing a pragmatic approach, it seemed incapable of copying our example, that clearly had worked in some parts of the county. No wonder that we weren’t prepared just to give them money willy nilly and see it wasted on causes that had little to do with local circumstances.

    Lincolnshire is not fertile ground for liberalism, which wasn’t the case a few decades ago. You ask any of the activists, who have recently been parachuted into the area to liven things up. No wonder they promise wonderful things and then quietly disappear. There is no substitute for hard work; but who these days is prepared to stick at it long enough to make a long lasting difference?

  • Peter Hirst 28th Jul '20 - 2:41pm

    As an outsider, I’d like to know when the mayoral elections were postponed, when Siobhan made her decision and how it was communicated except via an email to all local members. It made the national media and perhaps it could have been handled better. Let’s hope we don’t have the delay we experienced with the leadership election. Do the relevant standing orders explicitly mention resignations like this?

  • John Marriott,

    I still don’t understand your position. Councillor allowances were increased in about 2003 with the replacement of the attendance allowance. As county elections are next year they would have taken place in 2017 and 2013 not 2015. I don’t know what the councillor allowance rates were then but in Lincolnshire they were £10,791.95 a year in 2019-20. Assuming the councillor paid income tax and national insurance on the whole amount they would receive £7338.52, even if they paid the 10% on the gross figure and had to pay a further £600 towards leaflets, they would still receive £5659.32 plus travel expenses. Therefore giving up being a councillor because of the introduction of such a scheme would still result in the person no longer having that income.

    There should be a councillor / local party agreement which includes how much each councillor should contribute to party funds and leaflet costs and how much the local party will pay towards leaflets going out in the councillor’s area. Did the body which you were requested to pay the 10% to not set out how much they would pay for leaflets in your division? Also if a local party received most of its income from its councillors then it will become more important for the local party to maximize the number of councillor they get elected.

  • John Marriott 28th Jul '20 - 8:31pm

    @Michael BG
    Where did I mention that County Council elections took place in 2015? That was when we received our ‘ultimatum’ from on high. Apparently our Federation had agreed in 2013 that no Lib Dem candidate would be allowed to stand unless they agreed to pay a councillor contribution, although this ruling was never ratified properly. It came largely from the imagination of the then Secretary, who has subsequently left the party. Believe me, the organisation around here has been a shambles for many years. With the exception of West Lindsey District Council, you can probably count the number of Lib Dem Councillors on the County and the other six District Councils on the fingers of one hand.

    I really don’t want to argue the toss about how much someone should pay or not. The point I was trying to make was how much some of us have sacrificed over the years in our attempts to support a party we believed in and also to get ourselves into a position to do some good for our community. The money issue was the final straw for us here. In fact, three out of our group of four decided not to stand in 2017. The fourth stood and lost her seat. There is now one Lib Dem on the Lincolnshire County Council, which was reduced from 76 to 70 seats. Twenty years ago there were eleven. Four years earlier there had been fifteen.

  • John, as usual, is talking common sense. I’m not sure the party has the moral or legal right to enforce a 10% levy. Apart from anything else it softens up the need for local party activists to get busy with fund raising events and undermines their level of visibility, activity and organisational capacity.

    It flies in the face of the principle established in the last Liberal Government’s Payment of Members in the Parliament Act of 1911 – passed to enable more than just the
    wealthy to participate in democracy. It’s no good preaching diversity and then charging a levy to be in the club. No wonder the party is often seen as the preserve of the ‘middle class’.

