My only tactic is to get it right

The JC is asking all the key London mayoral candidates where they stand on Jewish issues. The Lib-Dem’s man talks to Simon Rocker

Next year, the Reverend Graham Paddick, a Church of England vicar in Surrey, will be leading congregants on a pilgrimage to Israel.

One man who hopes not to be joining him is his brother Brian, not because of any animus towards Israel, but because he aims to be too busy running London.

The former deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is the Liberal Democrat candidate in next month’s election for London Mayor.

Trailing in the polls, he knows he has his work cut out to remain a viable choice against two of Britain’s best-known politicians, Labour’s Ken Livingstone and the Conservative challenger Boris Johnson.

Electorally, LibDems have suffered all too often from being Cinderellas who never make it to the ball: potential sympathisers have felt that a better bet for booting out a Labour incumbent is to vote Tory, or vice versa.

But there is no reason for such tactical voting, Mr Paddick argues, because the capital’s elections are different from the first-past-the-post system used to choose MPs.

“Uniquely in the mayoral election, you get two votes — first preference vote and second preference vote,” he said. “That enables people to vote with their conscience for the first preference — and tactically second vote.”

The way it works is like this. Say you have X, Y and Z standing. If one candidate gets more than 50 per cent of first preference votes, they automatically win. Otherwise, the two with the highest votes, say X and Z, go through: the second-choice votes of people who voted for Y first are then added to X and Z to decide who has the larger tally overall.

With over 30 years’ experience in the force — he retired last year — he believes he has the credentials to tackle one key voter concern; crime. In his manifesto, published on Monday, he pledges to reduce it by five per cent each year. Other commitments include more affordable rental housing, especially for large families, free travel for undergraduates and an eco-centre where people can get advice on making their homes greener. He also promises a seat on the Transport for London board for black cab drivers.

But one thing he has resolved not to do is to drag the mayor’s office into foreign politics, especially Middle Eastern politics. “The difficulty the current mayor has had,” he says, “is appearing to, or giving the perception, that he is taking sides, being more pro-Muslim — and one unfortunate comment he made to a journalist giving the perception, at least, that he may be antisemitic.

“The role of the mayor is as far as possible to create harmony and ensure that people can peacefully co-exist in London , no matter what their faith is.”

The mayor should visit places of worship and “be seen to be positive about religion, [but] not necessarily to be the catalyst to bring people of different faiths together — I think there are more than enough very worthy initiatives that faith leaders are already engaged in”.

He himself was introduced to Christianity by a police colleague on a course. “He demolished the negative stereotype I had of Christian people as weak, weedy people who needed some sort of emotional crutch which I think a lot of non-believers ascribe to believers generally, not just Christians.

“I describe my religion as having a personal relationship with God. I think it is more important to respect the beliefs that other people have and to respect people who have no belief more than it is my responsibility to ‘convert’ people to believing what I believe in.”

But he does not believe that religious conservatives count against him the fact that he is gay — he has a long-term partner. “When people realise you are a decent person, that you are good at a job, they are prepared to overlook your sexuality if they have an issue with it,” he said.

In fact, he has found “particular resonances with the Jewish community. I understand what it is like to be in a maligned minority. I understand what it’s like to have lots of inaccuracies and lies based on prejudice told about you.

“I also know what it’s like and how unfair it is when people take sides in arguments that they should probably keep out of.

“I don’t know how much Jewish people would see a sort of common cause with gay people. The pink triangle — the symbol of the gay movement for years and years — has common origins with the yellow star in Nazi Germany. And I think there is a lot of common ground between Liberal people and Jewish people — this ability to live your life the way you want to is an important principle.”

He said that he has felt more “at home” among Jewish audiences than among any other on the campaign. After a well-received address to the London Jewish Forum, he has addressed a Liberal Judaism meeting, visited the Brenner Community Centre in Stamford Hill and gone walkabout in Brent Cross.

While Jewish voters express pretty much the same interests as everyone else, he is well aware that some have a particular issue with the current mayor. “I think there are a lot of Jewish people, from the small sample I’ve spoken to, who don’t believe they can vote for Ken Livingstone any more because of the perception he has given that he is, at least, anti-Israel, if not antisemitic,” he said.

One Jewish ex-supporter of Ken Livingstone had written to him to say that he could not bring himself to vote Conservative. “Therefore, for completely negative reasons, he was going to vote for me because he couldn’t vote for the other two. I phoned him and said, hopefully I will be able to give you some positive reasons to vote for me.”

As for Jewish donors to the campaign, he reveals only that he had “lunch with a wealthy Jewish gentleman who used to own a number of houses in Highgate who is very positive about supporting me and hoping to persuade other wealthy Jewish people to join in — but I’ll let him ‘out’ himself, as and when he feels it is the right time to do it.”

In order to keep the BNP out of City Hall, he echoes the appeal of the Board of Deputies and others for as many Londoners as possible to vote for any mainstream party in elections for the London Assembly.

But he added: “The most worrying development so far is the BNP announcement urging their supporters to vote for Boris Johnson second preference. What is it that they see in Boris Johnson that makes them support him?”

The 50-year-old Liberal Democrat, who has a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University, a diploma in criminology from Cambridge, and a Master’s in business administration from Warwick Business School, has now just under three weeks left to overtake the frontrunners in his City Hall bid.

But if he fails, then he may well be making that first trip to Israel next year.

    Last updated: 4:37pm, September 23 2009