When I think about London, I usually think about the West End shows, the bright lights of Leicester Square, and the tall banking buildings at Canary Wharf. I have lived in London all my life, a city that offers opportunities to succeed, and I want to see it thrive, and thrive along with it.  But despite these good intentions, Brexit, Covid and the recent cost-of-living crisis have forever changed the city. That ‘London spirit’ I once knew is in decline, with a competitive job market and young people being priced out of the property ladder. This is why the upcoming mayoral election is so important. 

On May 2, Londoners can vote for the best candidate to help bring the city back to its former glory.

Aside from the main runners, a few hopeful newcomers have caught my eye.

Let’s take a look at what they have to offer.

The Five Independent Hopefuls

Most of us have had little opportunity to hear about these individuals. However, understanding their motivation can offer useful perspectives and make us better-informed voters. This year, our five independent candidates are Shyam Batra, Natalie Campbell, Tarun Ghulati, Andreas Michli and Count Binface (yes, you read that last one right).

Natalie Campbell:

Natalie Campbell is a young vibrant entrepreneur who started her own business at just 19. She is now the proud Co-CEO of Belu Water, a British drinks business that has already given 5.4m in net profits to WaterAid. One of Campbell’s key manifesto promises is to ensure ‘Good Homes and Happy Neighbourhoods,’ believing that no one should have to spend 70 to 80 per cent of their salary on rent. Campbell wants to invest in more affordable homes and bring in a ‘sense of community’ by introducing community policing.

The promise of affordable housing is all too familiar to Londoners. Despite holding the mayoral post for the last eight years, Sadiq Khan has not delivered on housing targets that promised ‘520,000 homes’ over 10 years.

Shyam Batra:

Shyam Batra, the 62-year-old finance and property broker and self-proclaimed ‘Ambassador of Hope,’ has another idea to meet Londoners’ housing needs. In his ‘Prosperity not Poverty’ promise, he wants to start by helping homeless individuals. Homelessness in London is on the rise. As of August 2023, an estimated one in every 50 individuals is experiencing homelessness. This figure may not seem that shocking, but the struggle of being homeless in London is a real and serious problem when social housing waiting lists continue to rise. Batra wants to take the poorest individuals off the streets and into empty homes and warehouses, giving the property owners an ultimatum: either get someone in within three months or else!

Andreas Michli:

Andreas Michli is an entrepreneur and founder of a bodybuilding gym company that wants to get Londoners back to health. One of his campaign promises includes lowering the cost of gym memberships. This could be a welcome policy, with the average gym membership in London costing around £45 a month. Michli is so passionate about health that he even got into trouble for keeping his gyms open during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

However, Michli’s most notable campaign policy is to introduce ‘Operation Brennan’ — a strategy to help end knife crime. In 2022/23 there were approximately 12,786 knife crime offences. Michli also wants to introduce manned knife arches at hotspot TFL locations that can detect metal. However, this can only go so far. To tackle the problem of knife crime at the root, Michli believes we need to help the parents by offering support groups that teach them how to deal with troublesome children who get involved with knives and gangs.

Tarun Ghulati:

Tarun Ghulati whose website states ‘Trust & Growth’ is another businessman who has done very well for himself and is of Indian heritage. Ghulati has been living and working in the UK for 20 years and is a co-founder of the India Start Up festival, along with 24 other work experiences he lists on his LinkedIn profile! Interestingly, his Father is a former Secretary to the Government of India who was passionate about supporting farmers and promoting organic farming. Ghulati has a very long list of policies, one of which notably includes scrapping ULEZ and removing the Congestion Charge over the weekends and holidays.

The Ultra Low Emission Zone was first introduced by the current Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to help tackle London’s air pollution. The Transport for London’s website explains that ‘ULEZ has already helped to reduce harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 46% in central London and 21% in inner London.’ But many Londoners are unhappy, believing this to be another scheme to get money out of people. So, in February 2023, five councils challenged the policy at the High Court. Cllr Colin Smith, Leader of Bromley Council, stated the following:

‘In Bromley, this socially regressive tax directly threatens jobs, the viability and availability of small businesses, and causing significant damage to vital care networks, as well as creating a completely avoidable spike in the cost of living locally, at a time when some households are already struggling to make ends meet.’

Count Binface:

Our final candidate is Count Binface, who is probably the least likely to get voted in but deserves our attention nonetheless. Binface sees himself as an ‘intergalactic space warrior and leader of the Recyclons from planet Sigma IX.’ This candidate wants to reduce homelessness in London and see the British Royal Family relinquish their London estates to show solidarity with the people. (Good luck with that last one, Mr Binface.) Binface also believes that the monarchy has no place in the 21st Century. He offers a five-point plan which includes bringing down the price of croissants, renaming London Bridge after the English actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge, fixing the street in Hammersmith, and reducing the number of people sleeping rough.

Interview Highlights

Two individuals running in the race are of Indian heritage like myself, so naturally, I was interested in understanding what people thought about Ghulati and Batra.

The first person I interviewed (call him Mr P), is a Construction Manager who has worked in the sector since his early 20s (he is now in his 50s) and is from an Indian background. I had two questions for him: 1) What are your thoughts on having two Indians running, and is this good for diversity? and 2) Would you vote for either of them?

Mr P: ‘It is not an issue to me, and I would not vote for them just because they are Indian like me. If I voted for them, it would be on merit and what their policies are.’

He also revealed that the most important issue for him is ULEZ.

Mr P: ‘When people were consulted on the matter, 60 per cent did not want this, but still it went ahead. We do not live in a dictatorship, but it certainly feels that way.’

The next person I spoke with (let’s call him Mr Q), works for TFL and is in his 60s. Mr Q had some revealing opinions, arguing that diversity does not matter in this type of election and offering comments on the mayoral role itself. According to Mr Q, the role of Mayor should be treated like any other job that carries certain responsibilities — with experience being a priority in matters involving homelessness, crime, and the maintenance of public roads. This is what he had to say about the current Mayor, Sadiq Khan:

Mr Q: ‘I did not vote for Khan in the last election, but whoever you vote for, you are taking a risk. I would vote for Gulati.’

The next Mayor of London, whoever that may be, needs to appreciate the difficult task ahead of them. As a young woman, I do not feel safe walking on my own around the streets of London after dark. I am also one of those people who spends money on Ubers to avoid trouble. I’m still uncertain who will get my vote on May 2, but I do know that Londoners want the chance to be happy again and thrive in their city.

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