We Interviewed (Almost) All The London Mayoral Candidates To Find Out Which One We’d Actually Vote For

The elections for the next London Mayor are looming. But in a world of spin doctors and soundbites, how are you meant to work out which politician you'd trust with our capital city? We meet 5 of the main candidates to try and work out what they actually stand for...

We Interviewed (Almost) All The London Mayoral Candidates To Find Out Which One We'd Actually Vote For

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

It’s the final strait for the candidates campaigning to succeed Boris Johnson as Mayor of London. There’s now just over a week to go. There are 12 candidates hoping to take over on May 5, including representatives from the Conservative, Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat parties, UKIP, George Galloway and the recently-founded Women’s Equality Party.

Housing is a huge issue - so much so that this has been dubbed The Housing Election - which is why, as members of Generation Rent, your vote and your voice is crucial. But in an era of social media-savvy politicians, soundbite and campaign strategists, how are you supposed to cut through the noise and make an informed decision? Or even get a sense of what a politician’s actually like IRL?

In attempt to find out, we met with the candidates from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and The Greens. We couldn’t include interviews with all 12 candidates, but we did also speak to the Women’s Equality Party’s as - for obvious reasons - we wanted to know more about their plans and policies for women in the capital.

So...here’s how we’d feel about leaving our capital city in the hands of these five candidates:

Zac Goldsmith, Conservatives


I’m waiting for Zac Goldsmith a small, independent Italian cafe and restaurant called Café Allegro on the high street in Surbiton, South West London. The location has been suggested by his team, I receive a text from one of them letting me know that he’s running behind and apologising profusely. Time for another coffee, a chance to check emails and ask Google just how rich the Conservative candidate for mayor actually is. Goldsmith is the son of a billionaire, educated at Eton and Cambridge.

40 minutes later I see Zac approaching through the large glass shop front. ‘Are we very late? I’m terribly sorry’, he really does seem to be. I’m used to lateness, the majority of people I interview are far more important than me and therefore often late, partly because they’re very busy and partly because that’s your pregogative when you’re important.

‘Do you mind if I chew Nicotine gum while we talk’, Zac asks. Of course not, I say as he pops it from its packet. A double espresso arrives for him, ‘thank you very much’ he says. Zac Goldsmith will turn out to be the most polite, considerate and courteous candidate I sit down with. He wears a blue suit with a green and blue tie, he looks very smart and is not, as other people have commented, difficult to hear whatsoever.

So what does he think the main issues facing young women in London right now are? ‘I think, without any doubt at all’, he says, ‘the biggest issue for young people – actually, for almost everyone, is housing. We have a housing crisis. It’s an over-used term but it’s correct…’

He’s aware that you can be earning a decent salary and ‘still not able to get on the ladder’. So what do we do? ‘The only answer is to build more homes’, he says. This will mean that people on ‘normal incomes will be able to get the keys to their first home’. He says ‘normal’, the implication of which is that his income, wealth and housing situation has, for his entire life, been anything but.

Building more houses is all very well and good, I say. But it takes time. While I’m waiting for the next Mayor to get building… ‘rent’ he buts in, knowing what I’m about to say next. ‘We haven’t built enough homes for rent in year’ he says, ‘the conditions for many [renters in London] are pretty grim, dependent on landlords and if you’ve got a hundred people competing for one place then they’ve got you over a barrel.’

In terms of a solution, though, it is, simply, he says again ‘building more homes’, and freeing up brownfield sites and public land on which to build them. If it’s so obvious that we need more homes and, as he says, ‘the biggest landowner is government’ then, I ask, why hasn’t this happened already? ‘Well...’ he slows his speech, ‘the truth is that no one, neither of the mayors, have built enough homes. If they had then we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Partly it’s because it’s taken too long to get the government to do an inventory of public land…but the government knows that we have a housing crisis in London.’ He, as a Tory, will be an ‘effective Mayor’ because he knows how to communicate with the government, he says.

Moving from housing, from where we live, to what we do for fun, to where we go out. I remind him that half of the UK’s nightclubs have closed in recent years, including many in London. Is he worried about this? About young people being left with few places to go, about the soul of London being sucked out as every available space is sold off and developed? London used to be the place to go out, I tell him. ‘I know’, he says. Although I suspect the kind of nights out we had as teenagers we somewhat different.