  • Michael Maybridge 29th Jul '20 - 1:41am

    @David Raw. It may well be that the party doesn’t have the legal right to enforce a 10% levy, and that the situation on Lincolnshire County Council in 2015 was mishandled. But I have to say that your objections to ‘the tithe’, as it’s known round here, sound a bit strange to me. Firstly, your argument that it undermines ‘visibility, activity and organisational capacity’ might have a point if the most important form of activity and visibility was fundraising – but I happen to think that our time and energy is much better focused on actually getting people elected (which, of course, with a ‘tithe’ system, also has the effect of getting funds in the bank). Secondly, you are, of course, right that the Payment of Members Act was designed to allow people other than the rich to become MPs – which was, and is, a full-time job. Being a Councillor is not supposed to be a full-time job, and, while there are many barriers to diversity in that role, I rather doubt that taking home £5659.32 rather than £7338.52 is a particularly big one. Maybe you have evidence to prove me wrong on that point. Similarly, your experience might be radically different, but the money produced by the (quite extensive range of) fund raising events in my local party makes up a very small proportion of our annual income. Yes, we could, by having more events (and presumably spending less time campaigning) increase that, although since we would be relying mostly on the same people, probably by a diminishing amount, but the bottom line is that fund raising events are a very inefficient way of raising money. So where, apart from Councillor’s tithes, does money come from? Overwhelmingly from donations, which come, naturally enough, predominantly from…. wealthy(er) people. If that’s a better route to a more diverse, less middle class party than what could well be seen as a progressive (willingly paid, in my experience) ‘tax’ on those who, after all, we foot sloggers had quite a lot to do with getting elected, then it certainly doesn’t seem like ‘common sense’ to me.

  • John Marriott 29th Jul '20 - 9:56am

    Thank you, David Raw, for your support (again) and for your wise words. I wonder if Michael Maybridge has ever been a councillor. I can assure him that, if you take the job seriously, as, we are told, Lib Dem councillors always do, it can take over your life, particularly if you haven’t got a ‘day job’ any more and your children have flown the best!

    I don’t really want to wash my dirty linen in public; but nobody should get the idea that Lincolnshire Lib Dem councillors are an avaricious lot. When I was on both County and District Councils, we set up a fund as individuals, the proceeds of which were used to fund future campaigns, both our own and those of others. The reason why we were reluctant simply to transfer the amounts into local party accounts was because we wanted to have a decisive say in how that money was spent. After all, as successful candidates, we thought that we had a pretty good idea as to what worked here in the county. Just turning up at election time sporting a gold/yellow/orange rosette is no guarantee of success. (The party can’t even agree on a colour, it would seem!)

    I don’t know whether what I am about to say rings bells elsewhere; but my experience of attending ‘meetings’, both local and county wide, over nearly forty years, was that there were people, who got their kicks from debating points of order and general philosophy than actually knocking on door or organising fund raising events. That said, I remember that, not long after I joined the Liberal Party in 1979, our local party needed two meetings to organise a Jumble Sale! To use a dance analogy, instead of waltz or fox trot, what winning needs is more of Rock and a Roll.

  • clive english 29th Jul '20 - 1:39pm

    hmm Being a Councillor is not supposed to be a full time job eh. Well whoever could say that has clearly never been a Councillor, or if they were they were not doing it properly.
    As a Chairman of a Committee as well i am doing well over a weekly shift for considerably less than full time pay.
    Dont forget independent renumeration panels evaluate what councillors should get and then knock off half of it as a “public service discount”

  • Michael Maybridge 29th Jul '20 - 3:52pm

    The key term here is ‘supposed’ to be a full time job. I’m well aware of the extraordinary commitment and pressures dealt with by councillors, and live in awe, especially, of those who do manage to combine it with a ‘day job’ (and yes, my respect on this score absolutely extends to current and former councillors above). But David Raw mentioned ‘the tithe’ as a barrier to diversity. Surely these expectations on councillors are a far bigger barrier in this respect. If we (partly the system, and partly, it has to be said, the party) expect people to be working a full time job as a councillor we shouldn’t be surprised if council chambers are populated disproportionately by, for example, retired people, and if, for example, people with young families are a rare breed. If we care about diversity we need to address this. I’m not advocating this, but we could, for example, say that yes, being a councillor is a full time job, and should be paid accordingly.

    None of this is remotely to cast aspersions on former Lincolnshire County Councillors. As I said, it may well be that that situation was mishandled. It also has relatively little to do with the points I was actually making in response to David Raw, which I’m sure he’ll address in his own good time. Being someone in possession of a life (unlike me, apparently) he certainly has better things to be doing than sitting on this site all day!

