Today, PinkNews.co.uk held the first of our Live Mayoral Q&As with the independent candidate Siobhan Benita. She popped into the PinkNews.co.uk office to answer questions on schools, transport fare cuts, why she’s often been ignored by the mainstream media and whether it’s right for London to be twinned with Tehran the capital of virulently homophobic Iran.
As with all of the Live Q&As we’ll run, she wasn’t given the questions in advance and had to type them on the spot, without editing.
PinkNews: Welcome to PinkNews.co.uk’s live mayoral Q&A with independent candidate Siobhan Benita.
PinkNews: Our first question from a reader: ‘As a lesbian and a parent I am concerned about homophobia in schools. What will you do with your community safety and policing role to lead on and tackle homophobia in schools?’
Siobhan Benita: As the only candidate with an education manifesto, I agree with you entirely that much more can be done to educate children and tackle discrimination of all kinds through schools. I would work with councils and relevant organisations to get this into classrooms. In my police capacity, I have said in my manifesto that I would ensure all forms of hate crime are dealt with fully and that police and police staff are properly aware of the issues and trained in how to deal with them.
Question From Kev
Under Boris Johnson, funding for Pride events, HIV services and LGBT organisations in London has been cut. How will you demonstrate your commitment to London’s LGBT community?
Siobhan Benita: Celebrating London’s diversity – in all of its glory – is vital. I would look to reverse some of these cuts, using a combination of GLA and private funding to support events like Pride. The Mayor has a new role in chairing the Health Improvement Board for London – and this comes with some funding – so I would use that to protect health and well-being services that will benefit LGBT community.
@owenlmeredith: How will you fund the 4 year fare freeze and cuts for low income workers you have promised? @Siobhan4Mayor #pinkmayor [via Twitter]
Siobhan Benita: Fare freeze is for two years (April 2014) and we’ve costed the full package of reductions at 54million per year. This is doable in existing budget (much cheaper that Ken’s cuts) and will not limit investment potential.
PinkNews: A reader asks: ‘The rift between the LGBT and Muslim communities in London has been very high-profile over the last few years, with homophobic crime on the increase and growing Islamophobia. What would you do to heal the rift?’
Siobhan Benita: I will work with all of London’s communities to build a more tolerant and respectful London. Religious belief does not trump equality. I will create as many opportunities as possible for positive dialogue between groups but will always be an outspoken opponent of discrimination. Again, I will clamp down on all forms of hate crime, related to sexuality or faith.
Question From Matt
Do you believe that your career in the civil service has made you more capable of seeing the outcomes of policy decisions than the other candidates?
Siobhan Benita: Yes I do! My fifteen years in Government give me an excellent insight into how policy is made, what works well and what doesn’t! One of the biggest issues fro me is the need to get more diversity in our decision-makers – if we continue to have such a small, elite group of leaders making policy it will never be successful in addressing the needs of the wider public.
Question From Phil
I’d like to know what you think about the PinkNews exclusive about Catholic Schools promoting the Coalition for Marriage in London
Siobhan Benita: I understand and respect people’s right to follow a particular faith but I do not believe that it is right to use a school environment to promote one particular viewpoint without having a balanced discussion and full information. The education system should broaden children’s minds – the promotion of the Coalition for Marriage in this way doesn’t do that.
Question From Jake
How will your education policies work to improve the feeling of disenfranchisement among London’s youth? How would you have dealt with the aftermath of last year’s riots?
Siobhan Benita: I have placed young people at the heart of my campaign from the outset. It’s not just my education strategy (which will improve opportunities for pupils for currently get left behind) but by appointing a Young Mayor for London and establishing a Greater London Youth Authority (also policies in my manifesto) I will give young Londoners a strong voice in City Hall and send a clear signal that their views are respected and valued. With regard to the aftermath of the riots, I would have (and have done) much more face to face engagement with young people across London to understand the issues and challenges that they are facing.
PinkNews: A reader asks: ‘Do you believe it is important that the mayor’s office supports benchmarks which measure diversity e.g. Stonewall Diversity Champions?’
Siobhan Benita: Yes – 100%. I would also launch a Mayor’s annual Equality and Diversity Awards to recognise good practise.
@scottjsroberts: @pinknews @Siobhan4May if you had to pick between Boris and Ken, who has the best LGBT policies and record? #pinkmayor [via Twitter]
Siobhan Benita: It has to be Ken. I have a lot of respect for his record in this area – one of the reasons I voted for him myself in the past!
PinkNews: A reader asks: ‘Among others cities, the GLA has a twinning arrangement with Tehran, the capital of Iran where the punishment for homosexuality is the death penalty – would you de-twin London and Tehran?’
Siobhan Benita: I have to admit that I didn’t know we were officially twinned with Tehran. This doesn’t sound right to me. I would want to look into it further but my instinct is that there must be many other cities – with values and rights more aligned to ours – with whom we should be twinned. I will find out more….
Question From James
A lot of your campaign has got bogged down with having to campaign to get noticed. It’s great that PinkNews has given you a platform unlike the BBC or even Stonewall. The odds are so stacked against winning but do you think you’ll come back and fight in 2016, hopefully with a lot more respect from the big media companies?
Siobhan Benita: Yes I really appreciate this opportunity from PinkNews – it’s been frustrating having to spend effort battling the broadcasters to get coverage – especially as I have so many things to say! (Particularly upset that the BNP get an election boradcast whilst I don’t!) Despite all that, we have great momentum behind us, lots of support and growing each day. I’m really focussed on 3 May. In longer term, I have found my political calling so watch this space….
PinkNews: A reader asks: ‘Elderly LGBT people are one of the most economically vulnerable groups in our society. Few have families, often because it was harder for them to adopt children and some were disowned by their families when they came out. What will you do to combat the economic and social deprivation these older people face?’
Siobhan Benita: You’ve raised a very good point here – one that rarely gets discussed. As with any group that is marginalised in this way, the Mayor should create as many opportunities as possible for people struggling with similar issues to come together, share experiences and provide support for each other. This does also seems to be a well-being issue (as much as an economic one) so I would explore targeted initiatives using the new public health budgets that are now available.
Question From Shideh
Other than your education manifesto and your independence from any political party, what else would you consider to be a strength of your campaign?
Siobhan Benita: I have a full range of very creative policies, for example, the creation of a low-cost, fixed price housing market, a “get local” initiative to tackle residents’ top 5 day to day issues, a complete external review of the Met Police, late night tubes, free travel for job seekers and so much more (see my manifesto!). In general on the campaign itself, we have shown that you can make a real impact running a positive campaign and challenging the traditional ways of doing things.
PinkNews: A reader asks: ‘The public perception of, and trust in, the Metropolitan police is pretty low – this is a serious concern for minority groups that are at higher risk of crime. What would you do to reverse this?’
Siobhan Benita: I have said that I would have the external, independent review of the Met Police that so many people have been calling for for a long time. It would address efficiency issues (the Met will need to do more with less over coming years so must get smarter in the way they use their officers and staff) but, crucially, it would also examine the cultural issues that need urgent consideration, including allegations of racism, relationship with the press, use of stop and search and treatment of people in custody. All of these issues must be looked at by an independent team, to include representatives from the public and communities, and I would act on the recommendations of the review.
PinkNews: Thank you very much to Siobhan Benita for coming in to answer Pink News readers’ questions ahead of next week’s London mayoral election. Thank you to our readers too – join us at 10am tomorrow when the Green Party’s Jenny Jones will be taking your questions.