You could be forgiven for thinking that the Liberal Democrats were dead, buried and pretty irrelevant in London. The General Election saw the party lose all bar one of its MPs in London and in the last Mayoral Election their candidate, former copper Brian Paddick slipped to 4th place behind the Greens. I have to accept some responsibility for that last result as I was the Liberal Democrats Campaign Director for London in 2012. In a very difficult election, squeezed between the two big beasts of the London political jungle in Boris and Ken, we did just about manage to cling on to a couple of seats on the London Assembly. From a very low base the Lib Dems are planning their fight back in London.
Caroline Pidgeon held the first of those two Assembly seats and leads the charge this time around as the Mayoral candidate. Caroline is hugely popular amongst Liberal Democrat activists in London. She is a determined and energetic campaigner who has a handy knack of being able to jolly along the party faithful and get them out delivering and knocking on doors.
The reason you need to worry about the Liberal Democrats is that…
- Caroline Pidgeon has been on the London Assembly for 8 years and knows her stuff. Lib Dems are pitching her as the most experienced candidate who really gets the nitty-gritty of running London, as against the fairly flakey, lightweight Labour and Tory candidates who appear to be making it up as they go along.
- Caroline has a behind-the-scenes team of loyal, brainy policy wonks who have equipped her with a suitcase full of interesting policy ideas that are meticulously costed and appear to be fairly easy to implement.
- Caroline wants to bring in a tourist tax of £2 per room per night on luxury hotel rooms to fund improved childcare for Londoners.
- Caroline also wants to extend the extra money added to council tax bills for the Olympics, turn it into a housing precept, and use it to fund 50,000 new council homes.
- Caroline has a plan to make tube fairs half price before half past seven in the mornings.
- Some if not all of these ideas will almost certainly get adopted at some point by the one of the other candidates for Mayor (Labour’s Sadiq Khan has already adopted the Lib Dem idea of one hour bus tickets)
- Caroline and any other Lib Dems elected on her coat tails to the London Assembly will spend the next four years circling the new mayor ready to pounce on any weaknesses and administrative failings.
I’m a quite big fan of Caroline’s as you might be able to tell, having tracked her political career since she turned up as a bright young graduate to work for the Leader of the Liberal Democrat group when I was a local councillor in the London Borough of Southwark back in the 1990s. The first time I met her she was struggling to reverse her boss’s Volvo into an awkward parking space. She very soon got herself elected to a traditionally Labour ward in Walworth and built up a large majority by helping hundreds of local residents sort out their many problems with the council.
Caroline has been very good at getting herself all around London. I know this because she makes a point of being photographed campaigning with local activists in every single London Borough. The Liberal Democrats may be in a tight spot now but if anyone can steer the party out of it, Caroline can.