London Mayoral Debate: Winners and Losers
Last night's London Mayoral debate set a rather aggressive tone for the election. Raheem Kassam recounts the debate from inside the room.
Before last nights London Mayoral debate, I bumped into Boris Johnson in the corridor outside the venue. "Good luck," I muttered. And although he thanked me for my remarks it appears he wouldn't in fact need much luck. All he needed was for his adversary Ken Livingstone to show up.
And show up he did. Just hours after the bizarre 'humanising' stunt of crying at his own party political broadcast, Ken sauntered onto the stage looking more red than usual. It may have been the lighting or perhaps even the White Lightening, given Ken's previous, but the Labour candidate looked truly uncomfortable as the ebullient and sharp witted Clive Anderson introduced him as the candidate who pays 'some tax' and has a company through which he filters some of his money. This came just moments after the moderator introduced Boris as a man who pays full taxes. And so the stage was set.
There were two other candidates on the stage, although as the independent candidate in the audience Siobhan Benita mentioned, this wasn't a fair reflection on recent polling. Nevertheless, Brian Paddick for the Lib Dems and Jenny Jones for the Greens made a palpable difference at critical points in the debate. They also provided much comic relief such as moments where Paddick claimed his lack of experience was a boon to his candidacy and Jenny Jones implored people to vote for her for London Assembly 'if she doesn't win as Mayor' - a clumsily made admission of her chances. She also critiqued top police for using taxpayer funded vehicles when 'normal people' would usually 'take cabs'. Er...
But of course the real battles were between Boris and Ken, who went toe to toe after their 'rift in the lift' a few weeks earlier. Boris described his foul mouthed tirade at Ken as 'pithy and frank' which the audience took much amusement in. Much of the back and forth focused on tube fares and policing numbers, which the Ken campaign has mistakenly made their key 'vote winners'. The killer blow in the debate about the former was actually doled out by Brian Paddick, which took even Boris off guard. "Boris may play the fool," Paddick quipped, "but he isn't one. If it were possible to cut tube fares in an election year, don't you think he would have done it?"
Ken shook his head, insisting that London's financial reserves could be bled dry to accommodate his populism and Jenny Jones appeared to agree - although she was more concerned about London's green spaces and air quality. At one bizarre moment, Ken even offered her a job and from that point forward there was a notable ceasefire between the two candidates and former colleagues.
Jones' most famous moment of the debate had to be her promise to jack up London's Congestion Charge to £15 for three years before introducing individual road pricing - a policy that confounded many drivers in London who are already subsidising the capital's thoroughfares through road tax and extraordinarily high petrol taxes. Sadly she seemed bemused when her extortionate policies didn't attract rapturous applause.
Ken's digital team had their own problems to deal with on Twitter as while Ken was denying a reinstatement of the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge Zone, his manifesto from just two days ago said something very different. We broke the news first.
There were questions from the audience about cycling, fire and rescue services and investment in youth services in London. But these issues were all largely overshadowed by the recent focus on Boris and Ken's tax avoidance. Or rather, Ken's tax avoidance. Even Brian Paddick's team tweeted that he went 'bright red' under the pressure. At the time I noted that he was suffering his very own 'Nixon moment'. He was just seconds away from announcing, "I am er… not a crook."
As time wore on, the audience clearly became restless - with more shouting from the four or five UKIPers in the room, as well as the BNP candidate waving his arms wildly. The debate concluded with Boris and Jenny Jones going off on a pantomime-esque, 'No it's not' - 'Yes it is', for a about thirty seconds about some minutiae relating to City Hall finances.
Ken went for the money shot in his closing statement which pushed his debate performance from a four star to a five in my opinion. He accused Boris of being a surrogate for the coalition government, insisting that on election night, the last thing Londoners should want to see is David Cameron and George Osborne claiming that Boris' victory is a referendum on the Conservative-led national government. Many amongst us would have seen through this as Ken giving away on policies and using the old 'nasty Tory' emotional argument - but his supporters in the audience were buoyed by this siren call, probably because they had been let down by their candidate for most of the debate thus far.
On ranking, Boris gets a seven, Jones scores four, Ken scores five and Paddick gets a solid six for their respective performances (out of ten). The Evening Standard has kindly uploaded the whole video which you can watch below.
Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor for The Commentator. He tweets at @RaheemJKassam
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