Siân Berry could blow the London Mayoral election wide open

Sian Berry
Chris Jarvis

The race to be London’s next Mayor got interesting this week. The Green Party announced that Siân Berry will be its candidate for the election.

The significance of this shouldn’t be understated. There’s a real chance that Berry has just turned the election into a three-horse race.

Berry’s background

Berry was elected co-leader of the Green Party in 2018 alongside a re-elected Jonathan Bartley. In 2016, she was elected to the London Assembly. She has also served as a councillor in Camden since 2014.

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A formidable campaigner, Berry has stood to be London Mayor twice before. In 2008, she received a firm endorsement from the Independent and a softer one from the Observer. And in 2016, she beat the Liberal Democrats into third place, picking up 5.8% of the vote in the process.

As a Green activist for nearly 17 years, Berry has developed a reputation as an effective politician and a champion of left-wing causes. In particular, she has a strong background in campaigning for green, affordable and effective public transport, including through her work with Campaign for Better Transport. She has also led calls for radical reform of London’s housing. Most recently, she has been a prominent advocate of rent controls for the city, pledging to “never stop” pushing current mayor Sadiq Khan to fight for the power to introduce them.

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And it is housing that Berry has put at the fore of her campaign. In her victory speech, she said:

But few are more pressing than the housing crisis, which continues to get worse and worse.

For far too long, development in London, even on our public land, has been led by the biggest of the big developers.

But Greens have been listening to Londoners about the solutions to the housing crisis for many years. And when we make a promise, we deliver.

This background alone makes her a strong contender. But how does this relate to the other candidates?

The worst Tory candidate in history

The Conservative Party is clearly not content with its abysmal performance in the last election. Then, Zac Goldsmith’s campaign was widely derided as racist. This time, they’ve opted for an even worse candidate – Shaun Bailey.

The disastrous Bailey wrote in 2005 that single motherhood is “wrongly assumed to be acceptable”. In 2007, he suggested that a problem with our education system was that teachers were no longer solely men. And in 2006, he argued that young women intentionally get pregnant in order to claim benefits. He has since stood by these comments.

It’s quickly become apparent that the Tories’ mayoral ambitions are dead in the water. No wonder the first poll for the election found just 28% of people plan on voting for the Conservative candidate.

Sadiq Khan’s failures

Khan was seen as a new hope for London 2016. Ousting the Conservatives’ from city hall after eight years of the dreadful Boris Johnson mayoralty, he made bold pledges on everything from housing to transport.

Just three years later, the shine has come off. On housing, Khan is well behind his targets. In 2016, Khan pledged a four-year fare freeze for London’s transport. And yet in January, Transport for London announced significant fare increases across a range of services. Under Khan’s watch, income inequality has remained well above the average compared with the rest of England.

Khan’s time in office is therefore looking a little less than rosy.

A three-way race

With the Conservatives having selected a disgraced and discredited candidate in Bailey, and Labour shackled to Khan’s poor record in office, next year’s election is a little more open than usual.

This context provides fertile ground for Berry. Elevated now by her leadership position and higher profile, 2020 could be her year.

Many of the biggest issues facing Londoners – transport and housing being the most obvious – are her natural territory. With a strong reputation on both these issues, and a high likelihood that these will be what the election is fought over, Berry could very easily be the person who shapes the face of the Mayoral race.

This opportunity has also been recognised by other commentators.

OpenDemocracy UK‘s co-editor Adam Ramsay tweeted:

Ramsay was also joined by Matthew Butcher:

As we get closer to 2020, we’ll have a clearer picture of the mayoral race. For now, Berry and the Greens have definitely got off on a strong foot.

Featured image via Steve Eason – Flickr

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