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Mayoral candidates: Brian Paddick (Liberal Democrat Party)

April 05 2008
The former top cop believes that having somewhere to live is the first stage towards establishing more stable lives for homeless Londoners As the pace of the mayoral campaign picks up, Londoners are increasingly becoming aware of the alternatives to congestion-charging Red Ken or the cultivated buffoonery of Boris. Brian Paddick may have once been better known as the top-ranking gay policeman who advocated a softer approach to cannabis, but his campaign as voters realise there is much more to him than that. Mr Paddick is clear there needs to be a change at the top, and not for one of David Cameron's compassionate Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrat candidate has plenty of experience of a London that his counterparts are unlikely to have seen. As deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan police, he had responsibility for the management of territorial policing across all 32 London boroughs. He was a senior spokesperson during the terror attacks in July 2005, and also came into the spotlight for his public disagreement with Met police commissioner Sir Ian Blair over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes later that year.

But as well as the major events of the last few years that have shaken the capital to its roots, Mr Paddick is familiar with the mundane stories of misery that take place in the city and is keen to end them. "I am passionate about narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor," he says. "This is one of the wealthiest cities in world, and to have people living on the street, to have 50 per cent of kids living below the poverty line, is an absolute disgrace, not only after eight years of Ken Livingstone, but after 10 years of a Labour government. The Liberal Democrats are the only party that is really serious about narrowing this gap. There is a gross inequality that keeps the poor poor and makes the rich richer - homelessness is just one part of that."

The question of housing has been given a lot of air time by all the candidates - perhaps, in part, as a response to the hangover from last year's sub-prime crisis, and the fact that mortgage defaults are going up. The Lib Dem have for some time championed the move towards creating more affordable housing, and their mayoral candidate is happy to take up that mantle. "What we are talking about is decent affordable rented accommodation that would be suitable for homeless people, people currently in social housing and young professionals alike," says Mr Paddick. "We need to get away from the ghettoisation of particular social groups in particular housing developments."

The solution, he says, is to create a parallel market that starts at a lower base. He cites housing association Local Space, which works with the London Borough of Newham and local property companies to help vulnerably-housed families get a foot on the ladder. "That is the kind of mechanism we need," says Mr Paddick.

He acknowledges that getting a roof over your head may not be the solution to all homelessness-related problems, but is confident more affordable homes would address a major component of London's homeless population. Once people are housed, he says, it becomes easier to break "chaotic behaviour" patterns and become "more stable". "Having somewhere to live is the first stage towards stabilising people, establishing people," he adds.

Mr Paddick relates back to his own experience, when he offered his sofa to a young man who had been thrown out of his shelter for sniffing glue. "This is not just because there is an election on, this goes back years," he says. "If I become mayor, I will be active about the things I feel are important - one of them, which comes from personal experience, is to give those who want to get their lives back onto an even keel the help they need to do that. There are some people who want to live anonymously, and that is a matter for them, but there are a significant proportion of people who do want to get out of the chaotic lifestyle they lead and into something more stable. We should give them that opportunity."

The many A8 and A2 workers who end up on the streets or in hostels is a prime example of this, he says. But the solution must come from the top. "The whole immigration muddle policy that this government has now got is made up of inconsistent policies," he argues. "Most people do not come here to live off UK benefits; the overwhelming number of people want to come here to work, pay taxes, and contribute to the wealth of the country. People are finding that they come here and the work they thought was here is not, but when that happens where is the support? Either they are EU citizens, and therefore have all the rights everyone else has, or you say the economy cannot support that, and put restrictions down."

With Mr Paddick's experience in the police force, the idea that some readers are stopped and searched excessively and for no apparent reason comes as no surprise, and although he is committed to increasing police stop and search, he recognises it must be used in a constructive way. "We have to educate the police to use stop and search appropriately," he says. "Homeless people are an easy target for two reasons: they are on the street a lot, and the police see them as less likely to complain. Officers want to be seen by their bosses as doing something, but this is not doing anybody any good at all. They are picking on people who are vulnerable when they could be using that time to stop real criminals."

This ties in with another of his core policies: to ensure people who are vulnerable because of categories they are in - ethnic minorities, for example - are treated more inclusively. Mr Paddick is confident that with the right political support, chief commissioner Sir Ian could make the necessary "culture change" that would see an end to harassment of minorities.

"Ken is saying the police can do no wrong, but what we need is a constructive, critical mayor, who says the police are unnecessarily and unreasonably picking on the vulnerable. Ian Blair is the man to sort this out, and I am going to support him, because I do believe we need change - unlike the current mayor, who thinks that everything is fine."

It is not just over the police that Mr Paddick thinks Mr Livingstone has let London and its residents down over the last eight years of his tenure. He is highly critical of the mayor's pledge to eradicate homelessness by 2012, both of the feasibility of it, and the reasons behind clearing the streets of rough sleepers. "People have a right to be sceptical about what his real motives are," says the Lib Dem candidate. "Is he really genuine about helping people, or is he playing politics with homelessness?" Mr Paddick also highlights the lack of awareness-raising Mr Livingstone has done since he came into power in 2000. "His powers as mayor may be limited, but where is he using his authority to raise the issues nationally?"

He adds: "As mayor, you have a big democratic mandate. If the mayor chooses to champion particular issues, then people will listen to him."

In particular, Mr Paddick questions Mr Livingstone's promise to make half of all new developments affordable housing. "Since he made that pledge, the number has gone down to 34 per cent. There is a development near me that has just been approved with 30 per cent affordable housing. He is not delivering, and does not appear to be putting any effort into ensuring that promise is going to be delivered."

Mr Paddick is equally scathing about Mr Johnson. "He shows very little concern for people who are socially disadvantaged, as you would expect from a Conservative," he says.

To meet his long list of improvements needed for London, Mr Paddick would like to see more powers given to the mayor, to remove what he sees as the political affecting decisions rather than considering what is best. The lack of a unified response by local authorities to, for example, street drinking, is something he would very much like to see changed. "The trouble with London is you have 33 democratically elected local authorities, and it is very difficult to get consistent approach," he says. "A lot of councils are either shared power or marginal seats - London is more political in that sense than a lot of other places - therefore you get a lot of political decisions rather than the right decisions. To give things to the mayor that affect the whole of London, like homelessness, rather than local authorities - the strategic issue of social injustice, social welfare, those sorts of issues would be better dealt with."

It is clear that Mr Paddick views himself as something slightly apart from the other candidates, as he frequently distinguishes between himself and "politicians" who are at the beck and call of their constituency, or are motivated by reasons other than the desire to see improvements in the city. But will this strategy win over the cynical voters? "A lot of people say I am naïve," he admits. "But at least at the moment I get the platform to talk about these issues, and the practical common sense solutions - even if I do not get the votes."