We welcome your nomination as the Conservative Party candidate for the Mayor of London post in the 2020 elections.
SB: Thanks very much. It’s a tremendous honour for me.
JS. Would you tell me what inspired you to join the Conservative Party?
SB: It wasn’t any one thing, really. Growing up our house was always full of chat, including political chat, but most of my family supported Labour. So did our community. But I always felt Labour took our support for granted, like they thought they could count on us no matter what. That felt like a dependence, not independence. One of my uncles agreed and would always pipe up and say that it wasn’t Labour who gave him the option to buy his flat.“
But it was only when I got a bit older that I started to become aware of how politics impacted our lives. I was listening to very political rap music like Public Enemy and that sparked me into questioning what was going on. I found out that everyone had their own take on the issues. I suppose my personal philosophy has always tended to personal responsibility and the dignity of work, and those felt like small-c conservative values to me, and so when the time came to get into politics the Conservative Party felt like the best fit. Our community – and others like it – need resilience, responsibility and confidence. We’re more than the victims or villains that too many people like to portray us as; we are mainstream. And nobody – absolutely nobody – can tell us to get in line and support them.
JS. And how do you see yourself equipped for this post?
SB: Even more than my twenty years experience as a community worker, plus having worked at both local (London Assembly) and national levels of government (as an adviser to the prime minister, and adviser to several Whitehall departments), I am absolutely dedicated to improving the lives of every Londoner. People are my passion and my focus, and Londoners are my favourite people.
Sadly, I think too many Londoners are left out of the conversation. I think too much of what we hear about London is about the high-flying London, not the London I know, the London of strivers and grafters, the people working hard to get by. London is the best city in the world, but it needs to work for everyone.
And right now, it’s not. People are speaking up and we need to listen. I will. Because I’ve always been involved in my community, doing the organizing, advocating for people, getting us to challenge our view of ourselves so that we can succeed. Having those tough conversations, if you see what I mean? All of that will help me deliver
I’ve also been at the sharp end of the problems facing London. I’ve had to chase cheap rent around town, I use the transport system every day, and I’ve spent most of my life trying to keep young boys and girls away from the bad choices that lead to a life of dependency or crime. Being at the sharp end gives you extra motivation to fix those problems.
JS. What advantages do you believe you have to offer to Black History Month readers?
SB: My shared experience. I’ve been on both sides of public and private life. I know how government works and what’s not working in our communities. Say what you like about me, but I’ve always fought the corner of ordinary working people.
That takes an open ear to do. I’ve never claimed to have all of the answers and I’m always ready to listen and learn. My life experience has been fairly typical, I think, for many people in our community and communities like ours here in London, and I think it’s time that we were represented at the top reaches of government. And I’m not much of a partisan; I’ll work with anyone who wants to help. Too much of our politics these days is nasty and I think that turns people off. I’m here to do what I can to help Londoners get on and to keep London the best city in the world, the only city in the world that could have written my story.
JS. As a Londoner with a socially conscious background, recognising the barriers -economic, social and cultural for what is now recognised as the descendants of the Windrush Generation like yourself as well as other colour coded diasporas that make up a large proportion of the London community do you welcome the diversity of the city and what plans do you have to make it more inclusive for all?
SB: Let’s be clear: diversity is a bonus, not a guilt payment. We have all got something to contribute and our city works better when we can all do our bit. But making a city more inclusive is hard work. It means straight talking, not avoiding hard conversations. And we’re not going to be perfect doing it, so that means putting your hand up when you get something wrong, as I’ve had to do, and finding a way to move forward. I will always have that conversation.
Now, for me personally, if I had listened to people about the barriers in my life I would never have gotten anywhere. I’m pretty stubborn that way. I don’t listen when people try to put me in a corner, or a category. I’m just Shaun, and the issues that affect Londoners affect me too. Yes, I am a product of my Jamaican heritage – I am shaped by it and proud of it because it gives me my spirit and resolve – but, in addition to that, I also believe that focusing on common issues like housing, transport and crime – things that impact us all – makes us realise our similarities, instead of only noticing our differences. By that I mean we shouldn’t satisfy ourselves by only advocating from our own narrow corner of the world. We can ask for more than that, we can and should ask for a seat at the big table to make the big decisions. We can represent everybody, not just the black community. That, to me, was the lesson of Obama.
Because being Mayor means making everyone feel comfortable in our great city. Our differing backgrounds make us stronger, but we’ll be stronger still if we can also focus on what makes us the same. We all want work, opportunity, and a better life for our little ones.
