London mayor election: Lib Dems' Luisa Porritt on liberty and LTNs

The Liberal Democrats' Luisa Porritt

The Liberal Democrats' Luisa Porritt - Credit: Andrew King Photography

"What I know is that I stood in two elections - I've won both of them, but no one thought I was going to win either of them."

Luisa Porritt is under no illusions about the challenge of this year's London mayoral election but she is clearly relishing the chance to get back on the campaign trail.

The Liberal Democrat Camden councillor (Belsize ward) and former member of the European Parliament has hit out at the "Punch and Judy politics" of Labour's Sadiq Khan and Conservative Shaun Bailey.

It is a first mayoral race for Cllr Porritt, who took on the mantle after Siobhan Benita stood down following the 2020 election's postponement.

Cllr Porritt told the Ham&High Podcast that recent events have highlighted the need for liberal values, and has called for Met commissioner Cressida Dick to resign after policing of protests in the wake of the death of Sarah Everard.

She also criticised the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which would grant additional powers to police protests, something she said the commissioner has called for.

"That goes to the core of what liberalism is about, and a free society," she said. "So I'm very worried about this authoritarian direction that we seem to be going in."

But she says another fundamental issue is a lack of trust between the police and the communities they serve.

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"It's not just young women whose confidence in the police has been damaged by the events of recent weeks. If you're a Black, Asian or ethnic minority Londoner, then you've already got that problem of lack of trust in the police, and there are lots of reasons for that."

She said there was a disproportionate response to Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and that stop and search disproportionately affects people from ethnic minorities. She backs intelligence-led stop and search, but not blanket Section 60 orders "which are often reactive knee jerk responses after an incident has already taken place".

The Liberal Democrats' Luisa Porritt

The Liberal Democrats' Luisa Porritt at a Stop Brexit march - Credit: Liberal Democrats

One of the big changes in London during the pandemic has been the expansion of low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), aiming to promote walking and cycling, and cut traffic, through the use of bollards and cameras.

The policy is supported by the Lib Dems but Cllr Porritt said: "The problem that we've seen in the last year is that councils have often introduced schemes without consultation, and so that's led to some backlash by local communities because they feel like they weren't included in the decision making process."

The party is proposing an overhaul of the congestion charge and the ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone), with a pay-as-you-go roads charging scheme introduced. 

"It would be much better both for our environment, and fair on Londoners as a whole, to introduce a road pricing scheme that uses technology in order to charge based on things like the length of journey people have to make, the type of vehicle that they have, the level of emissions that produces," said Cllr Porritt.

She argues it would put TfL's finances on a "more sustainable footing", and that apparent interest in roads charging from chancellor Rishi Sunak means a case could be made for London to trial it. 

The Liberal Democrats' Luisa Porritt

The Liberal Democrats' Luisa Porritt - Credit: Andrew King Photography

Cllr Porritt favours setting up a London housing company and says the first job would be to look at how empty office space could be converted into affordable, zero-carbon housing.

She said as the economy recovers we need to move away from "this old fashioned retail model of just having shops on high street". 

"I think that we've got an opportunity in front of us to make our high streets thriving places at the heart of our communities again, and serving the needs of local communities by making them more services oriented," she said.

Though she is an outsider in the race, the Liberal Democrats will also be contesting London Assembly seats across the capital, and Cllr Porritt points to her track record and her party's success in the last European elections.

"So what I would say is it's often easy to write the Liberal Democrats off, but don't do it - because this is an election where people actually have the freedom to vote for the candidate and party whose policies and vision they most agree with," she says.

The Liberal Democrats' Luisa Porritt

The Liberal Democrats' Luisa Porritt - Credit: Andrew King Photography