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Young voters get ready to decide

CHALLENGES: The next occupant of London's City Hall will need to find solutions to some of the capital's toughest problems

IN EXACTLY a fortnight, Londoners will descend on the polling stations to cast their votes for both the London Assembly and the person who will succeed Boris Johnson to become the new mayor of London.

The competition, which may have been overshadowed by the pending referendum on Britain’s inclusion in the EU, has seemingly been reduced to a two-horse race between the ‘council estate boy,’ Sadiq Khan and the ‘millionaire Tory’ candidate Zac Goldsmith.

For young black Londoners, the upcoming election comes at a critical time characterised by uncertainty of what future prospects they may have in one of the world’s most diverse, expensive and increasingly competitive cities.

According to political commentator Kenny Imafidon the election will be won by the candidate that will present the electorate with the most convincing housing proposal. He told The Voice: “The winner will be chosen based on their housing policy. The housing issue is threefold. The building of new homes to match the growing population of London, a possible cap or limit on rent in terms of rent controls because rent in London is ridiculous and also in terms of people’s chances of actually owning a home.”


VOTING APP: Kenny Imafidon

The 22-year-old who is a programme coordinator for campaign organisation Bite the Ballot recently celebrated the relaunch of their most recent innovation, an application called Verto.

VOTING APP

The app allows young voters the ability to compare their political views and values to party policies with a series of questions and swiping motions.

“Housing is such a hot topic, especially if you’re from a BAME background. It’s even more important to you as the Runnymede research shows,” said Imafidon.

Recent research from the nation’s leading race think tank revealed that 40 per cent of Africans in London live in overcrowded accommodation.

“If we don’t have a leader who has a great plan to solve this issue particularly for the BAME community, we’re kind of screwed.”

In addition, Imafidon points to transport as one of major policy areas. Some lesser publicised issues he also believes should be of concern for the next mayor include homelessness and child poverty.

For Duro Oye, director of social enterprise 2020 Change, the consistent themes and challenges for young black Londoner’s can be characterised as financial.

As a social entrepreneur the 30-year-old identified employment prospects, housing and transport in the capital as key areas for the next mayor.


FINANCIAL CHALLENGES: Duro Oye of 2020 Change says the next Mayor must tackle unemployment, housing and transport

“There’s an underlying theme between all three and it comes down to money really. There are a lot of young people feeling strapped for cash and they don’t see many opportunities for themselves to improve their life chances.”

Busayo Twins, an economic history student at the London School of Economics told The Voice how struck she was that neither of the two candidates had been successful in authentically engaging with black voters.

She said: “I don’t think enough has been done. I feel like they’ve underestimated the need to target certain groups. They think that targeting youths in general means that every person who falls under the ‘youth’ category is going to be inclined to their attention. But if you’re from a BAME group you need special targeting because your challenges are a bit more niche.”


UNIMPRESSED: Student Busayo Twins says that candidates have failed to engage black voters

Twins recently made history to become the first black student to be elected as General Secretary of the LSE students' union. She observed that there had been no precedent to reach out to young black voters in the past but argued that in a city as diverse as London there was no excuse. However Imafidon argues that the lack of engagement is matter of electoral economics.

He said: “This is politics, demand and supply. If you’re talking in terms of London, black voters are the least likely group to turn out and vote, that’s just a fact so I’m not really surprised that neither candidate has been engaging despite BAME being almost half the London population. It’s really about us finding ways to hold them to account. As much as we know that these people should come to us we’ve also got a responsibility as citizens to actually be able to hold these people to account and say ‘you are going to talk about these issues.’”

TARGETED

Of targeted policies, Labour candidate Sadiq Khan’s only pledge has been to increase the number of black officers in the Metropolitan Police with the intention of creating a police force that reflects the people it serves. According to Imafidon, the responsibility extends both ways.

“At the same time, you have to ask what has the BAME community actually done to grab their attention and say 'actually, why aren’t you making these issues a priority?' If you make an issue hot enough, no politician will just sit on it.”

With an EU referendum hot on the heels of the Mayoral election, much of the fire that first ignited the race appears to have dimmed and points to another low voting turnout which has peaked at 38.1 per cent. This year’s election does present a unique opportunity, at least symbolically. For the first time the prospect of a non-white leader in the capital is on the table in the form of Tooting MP Sadiq Khan. But even with the prospect of such a historic choice, voting on the basis of race would be a poor decision says Oye.

“I don’t believe in voting for someone primarily on the colour of their skin or because we have similar backgrounds. I think it’s more about what the candidate stands for, the integrity of the individual and their track record up to this point. Are they an individual that says something and sticks to it? How do they hope to change London and what’s their plan?”
Oye is an agreement with Imafidon over the lack of engagement with London’s young BAME voters, many of whom will be experiencing their first mayoral election.


CRITICAL ISSUE: Many young black Londoners are struggling to find affordable places to live in the city

“Sadiq Khan has tried to engage as the first BAME candidate and pushing that concept is one of his lines. For the person who isn’t well educated on politics appealing to them on that principle alone is enough to secure their vote because they start to think, ‘yes it’s about time we had someone that looked different in City Hall’. But just because he looks different that doesn’t mean he’s any different on the inside.”

Following criticisms of Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith's management of what Operation Black Vote slammed as “divisive” campaigning, Imafidon concurs that for the candidate who had so much promise, Goldsmith’s execution has been a ‘disappointment.’

“With this mayoral election I feel like he’s [Goldsmith] actually lost more credibility than he started with. As for Sadiq, I think his campaign to be Labour’s candidate was more exciting than his campaign now.”

Pointing to Goldsmith’s voting record, which has shown him voting along with the government on some controversial issues, namely cuts to disability benefits, the image of the compassionate Conservative who Londoners could back has been rocked.

Goldsmith was criticised by Richmond AID and removed as the charity's patron over his position to slash £30-a-week from disabled people claiming Employment Support Allowance – despite warnings from charities that the benefit already barely covers basic living costs.

The consensus seems to be that the next mayor of London will be elected through gritted teeth. But more importantly, he or she has a mammoth challenge on their hands in meeting the expectations of voters.

The task that awaits the next mayor is to successfully meet that challenge because it could very well derail or support the social mobility hoped for by London’s young BAME population.

And potentially change the face of London forever.

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