JS. Whilst we welcome the diversity of the city in all that diversity has to offer, would you agree that certain communities have largely been excluded and ignored whether deliberately or otherwise giving rise to some of the heinous crimes that are now being highlighted by the media ranging from the use of knives and deadly weapons to forced marriages and a plethora of some unacceptable practices in between?
SB: You can respect liberalism, as I do, in our city like ours, but that doesn’t mean a blanket respect for every practice in a community. Let’s be straight: I think we’ve got some of the problems we’ve got now because we haven’t felt comfortable discussing certain issues. It’s a fine line between respecting differences and tolerating practices that can hurt people, and often women. We need to be able to have that cultural conversation without pre-judging anything and treating each other with respect. An open hand extended in friendship has a better chance of being met by another open hand.
For me, the best way to do that is to plug everybody into the best opportunities London has to offer. School and work are the things that help integrate us beyond our communities and into the broader culture of London. Again, we all want a brighter future.
JS. Will a part of your budget, if elected, be allocated to promoting acceptable behaviour for all thus promoting positive integration for all on all fronts?
SB: Yes, integration into the mainstream will absolutely be prioritized and promoted. It’s always been behind my work, whether in politics or before that in Ladbroke Grove, where I did a lot of work with my Muslim community there, to pick but one example.
City Hall does have a budget for social integration and mobility and these resources will be used to protect and help diverse communities and my attention will be 100% there. As Mayor I would use this budget to help put our various communities into work.
JS. The inner city has become awash with building works, many of which are very intrusive for residents, some even undermining the roads and surrounding buildings making the city unattractive for residents, workers and all who spend time and visit the city. Do you have any proposals to make London more user-friendly?
SB: What I’d say is London is growing, and that’s a good thing. It’s proof that we’re a great place to be, despite all of the naysaying from Sadiq Khan. But with London’s population growing to ten million over the coming years we’ll need to build, whether that’s Crossrail, which is now under threat, by the way, or housing – where the needs are acute and the targets for family housing have been removed – or new office space. There’s just no way around that.
That said, there is a lot more we can do to make London more cycling and walking friendly. I’m also a big believer in keeping our city looking attractive and green, so it continues to be an amazing place to live, raise a family and work.
The job of the Mayor is to strike the right balance between action and disruption. A big part of that is respecting local councils and working with them to deliver growth through projects that are managed properly. We can do these things well if we listen before acting and then act according to our promises to communities.
JS. How do you propose to deal with pollution from traffic, wood burning fires, factories, the uses of harmful products such as certain paints and building materials to name just some? Do you have plans in your manifesto to introduce specific guidelines to discourage the use of offending products?
SB: Our air quality needs to get better, absolutely. As an asthma sufferer I know what trouble it causes. Of course, there’s only so much a Mayor can do directly. But let’s be clear: where Westminster has the lead I’ll be using my experience and relationships to help get the change we need.
One place the Mayor does have control is pollution from traffic. We have got to sort out our clogged streets and traffic around our schools. For me, that means investment into our transport network, including the upgrades cancelled by Sadiq Khan, getting Crossrail over the line, and looking at ways we can decrease car and delivery van traffic during peak hours. And I would absolutely speed up the upgrading all of our buses to hybrid models. Doing these things would make our air cleaner, and decrease some of the frustration in moving around the city.
JS. What are your views on affordable housing and do you believe that low cost housing tagged on to high-end developments is a feasible solution to integrate a cross-section of society or does it cause social divisions and stigma?
SB: As someone who grew up in council housing, I know just how important they are to our communities and our economic wellbeing. Without a stable and secure roof over our heads we don’t have a stable foundation for either school or work. I’m speaking from personal experience here; I sofa-surfed for years – literally years – with friends and family while working my way through university.
So let’s be straight: we need to be radical. We need to look at things like rent-to-buy, new ways of pushing rent costs down, and ways to get rid of the red tape in our planning system, which is blocking too much housing, housing we desperately need.
When it comes to affordable housing, Sadiq Khan has been given a record amount by central government to build and he’s not delivering. Full stop. We need to make it easier to build and I would look for absolutely every way to do that, working closely with local councils and developers to get the right mix of social housing. That mix, by the way, absolutely includes more family housing; tower blocks of two bedroom flats just won’t cut it if we want more young families in London.
At the end of the day, we want as little segregation as possible in a city like London, whether that’s cultural or economic. We are all Londoners.
JS. The police and the Black Community are as disparate as ever. Do you believe that it is possible or even probable that on account of negative targeting of people of colour that they may have added toxic fuel by alienating the community who then became hesitant to report crimes leaving open a door and giving a controlling foothold to criminals, knowing the community had no one they trusted to turn to for help?
