Lib Dem London Mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon interview: ‘I think it’s important to have a female Mayor’

Caroline Pidgeon, Lib Dem Mayoral Candidate and member of the London Assembly and Leader of the LibD

Caroline Pidgeon, Lib Dem Mayoral Candidate and member of the London Assembly and Leader of the LibDems in London - Credit: Archant

Caroline Pidgeon may be less high profile than some of her rivals in the mayoral race, but on a campaign visit to Camden this week, the Liberal Democrat candidate firmly denied she is the quiet woman of the race.

“Anyone who knows me knows I’m not quiet at all, so that’s definitely a misconception,” she said.

Whilst Zac Goldsmith is known for his privileged background, and Sadiq Khan as the son of a bus driver who became a lawyer, Ms Pidgeon believes it is her “ordinary” quality which means she is ideally placed to become the city’s first female Mayor.

“I’m just an ordinary Londoner, I’m the one rushing to catch the tube in the morning and hoping it’s on time, and I’m the one taking my two-year-old to nursery,” she said.

Having grown up in Southampton as the daughter of a carpenter, she became interested in politics at the University of Wales, and said it was moving to London afterwards which inspired her to become politically active.

“I saw that things weren’t getting done in the borough where I lived, and there was very much a top-down approach of ‘we know best’ and so I stood for election and won my ward near the Elephant and Castle.”

Like all the candidates, she agrees the housing crisis is the biggest issue for London, and says she has a fully costed plan to build 200,000 homes over the next four years, including 50,000 council houses, and the rest for either rent or sale.

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“My budget would keep the council tax precept of £20 per year, which we are all paying currently for the Olympics, for a housing fund, against which we could borrow two billion pounds, which we could use for house building.

“I would also have my own building company at City Hall, so I wouldn’t just be relying on developers in the private sector.” She also wants to bring in a licensing scheme to professionalise the private rented sector and to abolish what she calls “rip-off” letting fees, but wouldn’t go as far as rent control schemes, as she believes these stunt house building.

She also has a policy to set up a “skyline commission” with planning experts to look at where it is appropriate to build taller developments. She said that, in principle, there is nothing wrong with taller buildings “in the right place, but they have got to be really good quality designs.”

She said that working alongside Boris Johnson at City Hall for the past eight years has been “challenging, like nailing down jelly at times,” and believes that having a female mayor could be just what London needs.

Whilst she may not be a Parliamentarian, having served on the London Assembly for 8 years following 12 years as a borough councillor in Southwark, she is a politician of considerable experience.

She said: “I’m a London-wide politician, and I’ve done lots up in Camden and the neighbouring boroughs, taking up issues such as HS2 and the upgrade of the Jubilee Line, when I was a vehement campaigner to get the mess sorted out.”

“I’m not running for Mayor because I want to be something, I’m there because I actually want to do something. I see this as the greatest job in the world where you can make such a difference for Londoners.

“I think it is important to have a female Mayor, to have someone who comes at things with a different perspective. . I think it’s time to have someone who knows City Hall from the inside out, and who could get on with the job from day one.

“In too many things, Boris has been obsessed with his vanity projects, like the cable car, the garden bridge, and so on”

She accepts the Liberal Democrats have some way to go to rebuild after their disastrous showing at last year’s general election, but insists that whatever current opinion polls might predict, it’s game on for the mayoral contest.

“I don’t think any of my opponents have the personality of a Boris or a Ken, so I don’t think the electorate knows them that well. I think this election is quite wide open, actually. ”