‘You’re right’ he says, ‘London is…still…one of the most dynamic cities in the world and the worst thing that could happen to London is if it just becomes one large homogenous block and we’ve got to guard against that.’ He says he will make sure that any property developers building near clubs will have to make sure the new homes they build are properly insulated against noise ‘the onus will be on the developer to insulate’ not the club to keep it down, he says.

‘Look at Soho’ he says, he’s worried that some of the proposals for Soho will ‘tear the heart out of it.’

And finally, there’s been mention of British Transport Police scrapping the special crime unit that was set up, specifically to deal with harassment and sexual offences on public transport. What does he think of this? ‘it’s not under the direct control of the Mayor’ he says, but ‘I do want to up the number of police on the tube. I will apply whatever pressure I can to prevent the sexual offences unit from being closed.’

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been cat-called or followed down the street on both hands, I tell him. ‘My daughters too’ he says, ‘I’ve got teenage daughters and they’ve been followed’. What do we do about it? ‘realistically it is difficult to know how you go about policing that but it’s not easy’, he says. ‘We need to keep police numbers up’ he says. ‘But, also’ he says ‘the police need to have better training, they need to know how to deal with complaints.’ And then we’re done. My time with the conservative candidate is up, it was hard to get 20 minutes with him in the first place and now he must go.

Zac Goldmsith - The Debrief verdict:

I leave him in the café and make my way back to my rented flat in East London. His intentions are good, I can see why he’s generally well-regarded and has a good record of working across different parties, particularly with the Greens on the environment. Some of his policies are also good. However, when it comes to housing the Conservative mantra of 'letting the market to regulate itself' might not be enough. Indeed, the Conservatives were the only party who didn't have banning letting fees as a policy at last year's general election.

You can read Zac's manifesto here

Sadiq Khan, Labour

Labour’s campaign headquarters are in Millbank, a stone’s throw from Parliament in Westminster. The office is busy - numbers, targets and maps adorn the walls, this is the heart of his campaign. I’m shown around by a member of Sadiq’s campaign team, she’s a similar age to me and fired up by the prospect of a Labour mayor. In fact, the majority of people I can see are relatively young. Sadiq is late, as all politicians are.

I sit down with him in an airless meeting room in the corner and begin to explain what The Debrief is to him, as I doubt he’s a reader. ‘Lots of my team read you assiduously’ he says before I can get the words out.

Khan is, as he tells me before the interview has even begun properly, the son of a bus driver who ‘grew up on a council estate’. This is his personal history, yes, but it’s also his USP. This is what makes him different to Goldsmith and he wants everyone to know that.

‘The biggest issue for our readers’ I say before he chimes in ‘housing’. Once again, he’s pipped me to the post. ‘London is the greatest city in the world’ he says, ‘but Londoners have been priced out of that city, ostensibly because of the Tory housing crisis.’ He lays the blame for the current situation fully at the door of the current government.

‘My parents used to live in a council property. I was raised on a council estate. In those days, on a bus driver’s salary my family had the security of a council home. When I was in my twenties I still slept on the top of a bunkbed in my brother’s room. But my wife and I skimped and saved and bought a property in our mid-twenties. Today, Londoners have no chance.’ He reels of familiar figures about the cost of property versus how much people pay in rent. ‘The number one priority for me’ he says, ‘is to fix the housing crisis.’

He too wants to set up ‘homes for Londoners’ and free up land owned by government and local authorities to build ‘affordable homes’. What is an affordable home, I ask, ‘I’m going to define what I mean by this. Boris Johnson an affordable home is one costing 80% of market value, Zac Goldsmith says it’s one where you pay up to £450,000. However, many of your readers won’t be anywhere near being able to afford this.’

He wants to bring in ‘a London living rent. This is a new thing that we’re inventing’ he tells me, ‘it will be a third of average local earnings.’ He’s also keen to build more part-buy, part-rent homes. The main part of the equation, he says, ‘is making sure the homes that are built are not sold off plan to investors overseas in the Middle East or Asia…we can’t be having our homes used as gold bricks for investors.’

Khan is a seasoned politician, he’s been MP for Tooting since 2005. He has facts and case studies at his finger tips, all of which are relevant to me. He answers questions before I can ask them.

