IN DEPTH: Mark Blackburn - I will topple Buck

AS a student activist at the London School of Economics his nickname was Blueburn in reference to the shock of blue hair he sported. Now, as plain old Mark Blackburn, he may have lost the dyed hair – but has held on to the political ferv

Sanchez Manning

AS a student activist at the London School of Economics his nickname was 'Blueburn' in reference to the shock of blue hair he sported.

Now, as plain old Mark Blackburn, he may have lost the dyed hair - but has held on to the political fervour of his university days.

The 51-year-old Liberal Democrat is gearing up to take on incumbent Labour MP Karen Buck and high-profile Tory candidate Joanne Cash in what is limbering up to be an interesting contest for the marginal seat of Westminster North.

This will be the first time he has stood as a parliamentary candidate in a general election, but he seems undaunted by the prospect.

"I've been active in parliamentary politics for only four years, but I bring a wealth of experience from outside the political realm and I can relate to people," he said. "I think some people who have been in politics a long time sometimes don't know how the real world works.

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"The important thing is to listen to people and not to assume you know all the answers."

But the St John's Wood resident is not a complete novice - having previously campaigned on behalf of the Lib Dems - and is fully aware that he has an uphill struggle on his hands.

"We've had an uncontested Tory council for so many years, Westminster is like a one-party state," he said.

"There hasn't been a Liberal Democrat councillor for 100 years. And when you consider how many people vote for us in the constituency I think that's grossly unfair. Westminster is split into extremely wealthy areas, which are solid Tory blocks, or poorer areas that have strong Labour support.

"So we're often second in local elections but we never return a councillor."

However, he says that this time, with a divided Labour party and faltering Tory opposition, his party has a very real chance of being voted into government and perhaps Westminster Council.

"When I'm going to people's homes and knocking on doors there's a much better reception than there was at the last election," he said. "They have warmed to people like Nick Clegg and Vince Cable and believe that we would be a credible party in government.

"The electorate is tired of Labour and doesn't trust the Tories, so it's a real opportunity for us."

During his campaign, Mr Blackburn said he has taken a special interest in the fortunes of small businesses. This focus relates to his former career working in the retail industry selling fashion and sports shoes for more than 25 years.

He was the managing director of Cobra Sport until the company was bought out by JD Sport in 2000. He then had his own firm, which he also sold in 2007, and he now works as a part-time property manager.

Revealing his views on Britain's current economic problems, he said: "The banking industry has got out of kilter - just having a licence to print money without being accountable is totally wrong. I think high street banking and investment banking should be separated.

"The health of our local businesses is essential for our whole local community. If you look at a place like St John's Wood High Street you have a number of independent retailers there who are finding it difficult in the current economic climate."

In light of these views, Mr Blackburn is particularly critical of Westminster Council's strict parking regime and the adverse effects he says this policy has had on businesses.

"Westminster is continually looking at raising revenue so they give the false impression that they're keeping council tax down," he said.

"But really they're robbing Peter to pay Paul by raising �7million in parking revenue and at what cost to local businesses?"

He added: "My solution is that we should be looking at subsidising small businesses by making the rates affordable and offering them the same opportunities as the bigger shopping centres.

"We should also have a freeze on parking fees or offer free parking at certain times."

Mr Blackburn characterises the Lib Dems as the true party of "fairness", which he says is what differentiates them from Labour.

This brings him to another major plank of his campaign - "fair taxation".

In a move that is unlikely to win over Westminster's Tory voters, he says that ideally he would like to see the poorest sections of British society paying no taxes at all.

"We need to close the gaping hole between rich and poor by taxing people at the top end of the salary spectrum and making sure income tax isn't paid by anyone at the lower end," he said. "As far as I'm concerned it's about equality of opportunity and equality of education. So we should be using Westminster's massive wealth to benefit the whole community.

"I believe people want a fair society and after the banking crisis there's a palpable resentment of society being unfair."

He believes this ethos of fairness should equally extend to education.

His party is currently proposing to overhaul schooling by reducing class sizes, investing in children at a younger age and increasing the funds for deprived pupils.

Finishing as he began with an explanation about why politics is important in his life and society in general, Mr Blackburn observed: "There are a lot of young people who say they hate politics and hate politicians but everything we do is politics.

"Every little group we're in is politics and we need engage with people through things like Facebook and Twitter.

"I also think there's a false impression that there's a difference between issues based politics and parliamentary politics and it's up to politicians to change that.

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