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London mayoral race 2021: What did the audience think of the debate?

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By Sam Francis
BBC News, London

image caption(Left to right:) The Liberal Democrats’ Luisa Porritt, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, Sean Bailey of the Conservatives and Green Party candidate Sian Berry answered a range of questions

Candidates for the four largest parties running to be mayor of London clashed in Sunday’s debate.

Prompted by questions from an audience of six specially selected undecided voters, the candidates set out their stall on policing, transport and the capital’s recovery from the pandemic.

‘Emotions bring realness’

media caption‘What will the next mayor do about knife crime?’

Christian Douglas, a youth worker from south London, asked all the four politicians how they would tackle knife crime.

“I would say the candidates answered maybe 80% of my questions, but they were limited by time constraints,” he said.

“But I was pleased they all agreed about the need for long-term youth services. Inconsistent services can be more damaging to kids.

“What was reassuring was that they put their answers on the record. We’re going to hold them to account. I’ve already been in touch with the campaigns.

“It’s good when they get you to see them getting personal and talking about their track record. That’s when the real personality of the individual come out of them. Emotions bring realness.

“I didn’t know much about the Lib Dems before, but I liked Luisa Porritt’s responses across the board.

“She really impressed. She came with creative ideas and that’s what we need.”

Mr Douglas, who has previously voted Conservative at national level, said he remained undecided on who to vote for.

LONDON’S ELECTION: THE BASICS

What’s happening: On 6 May, people will vote to elect a mayor and 25 members of the London Assembly. Together they form the Greater London Authority, which governs the capital.

Why does it matter? The mayor has a £19bn budget, is responsible for transport and policing and has a role in housing, planning and the environment. The London Assembly holds the mayor to account. Find out more here.

‘There was some prolonged mudslinging’

image copyrightStephen Yates

Stephen Yates asked the candidates how they would improve life for cyclists, and what their plans were for creating a greener London.

He said he felt that some of the candidates’ plans to improve travel in the city were “not in alignment with their environmental policies”.

He said: “In particular, I felt Shaun Bailey dodged the question. He repeated his intention to make buses electric, which may improve air quality but will not make roads safer and encourage more cyclists.

“I feel like Sian Berry would really push for radical change. Her overall pledge to make London carbon-zero by 2030 is the correct level of urgency for the global climate crisis.

“Also, Sadiq seemed to have balanced policies and to be very passionate about all of them.

“There were some prolonged sections of mudslinging between Sadiq and Shaun which I didn’t think were particularly helpful.

Mr Yates, who voted Lib Dem at the last election, said he will “continue to scrutinise all the manifestos

“But I am pretty certain that following the debate, my allegiance is now with Sian’s Green Party,” he said.

‘Caring is one thing, implementing is another’

Zoe Firth, who works with domestic abuse survivors, asked how the candidates intended to prevent gender-based violence.

She said she was impressed with the candidates.

“Their understanding of the issue was good,” she said.

“I was glad that they all addressed how gender-based violence is a societal issue caused by misogyny and patriarchal norms.

“But I would have liked more time to address the concrete details of their plans to address gender-based violence.

“Caring is one thing, implementing is another.

“I also enjoyed hearing the expertise and experiences of my fellow Londoners on the panel; it was their insight that set a productive, reflective tone for the discussion.

Ms Firth, who voted Labour at the last general election, said she is “currently deciding between Sian Berry and Sadiq Khan” for mayor.

‘They took on board my concerns’

Pascale Mitchell, a mother of four living in a three-bedroom house in Bermondsey, south-east London, asked how the candidates would improve London’s housing.

She said her question went unanswered. Instead “the candidates were debating amongst themselves about their own policies on housing”.

“I think they took on board my concerns and were sympathetic to the situation but no answer was given to my question,” she said.

Ms Mitchell wanted the candidates to commit to building more social housing,

She said: “Living in London, it is impossible to buy a home large enough for my family even on an income of two average salaries coming into the household.

“I thought Sian Berry was the candidate who offered the best solutions to my issue.

“Sadiq Khan and Shaun Bailey both came from council homes but neither offered a real solution to my situation of overcrowding and affordability.”

Ms Mitchell, who has previously been a member of the Labour party and campaigned for the Lib Dems, said she remains undecided about how she will vote.

‘I found the whole thing quite scripted’

Suzanne Sullivan, who has driven a London black cab for nine years, says the capital’s roads are becoming more congested. She said the rollout of Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods had made things worse.

She asked how the candidates would open up roads to get “London working again”, but said no candidates answered her fully.

“I found the whole thing quite scripted from start to finish,” she said.

“They took it seriously, they [just] didn’t come up with much of an answer. I liked listening to them a lot of them, to be fair.

“I felt Shaun and Sadiq were arguing amongst themselves rather than involving [themselves] in the debate.

“From what I can tell from politics, it’s not about what they want for the people, it’s more about their personal gain and making their egos look better.”

She said the debate “helped make up my mind who I’m not voting for – Sadiq Khan”.

Ms Sullivan, who has previously voted Conservative, said she remains undecided but is “leaning towards” voting for Shaun Bailey. If “all the candidates had an equal chance” she said she would consider voting for Sian Berry or Laurence Fox.

Watch the full debate on the iPlayer here.

One audience member, Mo Bello, was contacted but was unable to take part in this article.

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