Mayor too weak on knife crime, warns Lib Dem challenger Siobhan Benita
Mayoral candidate heads to Belsize Park in first week in role
29 November, 2018 — By Richard Osley
Siobhan Benita in England’s Lane with Belsize councillor Luisa Porritt
SADIQ Khan was accused of failing to pull together an effective response to knife crime as the Liberal Democrats began their London elections campaign on Thursday.
Siobhan Benita, a former independent mayoral candidate who has been selected to stand as the party’s challenger to Mr Khan when the city returns to the polls in 2020, said: “What we are seeing at the moment is a Mayor who isn’t treating knife crime urgently enough. It does require police on the streets but actually this Mayor has decided to shut local police stations, and this Mayor has decided to merge borough commands.”
In an interview with the New Journal on Thursday, she added that more police was not the only answer and that all mayoral candidates were likely to suggest the need for more resources, but Mr Khan should have done more to improve relations between the police and young people across the city.
She added that faith groups, councils and smaller charities had not been connected in a co-ordinated response, a task Mr Khan had been best placed for.
“If someone comes forward and says they’ve got the magic answer then they’re lying, but if there is anything magical that is to be done, then it’s to listen to the people who are being affected the most and bring them on board,” said Ms Benita. “I welcome the new violence reduction unit that’s been announced but I’m not seeing the right people around the table.”
Mr Khan was sharply criticised for not visiting the community in Kentish Town – a 20-minute tube ride from his office – in February after one of the worst nights of violence in the area’s history, despite requests from relatives of two young men who died on the same night and even some of his own Labour Party colleagues.
The “Violence Reduction Unit” at City Hall was later set up but faced further questions after kicking off with an initial spend of only £500,000.
Ms Benita, who was a member of the government’s youth violence commission for the past two years, said: “There are grassroots charities in communities trying to do the right thing. Actually it needs the Mayor and City Hall to step in and help build those connections. If the unit just becomes another place where City Hall brings its mates in, you are not going to get those connections.”
She added: “Past mayors have always had their eyes on the next job – wondering if they are going to be the leader of the party – so they are surrounding themselves with people who might help them do that.”
Ms Benita was in and around England’s Lane on one of her first stops to meet Lib Dem campaigners before the gloves come off in her campaign. Belsize ward is considered a success story inside the party after it gained two council seats from the Tories in May.
She won nearly 4 per cent of the vote as an independent candidate in 2012, but said she had joined the party in the wake of the Brexit referendum result.
“Not just because I’m married to a Frenchman, so Brexit is quite personal, but I absolutely believe that staying in the EU is the right thing for London and the country,” she said.