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No longer a two horse race? Siobhan Benita speaks at UCL

Lib Dem candidate for mayor talks legalising weed and fighting knife crime at UCL

Siobhan Benita, the Lib Dem London mayoral candidate in the upcoming May 2020 election spoke at UCL yesterday, outlining her key policies. She's aiming for a “Safer, Greener, and Kinder London”, addressing issues such as knife crime and the looming but inevitable Brexit – and its implications for foreign students and workers. Some of her proposed policies include the legalisation of cannabis and introduction of a regional visa system for London.

Are Liberal Democrats a real threat to the Conservatives and Labour in this election?

Yes, according to Benita. She says that London's results in the most recent general election were not as discouraging as it may seem from the first glance. On the contrary, they were rather promising for the Lib Dems. “The 6% vote share increase amounting to the 15% of the vote in the general election in London, would already get us 4 GLA members elected if we just got that level of support in the mayor election,” she says.

“If anything I think that there are now quite a few people in London who feel a bit guilty that they didn’t vote for us in the general election and so I am going to give them a really good reason to vote Liberal Democrat in the mayoral election.” she declares.

Vaping not Smoking. Can London be the pioneer in cannabis legalisation?

A lot of attention was devoted to tackling the burning issue of knife violence. Benita highlights the need to address the causes of crime and says that “it is absolutely the time that we remove the power from the gangs of London. I am not even going near the Liberal argument for drugs. I am saying this is a safety issue,” she states.

According to Benita very few Londoners see legalisation of cannabis as a controversial issue. A legislative change and the establishment of a regulated market for cannibis can lead to both public health and educational benefits, she says. The negative effects associated with the tobacco and nicotine involved in cannabis consumption can be reduced by encouraging people to vape it rather than smoke it.

The financial side of such innovation shouldn't be forgotten either; Benita points out that “you can create a whole lot of money by bringing in a regulated market” where taxation rules would apply accordingly. This would amount to an estimated £500 million extra per year, she claims.

Benita believes that lack of political courage has prevented other parties from taking a definitive stand on the issue of cannabis legalisation.

“We need to be bolder!” she declares. “The evidence is so clear of the link between the illegal drugs market that is hugely powerful in London [and] young children who are being pulled into crime before they even know it.”

Her 5-point plan, which includes legalisation of cannabis and introduction of the Youth Happy Hour, will offer security and protection to the young people of London who currently constitute one of the most vulnerable groups in society, Benita claims.

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Everybody’s talking about Brexit…

Of course the discussion of the impact Brexit may have on foreign students and workers could hardly be avoided. However, Benita reassures those who are worried that they will no longer be able to apply their skills and talent in the UK simply because they had the misfortune to be born on the other side of the Channel.

“All my focus now is making sure that London maintains its status as the city in the world where you want to come and do business, you want to invest, you want to live, you want to visit as a tourist,” she says. “I am talking about the regional visa system for London. […] I will also be urging the government to lower that minimum salary cap of £30,000.”

Looks like the UK may have to leave its capital behind when saying its last goodbyes to the EU.

With respect to universities, Benita emphasises that we need to keep attracting great students and academics from all around the world. She made it clear she believes our unis are the perfect space to make sure that we keep innovating in rapidly developing areas like the Medical Science and Environment Tech.

“You’ll want to come here before you come to Berlin.”

Supporting and developing London’s nightlife also made the cut in Lib Dem’s list of policies.

“Theatres, bars, and the LGBT scene need to be talked about more. We need to find ways in which we can grow them and make sure that we remove the licensing problems that people are having, with clubs being shut down, for example,” Benita says.

Want more details?

On the whole it seems that Liberal Democrats are hopeful when looking towards the future. To the question of how she envisaged her party’s position in the upcoming months Benita’s answer was “stronger than it is now.” At the very least it can be said that the Lib Dems are approaching this election with the right attitude. The real question here is whether or not this is going to be enough to win over London?

The full manifesto is coming in March while the “soft launch” of the campaign is scheduled for the 13th of February. Keep your eye on Lib Dem's social channels if you want to find out more.