‘The second part of the equation’ he says, ‘now you will know this because many of your friends are renting in London. 1 in 4 people now rent privately in London,’ if this wasn't an interview it would be verging on mansplaining a little bit, but he’s absolutely right. ‘There are things that the mayor can do. Firstly the London living rent – a third of average earnings. The second thing I want to do is set up – across London – a not for profit letting agency.’ Now, I’m interested. Perhaps he’s come across our campaign to #MakeRentingFair? ‘My not for profit agency will cover all of London, you can come to us and we’ll give you a tenancy for up to three years, the rent will only go up by inflation. You’ve got security. A landlord can come to us because we’ll give them six months rent up front, we’ll do all the checks for them. The combination of our not for profit agency and the London living agency will stabilise rents.’ He also wants to name and shame rogue landlords publically, by setting up a register.

He makes it sound so easy, if it can be fixed like that why has nobody done it already I ask? ‘For the last 8 years we’ve had a Conservative mayor’ he says. ‘Clearly housing hasn’t been their priority but, to be fair, successive governments have failed to see that there’s a problem with London. We need policies to address it – the market’s not working. We’ve got to interfere with the market.’

‘Since records began, last year the largest number of 30 somethings left London – why – they want to buy a property, start a family – that is a brain drain on London’, he points out that while there is a max exodus from London cities like berlin are attracting young people, he says this is because of things like ‘rent control.’ Once again, he’s taken the words right out of my mouth, I tell him I am a Londoner and, hand on heart, do not know whether I will be able to grow old in the city I grew up in. ‘My children’ he cuts me off again, ‘are by definition middle class kids because of what their parents have but I don’t know whether they will be able to afford to buy property in London.’

Too many young people are being forced to move home because of housing costs, he says. ‘I love my daughters but I want them to leave home at some point!’

It’s now my turn to cut Khan off, I get the sense he could continue to talk about the housing crisis, to tell me things would be better if Labour had won the General Election and draw, very well, on personal experience, for quite some time. But we are almost out of time. ‘What about night life?’ I ask. Many clubs…’ ‘are closing down’ he says, finishing my sentence again.

‘I will appoint a Night czar’ he says, ‘we need somebody looking after London’s nightlife. There’s a night economy here. It’s important for people to have a good time for people to have a good time for cultural reasons, but for economic reasons too. Let me give you some scary stats…since 2008 almost a third of live music venues have closed down in London…just think about that…’ I’m thinking about it, he’s got me. He’s good.

Time’s up. Heads keep bobbing around the door anxiously, Khan’s needed ‘we’re going to have to go in 5 minutes Sadiq’. ‘Ok, what about women’s safety…’ I begin to ask, trying to get one last question in. ‘It’s a big issue’, he says quickly. ‘Obviously I’m a politician but I’m a father as well. I want to be a proud feminist in city hall and it’s not possible to be a proud feminist unless you treat women’s safety as a priority. Let me tell you something, 4 members of Transport for London’s board are women. It’s hardly surprising therefore that they allow sexist adverts to be on the tube, that they’re happy to go along with British Transport Police wanting to shut down a special crimes unit for harassment on the tube…we’ve got to change that. Ending violence against women is a priority for me. I want to ban sexist ads on the tube. I want to publish a gender pay audit at City Hall to see what women are being paid there….’

Sadiq Khan - The Debrief veridct:

Just as we're running out of time and Khan starts quickly running through all the things he wants to do now, should he be elected as Mayor, of which there are many. There’s no doubt that he knows his stuff - his policies are good, especially on the private renting sector which he wants to disrupt with his not-for-profit lettings' agency. His ability to remember and reel off statistics is also nothing short of impressive.

You can read Sadiq's manifesto here

Sian Berry, Green Party

I’m waiting for Sian in a café in Dalston, East London. She’s late. Not as late as Zac, but still, late. She is the former principal speaker for her party and is the only Green councillor in nearby Camden.

She, like me, is a renter. ‘Your war is on letting agent fees, isn’t it’ she asks? I tell her it is and fill her in on #MakeRentingFair. ‘As Mayor I wouldn’t have the power to get rid of fees but I could come in and say “I want to see the end of this”. I would like to get more power for the mayor to control housing, and with that maybe the power to ban fees would come. It would be better to get rid of them nationally, though. Your campaign is winnable, though. Scotland have done it’ she says.

‘When you’re renting you’re really on the back foot…you have to pay fees and a deposit so many people end up going into debt.’ As mayor Sian has said she would get rid of City Airport and establish a renters’ union.

