It seems to me that the first responsibility of the mayor of London is to seek to represent all his or her constituents to the best of his or her ability. This means first and foremost recognising diversity – whether that be gender, race, age, disability or sexuality. This also means that no policy can be seen in isolation from the impact it has on others. Therefore, for example, any policies relating to young people need to be seen in the round – not giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
Having reviewed the manifestos of the main candidates it is clear that they don’t have that much to say about young people specifically, although some of the commitments made are to be welcomed.
Ken will reinstate education maintenance allowance (EMA), Brian will initiate a hotel tax to pay for youth hubs and implement the Youth Contract in London, Boris will instigate a police gangs taskforce and extend transport discounts to apprentices over 18. Jenny will establish a Youth London Assembly to scrutinise the mayor, Siobhan Benita commits to a youth mayor and the UKIP candidate has nothing at all to say about children and young people.
I have to say I welcome Ken’s commitment regarding EMA, while I accept that it could have been reformed, it demonstrably made a difference to the decisions of many of our young people when it came to staying in fulltime education.
At a time when the coalition mantra is all about making work pay, it is ironic that one of the pathways to work – education – doesn’t pay and it is better financially for a young person to be on jobseeker’s allowance. And we know that transport is one of the number one issues for young people across the country – so any cuts in the cost of public transport will benefit them particularly. Of course I support Brian’s initiative – staying in the US at the moment I was shocked to find myself paying a 13% hotel tax – so 1% at luxury hotel tax is neither here nor there for many visitors.
It is interesting to compare and contrast Boris’s approach to young people with the other candidates. Of particular interest is that the non-police officer calls for a more punitive approach to young people, while the ex police officer recognises the importance of investing in those same young people in order to prevent them getting involved in gangs in the first place.
Apart from the gangs taskforce and investing in apprenticeships there is little else in Boris’s manifesto about young people, this despite the fact that a whole section of his manifesto is devoted to “Supporting Older Londoners”. This is a shame because to give him credit it is evident over his term of office that he has recognised the importance of investing in our young people.
So who would I vote for if I could? Well as a Lib Dem of course it would be Brian Paddick (not least because with my Lib Dem hat on I would seek to ensure he initiated far more of our national youth policy), but my second preference would have to go to Jenny Jones. Based on my criteria above, her evident recognition of diversity issues, her commitment to tackling poverty and reducing inequality as well as a more realistic approach to youth involvement through a youth assembly – she certainly ticks most of my boxes!
Having said that, whoever wins the race I trust they will be prepared to look at some of the great ideas from the other candidates on youth issues and do their best to implement them.