  • Paul Holmes 29th Jul '20 - 4:22pm

    Although I often agree with much of what David Raw says, I agree entirely with Michael Maybridge on this one – based upon 4 years as a Parish Cllr, 13 years as a Borough Cllr and having run many (mostly successful) Council elections and by elections for others, including gaining 3 out 3 of by elections from Labour between 2016-2018 and the Borough campaign in 2019 that saw us increase from 9 to 17 Cllrs (7 gains from Lab and 1 from UKIP).

    As a novice member in the 1980’s I soon observed that we were spending more time and effort on jumble sales and Spring and Autumn Bazaars than on election campaigning. In the 1990’s I started our first (of many) Members Standing Order appeals and ever since these have provided the largest and most steady source of our campaign income. By the late 1990’s our Cllrs voluntarily adopted a 7.5% (pre tax) levy on Cllrs allowances , which as an MP from 2001 I voluntarily applied to my Salary. More recently the English Party made such a levy compulsory for all LD Cllrs (with obvious provision for those losing all Cllrs allowances in Benefits clawback). They recommended a level of 10% and, upon unexpectedly becoming Leader of 17 Cllrs last May, I recommended to our Group that they increase the voluntary 1990’s level up to 10% which everyone did. Of course we raise funds in other ways too but the Standing Orders keep rolling in even when we are flat out fighting elections.

    Funding Campaigns centrally in this way has meant that no one is prevented from standing because they cannot afford to personally fund a (serious rather than token) campaign -and that money is there for all year round campaigning. Even more important these days as 99% of Membership subscriptions disappears into the higher reaches of the Party leaving Local Parties to start from scratch.

    It is rather alarming that in all the discussion above no one seems to realise that such a levy is now compulsory -and has I believe been extended to all elected levels not just Cllrs. But then the English Party has always been very poor at communicating its decisions!

  • Paul Holmes 29th Jul '20 - 4:44pm

    I do though agree with John Marriott’s last paragraph about the danger of Committees/Executives pursuing a different purpose to those who actually fight to get elected to public office. -and vice versa of course.

    Bar a couple of years we have, for the last 4 decades, been able to maintain a close commonality of purpose between Constituency Executive, Cllrs and PPC/MP. Which is one reason we were able to move from the 1983 position of zero Cllrs and 3rd in every General Election since WW2, to electing the MP and 38 out of 48 Borough Cllrs 20 years later. Also why we are now successfully rebuilding after the destructive years of 2010-2015.

    I can see that this can be more difficult in widely scattered Local Parties as in John’s rural Lincolnshire. But compact urban or geographically scattered rural or not, the potential difference between Committee viewpoints and Campaigners viewpoints is an age old problem. Indeed the Thornhill Review picked up on some examples of the failures this caused at national level.

  • John Marriott 29th Jul '20 - 6:23pm

    Reading the catalogue of Paul Holmes’ political career (which, unlike mine, continues) reminds me of that ‘Wayne’s World ‘ cry “We are not worthy!” It must be galling for him to see how all his efforts, the success both personal and as a group, have taken such a knock in recent years. I wonder whether he ever feels a bit like Sisyphus rolling that rock up hill again. I guess that, with evergreens such as Tony Rodgers still around, hope springs eternal!

  • Yes, I share your admiration of the admirable , nay, venerable Councillor Holmes, John.

    I see you haven’t had an answer as to the experience of Mr Maybridge, … though I’m happy to reassure him that, yes, I’ve got a life… though I’m a few months older than you are. Trying to plug coalition welfare cuts as chair of a food bank, doing the odd history bit for St Andrews Uni, watching the gannets dive bomb the Forth are much more rewarding than being a Lib Dem bureaucrat…… or even posting on LDV.

    Must go and feed the goldfish in the pond (no gannets there hopefully).

  • “It is rather alarming that in all the discussion above no one seems to realise that such a levy is now compulsory”

    Since about 2009 IIRC. It was intended to apply to all elected Lib Dems (see the Bones Commission report’ There was a lot of mystery about whether MPs were ‘tithing’ – when questions were asked to the Chief Whip (Alistair Carmichael) they went unanswered to a degree and were never answered clearly.

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