How do we fix housing in London? ‘You have to start with rents’ she says, ‘they’re taking up more than half of the average person’s salary. In some boroughs it’s more than that. It’s ridiculous. I rent myself. When I was living off my salary before I was elected as a councillor I was paying more than half of my salary in rent. If something went wrong – a vet bill, or a dentist visit for instance – I would end up in debt. It’s hard to see what your future’s like in London when you’re in that situation. We’ll be losing people to other cities if it continues like this because they don’t see how they can build a proper life for themselves in London.’

And what about nightlife? Surely we need to protect that as well to stop people leaving London? ‘Darren Johnson, our assembly member, really cares about this’, she tells me. ‘He’s actually retiring this year and he’s going to promote live music’, the Greens are very cool. ‘The problem with clubs closing is also because of the predatory property market’ she says, ‘owners are tempted to sell up, even if they’re making a profit.’ She, too, like Khan and Goldsmith wants to make sure the onus is on homes to be insulated against noise, not on clubs to keep it down.

She points out, though, that we need to sort the cost of living out because ‘you spend so much time getting by that you can’t go out. It’s almost Victorian. And that’s where we are going if we don’t do something about this. If the new mayor doesn’t get to grips with it we are going to have a city that’s completely broken.’

‘Ok, what about the safety of women on public transport and in public spaces?’ I ask. ‘Harassment is increasing’ she says, ‘something has changed in the culture – people seem to feel like they’re allowed to harass other people. We need crack downs, we need people to feel like they can report things. We need to make examples of people who are particularly bad. But changing the culture is something the mayor can do and promoting respect – we need to empower people. We need to call out even entry level harassment.’

And then Sian has to go. She’s speaking at a conference apparently the organiser has just been spotted skateboarding down the street nearby.

**Sian Berry - The Debrief verdict:

The Green Party are a really good thing. They've got good policies, especially on housing and Sian is spot on when it comes to the issues facing young renters in London. She can speak from experience as a renter herself, she's serious about renters' rights and making London fairer. *

You can read Sian's manifesto here

**Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrats

Caroline is the only person running for mayor who is currently sitting on the London Assembly at City Hall, she knows what she’s talking about. I meet her at The Liberal Democrat’s London HQ.

On housing, the Lib Dems actually now have banning letting agency fees as a party policy nationally. How does Caroline think we fix the housing situation in London specifically? ‘Building lots of homes…huge numbers of homes. But I’m not just saying I want to build homes, how my policies differ from the others is that I’m actually going to ask people to put money in. To keep paying the council tax level that they were paying last year which, within it, includes £20 that we’ve all been paying for the Olympic games! This will become a housing fund - against which I could borrow in order to build the homes we need.’

‘But then’ she says, ‘you’ve got the private rented sector. When I first came to London I rented privately, but it was nothing like it is now. The horror stories I hear now – a fee to go on the books, a fee when you move, a fee to renew…that’s why I put a motion to our party to ban these fees.’

‘We need longer term tenancies’ she says, ‘it’s become a whole industry and we need to properly regulate it and make sure anyone who is renting out a property meets minimum standards. There’s a minority of landlords and agencies who are exploiting vulnerable people and also ripping people off.’

She wants mandatory licensing, to ban rip off letting fees and, as she puts it, ‘professionalise the private renting sector.’

What about nightlife? Caroline says, as a mother in her 40s, she doesn’t go out as much as she used to but it firm that we need to protect the city’s ‘vibrant’ nightlife. ‘The night tube coming in will really help’ she says, ‘but we need to make sure that we look at London’s nightlife and properly support it. There has been a proposal to bring in a ‘Night Mayor’, I think that’s a really good idea. We need to plan properly and make sure that nightlife can continue to thrive.’

On women’s safety she says ‘overall crime on the transport network has gone down but sexual harassment has gone up. I’m proposing to put 3,000 additional police officers on the tubes, trains and buses…to tackle hate crimes but also sexual offences, it’s really important. And, we need to start seeing some high profile prosecutions on these offences. All too often it’s too difficult – the Crown Prosecution Service won’t take a case forward. We really need to show that such behaviour is not acceptable.’

‘Part of the problem, historically, for these kinds of offences is that if your experience of dealing with the police is not a good one then you won’t have confidence in them…we need more thorough training of police to ensure that people are confident.’

‘I’m fed up of going around London and speaking to young people who say “I can’t afford to live in London I might have to leave”. In the last year I’ve had staff, who are working for me, leave because they can save for a deposit in other cities like Manchester. If I came to London now I would never be able to afford to buy – we’ve got to tackle that issue. We’ve got to make sure young people can thrive in London.’ This is reflected in another of her flagship policies, introducing half-price fares for journeys starting before 7.30am to make transport more affordable. ‘London needs to work better for everyone’, she says.

