Opinion: Mayoral Hustings – Twists and turns and four good horses

I’ve never been to such an event before so I didn’t know what to expect. Regardless, I made it to the Hustings in Kings Cross, the first ‘proper’ Hustings as I think the Chair described it.

Mike Tuffrey gave the first speech. It was fairly standard: he outlined his experience on the GLA and said that if he won the nomination, it would be his 14th election. “My 13th election wasn’t unlucky for me, in fact it was my best to date.” he said, naming a few impressive percentages the Lib Dems had got in the last London Assembly elections which he headed. He stated that he was more concerned with laying a foundation for 2014 Local Elections and that this was the ‘first step’. He couldn’t resist a slightly snarky remark that in 2008, Paddick received only 9% of the vote, lower than the Assembly vote. He outlined that his priorities for London included housing, unemployment, air quality and sorting out ‘big business’ and delivering on the London Living Wage. He was well-versed in his statistics and numbers.

Lembit Opik was next. Let me declare my interests right here – I’m a Lembit supporter but I will attempt a fair view. Lembit was anecdotal, launching into his speech with a story from his own recent experience. His experience, was something that he similarly stressed: Parliament, the Federal Executive, Newcastle Council, European Parliament election and the ex-shadow Secretary of State for housing. He took responsibility for losing his Montgomeryshire seat in 2010, conceding that his celebrity status may have cost him votes in rural Wales but contended that the same status would work to his advantage in London. He, much to my angst, used Cameron’s embarrassing word ‘hindsight’ several times in describing losing his seat. Lembit mentioned that he empathised with Union leaders like Bob Crow, saying that they weren’t doing anything evil, but ‘just doing their job’, looking after some of London’s most vulnerable. He pushed his high profile and suggested that Lib Dems would be forgotten about in a Mayoral contest without a high profile. He also promised a positive campaign not oriented around smearing Ken and Boris.

Then came Brian Haley. One of his features that he was keen to push was that he is a black man, and that a vote for him would be a vote to show that we, as a party, are capable of standing credible minority candidates. He suggested that a Mayoral Election between three white men in suits would be undesirable. He got off to a shaky start. He was chewing his words and stuttering. Around half way through, though, he improved visibly. He said that he’d had a lot of meetings with Ken and he believed that by now, Ken was out of ideas. He said that he’d been with Ken on a TV show recently and that he was a mess. Haley also mentioned his experience ‘directly advising’ Boris Johnson in detailing Boris’ inability to think on the spot. I can’t really stress enough just how much Brian changed mid-speech. He went from a wreck to being completely on-form and having the audience in his hand, getting laughs. By the time he walked from the stage, I think he got the loudest applause of any of the four candidates.

Lastly was Brian Paddick. At times, he seemed a tad dull and formulaic, but he had designed his speech to ‘tick all the boxes’ and that is no bad thing. He spoke in detail of the difference between the ‘Air War’ and the ‘Ground War’ suggesting that he’d have a particular advantage over the others in the ‘air war’ due to his profile. “I am a Household Brand in London!” he exclaimed. He said that a key feature of his campaign would be the Assembly election, promising that every time he visited an area, he would be seen photographed with any local Assembly candidates. He mentioned the Coalition, saying that for Lib Dems, Coalition was a ‘fact of life’, if at times difficult. He spoke clearly and slowly, though there were a couple of moments towards the end where he garbled his words slightly. Lastly, he emphasised his experience within the London Met and said he was the only candidate that could truly understand the need to make police more ‘visible’.

The four candidates then reconvened on the stage to take questions. The first centred on what each candidate, if elected, would make their ‘landmark’ policy. Brian Haley answered first. He said that he would champion London’s canal network. Next was Lembit, he promised to work on his idea for a 24-hour Tube service, mentioning that although this would be his most distinctive policy, housing was the most important issue to him. Brian Paddick smiled and said that he would focus on ‘Brian’s Buses’, improving London’s bus network. Lastly, Mike Tuffrey said that if Brian could have ‘Brian’s Buses’ then he could have ‘Tuffrey’s Taxis’, referencing his idea for more electric transport. He also mentioned housing.

The second question was on how the candidates would bring some glamour to environmental campaigning. Lembit said that his policy on increasing people working from home would be the centrepiece of his efforts to fight pollution. Brian Paddick said that the first step was to explain the benefits and financial advantages of being ‘green’ to people. Mike spoke about the ‘Green Deal’ and his experience dealing with environmental campaigns (he suggested that environmentalism could be sexy to young people) and Haley detailed the lack of success in the current policy system and outlined briefly changes he could make.