SB: Having been stopped dozens of times because I, quote, “fit the description”, end quote, I know how raw it all feels. I’ve also mentored those kids who are being watched by the police. It’s frustrating, you know?
We all know that, historically, relations between the black community and the police in general have been tough. Things like Broadwater Farm and Stephen Lawrence have poisoned the well. And they’re still tough now. But we have to sort it, don’t we? We need to find a way to work together.
We can start by giving each other the benefit of the doubt. The police have to realise their history with our community and talk with us. On the other side, we need to accept that the police are ultimately here to protect us. They have a job to do in catching those who break the law. We all know that knife crime is a terror for our community, even if you’re not involved. Our kids are terrified.
One thing I would say is that we need parents more involved in shaping the relationship with the police. To tell them how it is and, more importantly, why it is. If you could couple that with more training for the police on things like stop and search, and how to do it in a more respectful way, we’ll start to get somewhere.
But first, we need to know is that our leaders are with us. When I hear Sadiq Khan say knife crime is going to take ten years to fix I think of my boy. He’s nine. There is no way I’m going to let him get to nineteen before I get on with doing something on crime. My boy is not going to become a statistic.
But let me say this about violent knife crime: we have to acknowledge that a lot of it is happening in the black community. We are the main victims and we’re being failed.
The reasons for it are complex, including school exclusions, family drama, and trouble connecting to opportunity, but the answer can’t be tooling up or tolerating criminality. We need to, as a community, take on the gangs that are preying on our young people and forcing them into impossible situations. That will mean working with the police to uproot these gangs from our communities. I believe we can create the ground for our children to excel.
I have experience on this. I’ve spent most of my life doing youth work meant to keep our young people away from poor life choices and crime. I’ve spent ages working with the police and working with communities to find that common understanding. It can be done if we can find it in ourselves to start the conversation. But there is no magic wand. It’s not policy that will fix it from the top down, but people that will fix it from the ground up.
And I won’t take my eye off this problem. I will use my experiences in the community and in government and get this sorted. And now, not in ten years.
JS. What do you plan to do about this and improve relations?
SB: The thing I can do is use the power of the Mayor to bring people together. The stakes are too serious with violent crime to have our community, their police and their elected officials avoid a difficult conversation. We need to look to the future, not the past. Because we all want the same thing: safe streets and neighbourhoods where our children can thrive.
That’s why I will support police consultation groups and encourage the black community to get involved with them. We need that dialogue. That way, if we’re being treated unfairly as a community, the police will have to explain or change their approach.
JS. Do you believe that increased diversity in the force is the answer?
SB: It is definitely a big part of the answer. I do believe the Met have changed a lot of their attitude over the past few years, and that pulling in recruits from BAME communities has helped to do that. So has the introduction of body-worn cameras, to be fair. We all act differently when we know we’re being watched.
A change in attitude takes time, but our police force should ultimately resemble the city it seeks to protect. I’ve worked with a lot of good coppers over the years and I think there is a lot of honour in serving your community in this way, if that’s your inclination. But the Met do need to be much more diverse.
JS. Can we expect to see a more proactive Mayor of London in you if elected engaging in all areas of London life?
SB: What you’ll see is a Mayor that’s focused on his job. A Mayor focused on the things he can deliver, like crime, housing, transport, and the environment. A Mayor trying to reach out and be with all Londoners, no matter their background or circumstance. What you won’t see is a Mayor constantly picking unproductive fights with central government or getting distracted by his audition for the next job. I will always keep London front and centre.
JS. Do you expect the London Afro-Caribbean community in general to be impacted in any significant way by Brexit?
SB: I don’t see a specific impact to the Afro-Caribbean community, no. Brexit or no Brexit, the trick is to make sure that London works for everyone. We need to find ways to get more people into meaningful work so they can build a solid foundation for their future.
JS. If elected, what will your priority be in the first 100 days?
SB: A lot will depend on what Sadiq Khan leaves behind, if I’m being honest. I know the Cameron government I worked for had a lot of plans it couldn’t get to because Labour had left behind such a bad financial position. What I can say is that I would immediately reprioritise the spending at City Hall. Sadiq Khan has put up City Hall’s budget massively while cutting frontline services, including the police, and that has to be stopped. We need more money on the sharp end of the stick, not with the bureaucrats.
As I’m doing now, I will meet community leaders, particularly in the black community, to find and discuss ways in which we can make our communities safer. And I would definitely get out and meet with the borough council leaders to see how we can better work together. We all need to be pulling in the same direction. A good leader listens more than he speaks and I’d put that into practice.