The truth about Brian Paddick

Sian asks just what direction the Lib Dem candidate for mayor, Brian Paddick, thinks he's cantering

The Guardian scored a bit of a coup this week, with three candidates for Mayor – including me - getting out their laptops over the weekend to take part in what can only be described as a stonking row on the Comment is Free website.

It all started when Ken Livingstone published a piece pointing out the uncanny similarities between Boris Johnson and Brian Paddick in the area of transport policy, and denouncing Paddick for announcing a policy to privatise the tube, something he called a “sharp change in Liberal Democrat policy in London”.

Brian is not one to take criticism lightly, and is also often to be found commenting on blogs in the small hours. (I’m almost positive the BrianPaddickDelivers who commented on my blog here is the candidate himself). So, it was no surprise to find one ‘BrianforMayor’ posting a long comment in response,standing up for himself and his transport plans.

Unfortunately, as I have written about here before (Porsche, Bozza and Paddick, 22/02/08, Ken’s accusations are spot on. However much he denies it, the fact is Brian IS in favour of privatising the tube. To be precise, taking it out of Transport for London’s control and running it on a ‘concession model’, the same way as the privatised buses, Docklands Light Railway and - until Livingstone bought it out recently - the Croydon Tram. Brian is proposing putting more of London’s transport systems out to tender, while Ken Livingstone is bringing more of them in-house, and this is a clear difference of policy, as well as a difference from LibDem views expressed in the past, and so is well worth pointing out in the course of an election.

Brian also stood up for his policy of opposing the new emissions-related congestion charge, in very similar vein toBrianPaddickDelivers on this site before. On Comment is Free, however, he was even less convincing, asking "why not graduate the charge like road tax?" despite this being precisely the plan: a zero rate at the bottom, with a large hike at the band G threshold of carbon emissions at 225 g/km. After many paragraphs of blog comments and several hustings, I still can honestly say I have no idea why he thinks the CO2 Charge is a bad idea.

But the most damaging accusation is that he is not pursuing the policies one might expect of a LibDem candidate leading an election campaign in London. It’s also the one where BrianforMayor has the flimsiest defence. His argument that "unlike the other two main candidates neither I or my partner have a car" is no kind of evidence of being a true LibDem on this issue.

Although I rarely dish out praise for people from other parties, the truth is that, on the £25 congestion charge, LibDem politicians were some of my 4x4 campaign’s earliest supporters, and LibDems along with Greens in local councils have been pioneering the same approach to parking charges around the country as well. With BrianforMayor calling these kinds of measures ‘playing politics with the planet’, there must be very many LibDem supporters out there - not to mention councillors and Assembly Members - wondering what happened to their candidate.

The to-and-fro of comments between Paddick and Livingstone continued for several very entertaining posts and that’s why I now owe newstatesman.com an apology. Because, I confess, I did succumb to temptation and get involved in the debate as well. In the end, I simply had to point out my own disappointment in Brian Paddick’s distinctly un-LibDem performance, and eventually took to my keyboard on Easter Sunday; what would otherwise have been a welcome day off (or at least a day spent reading the papers and generally catching up). I’m quite far down the page at 14.26 on March 23 if you’d like to have a read.
I do have a new development to report here as well. Today, while I was at a breakfast hustings with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones (our two Green London Assembly Members) delivered an open letter to LibDem leader Nick Clegg, lamenting Brian Paddick’s desertion of LibDem positions on the environment. Without a move from Brian to change his mind on the Low Emission Zone, tubeprivatisation or the CO2 charge, environmentally concernedLibDem supporters may find themselves with no option but to vote for me, they argue.

I’m very far from being a LibDem candidate (although I was described by the Daily Mail as a ‘chain-smoking libertarian who supports licensed brothels’, so my liberal credentials are pretty strong) but, with Brian Paddick moving increasingly far from his party in a different direction, I do think they have a point.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.