As Londoners prepare to take to the polls to select Boris Johnson’s successor as London Mayor on May 5, we’re finding out what the five main candidates (Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, Green & UKIP) will be doing for the capital’s LGBT community in the face of closing venues, rising HIV rates and increasing levels of recorded hate crime. We’ll be speaking to a different candidate each day this week: We've already caught up with the Green Party’s Sian Berry
and UKIP's Peter Whittle
, and today it’s the turn of Liberal Democrat candidate Caroline Pidgeon, who's led the party in the London Assembly since 2008.
Why should LGBT voters be backing you this week?
I think London Liberal Democrats have a long and proud history of supporting the LGBT+ community, and there are a number of areas where I think we have policies the community will be interested in. One of the issues I've done a lot of work on in the London Assembly is hate crime: it's on the up in London, and particular boroughs such as Westminster, Southwark and Lambeth really have highest incidents. One of the things we'd look to do is make sure every London borough has a hate crime policing post in place. I know Lambeth are currently deleted those specialists posts - we actually think it's really important ot have specially-trained officers in this area to help people who have been victims of hate crime. We'll develop a London-wide strategy for investigating and prosecuting hate crime, we think that's really important.
Like you say, those numbers have been on the rise. Do you think that's down to better reporting or is there a growing problem here?
It's difficult; it's the sort of crime that's difficult to define. I don't think we have evidence either way, but I hope the community does have the confidence to report these things more. But we need to be tackling it, and that's why I think we need pro-active policing within the community and those trained-up officers to deal with this.
Rising HIV rates in London among gay and bisexual men are also a growing concern, at a time we're seeing local outreach and prevention services slashed. What are the things you could do as Mayor to address this?
I'm frustrated the Mayor doesn't have more say over health, but it's a major concern. The Mayor doesn't concern any of the public health budgets in London, which I think is wrong. But I would be lobbying government to have more of a say over that. And also the community disproportionately feels the effects of drug and alcohol addiction, and I think we need to support these with much more tailored services. I know an issue I've been talking to people about is drugs, the chemsex scene, and obviously people are taking risks there. If people come to a clinic and are worried about risks they've taken - and this is a national issue - we also need to be looking at anti-HIV transmission treatments like PrEP, whether they should be available on prescription to help people who are in that lifestyle to help protect them from that risk. I think that's the sort of the thing the Mayor should be able to talk to the NHS about, and say we've got this particular need in London, and we need greater investment and support.
I think I read that St. Thomas's Hospital, because they're seeing a number of gay men coming in who've overdosed on G, and the impact that has, they're giving out little syringes so people can measure the drugs they're using. Obviously these drugs have harmful effects and people need to be aware of those, but if that's the choice someone's making, you need to make sure they're not overdosing. It's really important to make sure that practical help is available across London. It's also about supporting charities and the groups out there who are doing the work, to make sure they're properly signposted and resourced. I understand not everyone who's gay is taking part in chemsex, but it's such a high-risk activity we need to make sure we're supporting those people.
There was a lot of controversy last summer over the decision to ban UKIP's LGBT contingent from marching in the parade. Do you think that was a fair decision?
I think, you know, they could have easily been about to march - I don't like their stance on many things, but they could have easily marched. But I think the real issue about Pride is guaranteeing its funding, and I can assure you that the Liberal Democrats will guarantee the funding of Pride at the current level of £100,000 for the next mayoral term. But also what I'd like to see is that if the team running Pride can get further corporate sponsorship, we would match that pound for pound up to and additional £50,000. I've been to may of the last few Prides - apart from he year when I was very heavily pregnant, which you'll have to forgive - but I love the atmosphere and I love the feel of it. It's a really important celebration for London.
Housing and development is such a big issue for London at the moment, but specifically for the LGBT community, concerns have been growing with the closure of historic venues, especially in Soho. Obviously this ties into what's being redeveloped and for whom. How are you going to guarantee that development is taking place in the necessary areas, instead of turning historical London into blocks of luxury apartments?
Absolutely. This is happening too much, and too many historic venues have disappeared. I did support the listing of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern - I'm a south-east London girl so I know the area well. But you're right, redevelopment cannot come at the expense of our communities and our history. It's about having a London-wide plan, and redevelopment has to be in the right place. We can't destroy our history and cultural heritage. The big thing I want to do around housing is I'm pledging to build 50,000 homes a year, 200,000 over the term, and one in four will be genuinely affordable housing, what I would call council housing. It's really important that we build the homes, and what I'd do at city hall is set up my own building company - I'm not relying on the private sector here - I'd set up my own building company to build the homes, and I'm going to set up a construction academy to help the workforce to build the homes, because there's a crisis in that area as well.
Obviously the Conservatives' Zach Goldsmith and Labour's Sadiq Khan are the frontrunners - do you think there can be a sense of complacency about these issues when the job of Mayor swings between those two parties?
I mean what I'd say about this election is that it's wide open. We don't have a current Mayor re-standing, nobody know that candidates that well, and actually I've got eight years experience on the Assembly working day-in, day-out for Londoners. I was a borough councillor for 12 years before that, so I have got a strong record of public service and delivering things for Londoners. You've also got the Assembly election on the same day, and we've got a strong team here making sure that they Mayor, whoever they are, keeps their promises. But I'm an ordinary Londoner just like everyone else: I know the issues people face perhaps more than my opponents. I hope people look at our policies, look at our record, and give us their support.
London’s Mayoral election takes place on May 5. For more information on Peter’s campaign, visit caroline pidgeon.org.
Green London Mayoral candidate Sian Berry on what she’d do for LGBT Londoners
UKIP's Peter Whittle: 'I'd love to be London's first openly gay Mayor'