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Siobhan Benita

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An Independent Voice

Posted: 11/03/2012 23:00

Many journalists and commentators have bemoaned the fact that this year's mayoral election looked as if it was going to be a two-horse race, a ground hog day, an uninspiring re-run of 2008.

Well, on 30 March, Londoners will be told who they can vote for as their next Mayor and I will be one of the names. I want to disrupt the status quo and help provide the fresh voice and ideas that so many people have been calling for.

Fantastic... now here's the rub.

As a new - and independent - candidate I don't have previous election results or represent a national party. According to the big broadcasters, that means I don't qualify for coverage.

Hm. Can anyone else hear a Catch 22 screaming in this scenario? I won't bore you all with the number of letters that my team and I have sent about this, or the number of brick walls that we have banged our heads against over the past few weeks.

You just need to know that it's a lot. Far too many. We've wasted far too much of our time getting nowhere with institutions that are slow to adapt and reluctant to embrace anything out of the ordinary.

Anyway, in the interest of not wasting any more time, I'll move on. For the time being at least, I will leave the broadcasters where they appear happiest to be; reporting on "Planet BorKen" where the Punch and Judy, party-political show continues to play on a predictable and repetitive loop.

Back in the real world, my team and I are finalising my manifesto. It's no mean feat to summarise ideas and condense proposals into a document that people will actually want to read. And I don't say that flippantly at all - having worked in government for 15 years I know how many weighty tomes are produced that nobody ever looks at! So, I will continue to select and tweak until I am happy with the end result but I am confident already that it will contain some surprises.

The mayor of London has limited powers in specific areas but their ability to influence debate and facilitate change goes way beyond these. London is a fantastic city but the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. Social mobility is grinding to a halt. More, much more, can and should be done to address this. For that reason, and despite the criticism I will no doubt receive from people who believe the mayor should manage TfL and not do much else, my manifesto will also cover vital issues like improving education across London and protecting public services.

There are many improvements that can be made in these areas which would transform people's lives, unlock talent and create opportunities across the capital. The mayor should be leading a charge - at the very least forcing a political discussion - on these sorts of issues.

Finally, I couldn't end this week's blog without mentioning the fantastic Women of the World festival at the South Bank which has been running all week and which I attended on Thursday's International Women's Day.

Great speakers, serious issues and a real buzz in the hall. One quote from Kathy Lette stuck in my mind - "women together are like a good Wonderbra, uplifting, supportive and make you bigger than you really are." A host of famous women called for gender equality and an end to practices that stifle women's rights and opinions. Bianca Jagger spoke with passion on the need for more women in public life.

I couldn't agree more.

 

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