“If you can’t afford to rent a place and travel to job interviews, it is virtually impossible for young people to even start the process of establishing yourself in London.”
Siobhan Benita was a Senior Civil Servant who ran as an independent mayoral candidate in the 2012 Mayor of London elections in the United Kingdom. Despite the challenges she faced during her campaign, as well as the pressure of not being backed by a political party, Siobhan finished with the fifth vote, closely behind the Liberal Democrats.
While many questioned Siobhan’s decision to run independently, Siobhan believes that independent candidates are the ideal option for the mayor of London as it allows them to concentrate on what is right for the city, without being affected by party affiliations.
Siobhan, known during her election campaign as the “Borgen candidate”, told the IPF:
“Across a whole host of things, you can’t look at things as objectively or freely if you are a party politician.”
Siobhan also noted that parties are getting into a “mess”, that people are getting “fed up” with party politicians, and that the party system has become dysfunctional. But she added that to be Mayor “you don’t have to be part of that process”.
While running for Mayor, Siobhan struggled to get her voice heard by the public as her campaign did not get the same coverage from broadcasters that other candidates – who are backed by parties- received. She said that independent candidates are not given the infrastructure to speak during their campaigns, which has been seen once again with the three independent candidates in this year’s 2016 mayoral elections.
“It’s really hard for independents to break through. You know it’s going to be challenging financially, personally, and for the family. But if you don’t see a platform on which to have a fair voice on like everyone else, it’s just going to put you off.”
Portrayed as a ‘fed up mum’
While Siobhan noted that being a woman was not a “key issue”, she did believe that it “played in the hands of people” who wanted her to be portrayed as a “fed up mum”. She said that, in that sense, “they were using gender issues in a way they would never do if reporting about men” and said that even though she got good coverage from the newspapers, she was always asked about her family and other personal issues, with less attention being given to her policies.
“Looking back, the overriding image you got of me if you didn’t know my background was that I was a mum who was fed up of staying at home and with politicians, and who wanted a go as Mayor. That was the way I was being covered.”
Tackling the housing crisis for young people
Siobhan placed youth at the centre of her campaign because she believes that politicians are failing to represent young people. Candidates often know that most voters are going to be elderlies, so they give all the “political sweeties” to them.
Siobhan stressed that one of the first things the Mayor of London should focus on is housing – an issue that will affect generations to come. She noted that “costs of travel and rent” are one of the key issues facing young people in the city, despite whether they’re coming from university or schools.
“In terms of young people trying to establish themselves in London, that is just ridiculous. It’s a catch 22, since if you can’t afford to rent a place and travel to job interviews, it is virtually impossible to even start the process of establishing yourself in the city. So much more could be done to look into cheaper fares for young people across London and the housing market.”
The former mayoral candidate went on to say that she would have personally focused on adopting intergenerational policies. For example, she would foster a matching process by which professional single people looking for a room to rent could be matched with elderly, often “lonely” people who would “actually welcome having someone in their home”. However, she added that the process should be “carefully vetted”.
Engaging youth in politics
Siobhan argued that young people are still not being properly engaged in politics. She placed emphasis on changes to the registration process, for example, “has been appalling and has lost a lot of young people off the electoral register”.
She believes that the turnout of young people in this year’s mayoral election won’t be very high, with the age group still being underrepresented by politicians.
“If I was a young person following the campaign I’d be completely turned off because so little is being said about policies relevant for them, and that is just underpinning this sense of ‘what’s the point’. I think that’s a shame.”