Proceeding questions were on the extent to which the candidates supported ‘large buildings such as skyscrapers’, on whether Vince Cable’s ‘Mansion Tax’ was in fact a ‘London Tax’, on the migration of jobs to outside London by groups like the BBC and on what the candidates could do to support the simultaneous GLA Election candidates. One questioner suggested “Only one of you mentioned Bob Crow,” asking what approach the candidates would take in negotiating with the Union leaders. Brian Paddick leaned (slightly tongue in cheek I think) on his experience with police negotiation, saying that he would look into hiring professional negotiators. Lembit reiterated his sympathies for Union leaders and said he resented the suggestion that they use ‘blackmail’ to get their way.

Another question asked simply “Is ‘kettling’ liberal?” Mike was either brave or misjudged the mood and answered that it wasn’t liberal but that it was a legitimate solution. In the most dramatic moment of the night, he was loudly booed and hissed by the audience. Brian Haley said that it was not liberal and Lembit announced that it was entirely illiberal and should by no means be allowed. He indulged his inner libertarian. Paddick, the former policeman, gave an answer well informed but similar to Mike’s, that more effort should be put into providing water and toilet facilities to the kettled but that it is a legitimate tactic.

The candidates were all asked what their party would say about them. Haley mentioned his Labour past. Lembit mentioned his celebrity background. Paddick brought up his fairly poor performance as Mayoral candidate in 2008. Mike Tuffrey said that his colleagues called him ‘formidable’ and ‘sharp’. If he hadn’t gone last, I may have wondered if he’d misjudged the question.

They were also all asked what, if any, policy disagreements they had with the Liberal Democrats. Lembit said that he disagreed with the party changing its policy on Tuition Fees and he believes that we should be getting out of Afghanistan sooner. Mike says that he has no fundamental disagreement with party policy. Brian Paddick says that he has changed his mind on cannabis and that new, dangerous strains mean that the government has to take a tougher approach. Haley outlines his discomfort with the European Union and says we have to ‘rethink’.

Brian Paddick and Mike Tuffrey spent a lot of time agreeing with each other, demonstrated by their answers to the last question, “Which of the other candidates’ policies do you wish you’d thought of first?”. Paddick said that Mike’s electric vehicle ambition was admirable. Mike Tuffrey answered second and refused to return Brian the compliment, suggesting that he wasn’t envious of any of the other candidates’ manifestos.Brian Haley did something that raised eyebrows: he said he thinks Lembit’s idea for running parts of the Tube 24 hours is ‘genius’ and adds that he would add a special carriage with police on it for late night safety. Lembit grins and said “Based on what Brian’s just said, I think I’ll take his idea of my 24 hour Tube.”

It was a livelier night than I expected. If I’ve misquoted any of the candidates then I’m terribly sorry but I’ve done my best.

Richard Clare blogs at A Brief History of Liberty.

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12 Comments

  • paul barker 30th Jul '11 - 5:21pm

    A fair & balanced report of the Hustings. I would agree that all 4 candidates have strengths The Party should be using, in The HoL/Senate for example.
    I went in as a Lembit supporter & still put him 1st on The Ballot but I was surprised how well Mike Tuffrey performed & put him 2nd.

  • Simon McGrath 31st Jul '11 - 7:52am

    Richard and Paul – don’t you have any concerns about the ethical issues raised by Lembit’s behavioursin the selection? He allows his agent to put out a manifesto he hasn’t read which contains something he now admits is untrue (on a very important point). But he only admits that on Twitter and in the Welsh press. So members reading what he has sent out in most cases won’t know it is untrue.

    he didn’t refer to this at the hustings nor has he used either his mailshot or one of the e mails candidates can send to correct this
    This strikes me as a rather unethical way to carry on to say the least.

  • David from Ealing 31st Jul '11 - 8:57am

    Simon – maybe someone should have asked him.

  • Simon McGrath 31st Jul '11 - 9:01am

    @David – you could only ask the same question to all 4 candidates and they were submitted in writing and then read out

  • Simon McGrath 31st Jul '11 - 5:23pm

    @Rich – fair enough but as one of Lembit’s supporters does it not concern you that he hasn’t done anything to tell London members an important part of his manifesto is untrue?

  • Daniel Henry 1st Aug '11 - 12:01pm

    Rich, all four manifestos, uploaded by Simon.
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/60713785/ldmayormanifestos2011

    (Lembit, does appear to blame Mick Bates for his loss)

  • LondonLiberal 3rd Aug '11 - 11:26am

    the 24 hour tube is a non-starter for very clear physical and engineering reasons, and Lembit is displaying his total kack of knowledge of london’s history and transport system in advocating it. The very fact that he is advocating it clearly marks him out to be unsuitable to lead London, regardless of his many other, er, characteristics.

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