**Caroline Pidgeon - The Debrief verdict

Caroline knows her stuff. She's right on when it comes to housing and the cost of living, she's got experience of working on the London Assembly and she wants to make sure London stays great. She does more than pay lip service to the housing crisis, she's wants to make London work for the people who live here and her policies reflect that.

You can read Caroline's manifesto here

BONUS ROUND Sophie Walker, The Women’s Equality party

We decided to speak to the Women’s Equality Party. As Britain’s newest political party, they might be the new kids on the political block, having launched last year, but they’re making waves. The basis of their politics is that women’s equality isn’t a women’s issue but, when women are able to fulfil their potential, everyone benefits from that.

I met their candidate for mayor, Sophie Walker, a former journalist, at their campaign HQ in Bermondsey. Their set up feels fresh, there’s a sense of excitement and everyone in the building is incredibly friendly and keen to chat.

Sophie is running late, but who isn’t. When she arrives I ask her how we make London a better place for young women? ‘The key thing, for whoever is the next mayor of London to take seriously, are that if you are a woman in London you are more likely to be living in poverty, to be out of a job and to experience danger on the streets and public transport systems’.

She’s onto housing before I’ve even asked the question ‘we all talk about affordable housing…but nobody ever actually stops to think about affordable actually means. And they never stop to think about what affordable means for women and for young women who are hit even harder by the housing crisis.’

It’s easy to point out that we’ve got a pretty massive problem, but what can be done? What are the solutions? ‘I think what’s going on here, with the current level of debate…it’s doing a huge disservice to Londoners. The thing that nobody else will say is that there is no silver bullet to a housing crisis of this scale. There just isn’t. What we want to do, because we do politics differently at the Women’s Equality Party – we’re non-partisan – is to get stuff done. We need to put the best of everybody’s ideas together on housing so that we can take action quickly. We need to be doing it now.’

She points out that women are hit hardest by the housing crisis because of the gender pay gap, ‘we need to put money in women’s pockets by closing the pay gap which, in London right now, is 23%.’

I ask her how we can help women who become trapped in bad relationships because they can afford to leave, they can’t afford to find somewhere new to live. ‘I’m really glad you brought that up’, she says. ‘We talk about homelessness don’t reveal the number of young women who end up in situations like this.’

‘I think your campaign on letting fees for instance is a very good one and a very sensible one, but none of this can be solved piecemeal. We’ve got to work together and sort housing out across the board.’

On nightlife Sophie says ‘we need to look at licensing in terms of social cohesion instead of just economic profit. I think it’s really interesting that LGT clubs are closing because of the reduced economic power of women to own and operate clubs.’ Does she think this is part of a bigger picture which shows that London is becoming a playground for the super wealthy? ‘I think it’s so important that there are places for young people to go. London is not a fun place to grow up, unless you’re lucky.’

The Women’s Equality Party have championed the need to end street harassment from the get-go with their #WEcount campaign. Sophie says ‘it’s about women being able to access every street in London, which they can’t do right now.’ Their campaign urges women to ‘reclaim’ London by using social media with the hashtag as a way of reporting the locations of sexual assault, harassment and cat-calling. They want to live-map the places where assaults have taken place so that women can make their voices heard and say ‘this must stop.’

'You’ve got to have a ‘zero tolerance approach to harassment’ of all kinds, Sophie says. ‘We also want a specialist fund for teaching sex and relationships education in schools so that we can grow the respectful and tolerant society that we want. That doesn’t come out of nowhere’ she says, ‘you’ve got to talk about it, you’ve got to make it a priority’.

Sophie Walker - The Debrief verdict:

The Women’s Equality Party were, as Sophie herself puts it, ‘born out of a frustration after the general election last year. Policies, politics and legislation through a very male lens. Men outnumber women in the House of Commons and that has a direct effect on what we prioritise in terms of decisions.’ This party wants to engage women, they crowd-source their policies, they’re crowd-funded and they want to disrupt the political landscape and change politics for good.

You can read Sophie's manifesto here

You might also be interested in:

The Reality Of Trying To Rent In London

Make Renting Fair: Why We're Calling For The End Of Letting Agent Fees

Here's How Much You'll Spend On Rent Before You Buy Your Own Home

Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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