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The mum who wants to be mayor - North London Mums speaks to Siobhan Benita, the London mayoral candidate who wants to improve family life in London

If (like me) you have been depressed by the sight of Boris and Ken slugging it out to be London's mayor again and if, (like me) you've been wondering why there aren't more women in the upper eschelons of political life and if, (like me) you were an avid fan of the fantastic political drama Borgen, you'll want to read about the independent candidate Siobhan Benita, a woman who is changing the political race for the better and giving the men a run for their money. North London Mums spoke to Siobhan to find out what motivated her to run for Mayor, and what she would do to improve family life in London if she won. We were really impressed.

Siobhan is an independent candidate who is standing for election in the London mayoral election. She is not a politician but a successful working mum who has resigned from her senior Whitehall job to run in the Mayoral election. She has worked at the heart of government for 15 years so has a really good understanding of how government works and has lived in London her whole life. She has two daughters (11 and 13) so she really understands the issues facing families in London.

First we asked Siobhan what had inspired her to leave her senior position in the civil service in order to throw her hat in the ring for the mayoral race - quite a suprising decision on paper. She told us that she had lots of reasons for making the momentous decision to run. She'd become disillusioned with the civil service and found it harder to be impartial whilst working on the health reforms, and that she had become increasingly frustrated that looking around it was the same people holding positions of power. She feels (and I agree) that there is a real need to get different people involved in political life and more women. She was clear to say that she is not saying "Vote for me because I am a woman" but that we need to think more about who we want in our public roles.

Unsurprisingly, as a mum herself, Siobhan has a really good understanding of the issues that weigh on parent's minds. She's therefore taken quite a different approach with her policies to those of Ken and Boris and has focused her campaign on education, something that has not traditionally been within the Mayor's remit. She argues that education is such a massive issue for families in London that the Mayor, as leader of London, shouldn't be passive on the matter - they need to lead. She talked about what we all already know about - the shortage of primary school places across London (another 167 schools are needed to meet demand), the stressful and chaotic transition from primary to secondary especially in some boroughs and the mismatch between what businesses are looking for and what schools are teaching. Her idea is that the Mayor should have a strategy for improving these things and where they have no direct power should lobby Government on London's behalf in the same way previous Mayors have done on transport and infrastructure projects. This is all compelling stuff and I can't help but think that a mother's perspective has been needed here to bring this important issue to centre stage. She says that if elected she would "Get really stuck in on education and it will make life better for so many families and improve opportunities" and I think she really would. In fact whatever the outcome of the election, Siobhan has now forced this issue on to the agenda for the Mayor and both other candidates have recognised its importance.

Another issue close to parent's hearts is that of libraries and Siobhan has said in her manifesto that she would call for London's libraries to come under control of the Mayor and work with Councils to share the costs and to redevelop them as resource centres. She would explore the use of libraries for delivering council, police, post office, advice and other services to make them an even greater asset to communities and ensure their financially sustainability.

We then asked Siobhan what else she would do to improve family life in London if she was elected mayor. She told us that she has spent a lot of time talking to other mums and has noticed what we already know which is that as a parent, your life becomes very local and you need good services and facilities around you to make your life work well.  It's often the small things that can really make a difference to people's lives. She said that she would therefore ask every London borough to report on the top 5 issues are that local people raise with them (she gave example like dog mess, dangerous dogs, street lighting, urban foxes etc) and then hold them to account for improving them.

She's extremely passionate about her policies and I felt quite excited hearing her talking about them and imagining a sensible, intelligent, calm woman representing our city one day. I asked how her daughters have felt about her being in the public eye and she said that although they were nervous at first they are now really excited as the campaign is taking off and they are all talking about it.

 Bigitte Nyborg, Borgen - comparisons are often made between her and Siobhan

Hearing about this really reminded me of the first few episodes of  Borgen. In fact I asked Siobhan if she had watched Borgen, given all the comparisons that are being made between her and the fictional character Birgitte who rises from being an unknown to becoming the Stats Minister (Prime Minster equivalent). She said that she had only watched the last episode but hopes to watch it when she has more time. It would be very exciting if Siobhan has a surprise triumph at the polls like Birgitte did but we can only hope that her family life would fare better than poor Birgitte's does.

Finally we asked Siobhan what she likes to do to relax with her daughters in London and she says that they enjoy shopping together (I can't wait for this period of my life to come around!) and walking and cycling in Richmond Park.

So, you might wonder why you haven't heard more about Siobhan on the TV or in newspapers and the answer is that to participate in TV debates candidates must be able to demonstrate support either in prior elections or in polls and obviously this rules out first time independent candidates.

If you'd like to know any more about Siobhan or her policies, go to her website - www.siobhanformayor.com - we're just so glad that there is an alternative and whatever you decide to vote, we think that all women should be glad that there's a credible and intelligent woman standing for such a high profile public office and hope she is a trailblazer for more women to do the same.



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