Could this man be London's mayor? UKIP hopes so
He is Nigel Farage’s sidekick and in the running for London mayor this May. Does Lawrence Webb stand a chance?
In one sense UKIP is the official opposition. The party polled the second largest number of votes in the last European elections, beating Labour nationwide and winning more than six times as many seats as the Greens. And since the European Parliament is where the majority of our laws get made, then Nigel Farage’s team is arguably the real shadow cabinet.
So where on earth is UKIP’s candidate for London mayor? He’s the invisible man. “I can’t get on the hustings,” says a peeved Lawrence Webb to me. “I have a list of emails a mile long from the Evening Standard explaining why we shouldn’t be at their hustings.”
He wasn’t invited to the business hustings. And the Guardian has simply airbrushed UKIP out of its coverage.
So I talked to Webb to find out (a) who he is and (b) whether he’s got any policies to get Londoners excited.
We start with (a).
Webb gives his life story in two-minutes. He didn’t got to university, but instead spent years abroad working in Australia, New Zealand and the US. “I once ran a nightclub in Tokyo” he says. Which is more than Ed Miliband can claim.
On returning to the UK in 1998 he was a self-employed electrician and spent eight years in the Territorial Army. He currently works in the office of Gerald Batten, one of UKIP’s members of the European parliament.
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Any arrests or other incidents we should know of? He laughs: “No, no.”
And what of his policies?
True to his party Webb plunges straight in with a tirade against Brussels.
“We are focusing on the fight for London jobs. Legislation which has come out of the EU lately, and the Tobin Tax, will have a major impact on financial services. One in five jobs is directly or indirectly owed to financial services. It’s not just the bankers, it is all the other people too who are on modest incomes who are affected.
“Finance is a global industry and people will move to wherever businesses is easiest. If hedge fund managers move to Zurich or Singapore they will leave behind the IT people, secretaries, and the cleaners, bar staff and cabbies. We need to think about those people.”
Webb says his party is the only one committed to ending the tide of laws from Brussels. “The much vaunted Tory eurosceptics either voted for the legislation or absented themselves from the chamber.”
What about the eco stuff, like a third runway at Heathrow.
Webb identifies himself as a “climate sceptic” and unveils his plan to trump Boris Island Airport. “If businesses tell us they need greater air capacity, and that is what they are saying, then we prefer to look at redeveloping Manston Airport in Kent.
“It has one of the longest runways in Europe and would cause much less disruption than a third runway at Heathrow or Boris Island. It is in north Kent, so the approach causes much fewer problems to residents in terms of noise.”
To be honest, I’d never heard of Manston. Apparently it offers direct flights to Jersey, Dubrovnik, Naples, Oporto and Verona. Lord knows whether it’s a viable idea, but at least Manston is based on solid earth and not, like Boris Island, on water.
Defending his plan, Webb says Manston Airport policy has been devised by the party’s expert on aviation, Lord Hesketh, who founded and sold an airline for £30m and sits on the board of Air Astana, the national airline of Kazakhstan.
Webb’s also got some clever wheezes for commuters. He’d introduce a 70 minute bus ticket, so switching buses did not incur a double cost. Fares would be increased by inflation and no more. Fares between 9am and 9.30am would be three-quarters of the full fare, to the end the sudden peak/off-peak dichotomy.
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And he’s the most car-friendly of all the candidates. “Around 35 per cent of all commuter journeys are by car,” he says. “Traffic is a sign of a vibrant city. You are never going to get rid of cars.” His carrot for voters is to take control of all parking in London currently controlled by capricious councils.
This would, he says, end the saga of painful fines, expanding yellow lines and mish-mash of laws in each borough. “I’d introduce a 20 minute parking in designated bays. Shops find their delivery lorries get ticketed for dropping off goods. This would address that.”
The London riots are a divisive issue for voters. Webb is strongly on the side which believes tougher policing is the solution. “The riots were caused by basic criminality. The police tell me they were being held back from nipping the riots in the bud. They need to be free from bureaucracy to tackle serious crimes such as burglary, arson and vandalism.”
So what is he hoping for on 3rd May? “If we could come third that would be a huge victory. There is also the elections to the London Assembly on the same day and we’d like to win two or three seats.”
If he achieves that then he’ll guarantee the next UKIP candidate a place on the hustings at future elections. And maybe bump the Green or LibDems off it.
He won’t ask his supporters to place their second preference vote for either Boris or Ken.
“What I tell people is that their first vote is an absolute punt. If your first vote doesn’t count then your second one does, so you can look at the independent candidates.”
It’s a compelling line. If only Webb can actually get people to hear it.