by LAUREN CODLING
INDEPENDENT London mayoral candidate Rory Stewart has pledged to make the safety of Londoners a priority.
Having spent time speaking to thousands of voters during his campaign trial, ahead of the election in May, Stewart has found a common concern from most is the level of safety in the capital.
In December, it was reported the number of homicides in London had hit a 10-year high. Additional figures showed a surge in knife and gang-related killings since 2014. The Metropolitan police recorded 149 homicides in 2019 up to 30 December.
“London is not safe now,” Stewart told Eastern Eye, noting the high level of street crime in the capital as well as murders. Tackling crime, the former minister for prisons said, would begin with tripling the number of uniformed officers on the street. “I would ensure every additional officer we deploy goes directly into (neighbourhoods),” he claimed. “We need bobbies on the beat.”
He also found there was a growing fear of ‘Hinduphobia’ following talks with members of the British Asian community, admitting the rise of the far-right was a “big” concern for him. “I think any kind of discrimination or hate crime is a big concern for me,” he said.
He has pledged to focus on a number of issues affecting the Asian community. For instance, he has considered the importance of preserving regional traditions and languages and offered his support to help set up and preserve local language centres to teach languages such as Sanskrit, Hindi and Gujarati, among others.
The former Conservative MP has also expressed his concern about the lack of adequate cremation grounds for the Hindu community and committed to improving the situation if he was elected mayor. Asked how he feels as the election date draws closer, Stewart spoke of his predictions on his opposing candidates. He believes it would be difficult for current mayor Sadiq Khan to win.
“If you ask people if they feel safer than they did four years ago, if their housing is more affordable or if their commute is better, the answer is usually no,” he said. “I think this is a very winnable election because Londoners want a mayor who delivers and, in particular, can make the streets safe and offer affordable housing.”
Prior to his bid for the mayoral election, Stewart has held a number of positions within Westminster. He was first elected as an MP for Penrith and The Border in 2010 until he resigned from his seat in 2019. The 47-year-old served in several ministerial roles, including international development secretary under former prime minister Theresa May.
He also stood as a candidate for the Conservative leadership contest last year, finishing in fifth place.
Despite spending little less than a decade in the House of Commons, Stewart is insistent he does not miss it. “Throughout my life, I have found I can bring change at a local level – by rolling my sleeves up and getting on with it,” he explained. “I’m not really a professional politician, I became a politician quite late in my life. What I’m good at is running things and getting things done.”
Besides his political career in the UK, Stewart has spent a significant amount of time working abroad. Born in Hong Kong, he later joined the British Army before studying at Oxford University. After graduating, he joined the foreign office and served in Indonesia and the Balkans. He has also spent extended periods in Iraq, Afghanistan, India and Nepal.
“I think I am in an unusual position to be able to know about London and know about other places,” the father-of-two said.
Stewart stressed that his main concern is to ensure the capital is safer, housing becomes affordable for local residents and that provisions become more available to older people, teachers and nurses. He also hopes London will embrace the opportunities related to digital technology and the so-called green revolution.
To keep London great, however, Stewart warned it needed “real energy and action”. “We can’t be complacent as a city,” he said. “London isn’t a city that will settle for second best. To be the greatest city in the world, we need to keep growing and then keep pushing.”