UK Politics

Profile: London mayoral candidate Siobhan Benita

Siobhan Benita (Pic: Siobhan For Mayor)
Siobhan Benita supports a third runway at Heathrow airport

Former civil servant Siobhan Benita is the only independent candidate standing in this year's London mayoral race.

She has high-profile backers, including former Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell and actor Tom Conti.

The Times newspaper has named her "the one to watch", while the Evening Standard has dubbed her the Borgen candidate, after the Danish television series in which a female outsider takes victory in the general election.

Policy-wise, she's the only candidate backing a third runway at Heathrow airport, and wants to make the Tube run later on Friday and Saturday nights.

She has also promised to "tackle London's fox menace", something she says is "a serious issue" for many residents.

But she argues she's been shut out by the media and hasn't been given the air time to put her case.

NHS shake-up

The daughter of an Anglo-Indian mother and Cornish father, Ms Benita has lived in London all her life.

A married mother of two, she joined the Civil Service in 1996, working her way up to head of corporate management at the Department of Health.

Before that, she had served as head of Civil Service governance and communications at the Cabinet Office.

Ms Benita quit the Department of Health in October 2011, in part over the government's shake-up of the NHS.

She told the Guardian she believes the changes have "not been endorsed democratically", adding: "I saw a health secretary behind the scenes arrive with a fully worked up set of reforms that no one in the public knew about."

She says civil servants, herself included, did not do enough to challenge the plans "because we were trying to show we were flexible and responsive to a new administration".

'Free London'

While at the Civil Service, Ms Benita helped found women's network Tabelle, but she found herself excluded by the sisterhood, so to speak, when the Fawcett Society - dedicated to the promotion of women in politics - reportedly refused her a seat at its hustings.

She also says BBC rules on the coverage of mayoral candidates have prevented her getting her message out to voters.

She says: "I am not naive, and I know it is hard for big institutions to change, but I think with the strength of feeling against party politics, it is important some media organisations think how their rules restrict politics."

The ideas she wants Londoners to hear include a commitment to expanding Heathrow - in part on the basis that it would create tens of thousands of jobs in the west of the capital.

Also on the subject of transport, she is pledging to provide free travel for jobseekers and reduced fares for low earners, as well as a monthly "Free London" day, where locals can travel for free and have access to discounts and offers in restaurants, shops and attractions.

Elsewhere, she wants to appoint a Young Mayor for London and make education, particularly of the poorest and most disadvantaged, a top priority.

"We should set some specific bespoke target for specific groups across London. That is absolutely in the mayor's remit to help boroughs to do that," she says.

In her capital, a new education commissioner would take overall control of this mission, while a new youth assembly would be able to hold the politicians to account.

On her two main rivals, Ms Benita is scathing. She says Conservative candidate Boris Johnson has made some "outrageous" spending decisions, pointing specifically towards the new Routemaster bus.

Despite admitting voting for him in the past, she now describes Labour's Ken Livingstone as "a bitter, divisive figure" and someone for whom she could never again place a cross in a ballot paper box.

Ms Benita says she believes the London mayor shouldn't be a party political role and as an independent, she can be more open to new ideas and constructive criticism than those encumbered by the party machine.

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