From Center Parcs to City Hall for Caroline?


The Liberal Democrat candidate to be Mayor of London does not want to talk details - at least those directly affecting the Jewish community.

Over coffee at the party's Westminster office, Caroline Pidgeon is happy to discuss her plans for more affordable housing, childcare and apprenticeships.

But mention Israel, religious slaughter, anti-terror policies or even disgraced former Lib Dem MP David Ward, and she tenses up.

Southampton-born Ms Pidgeon, 43, has been a London Assembly member for eight years. The bookies rate her as a rank outsider to become mayor at 150-1.

While much of the media attention has been on the two front-runners, Labour's Sadiq Khan and Conservative Zac Goldsmith, ahead of next month's election, Ms Pidgeon argues it is "a very open race. Nobody particularly knows any of the candidates that well. I have as much name recognition as some of them".

As a vegetarian, discussing religious slaughter makes Ms Pidgeon uncomfortable.

"It's important to several faith communities including the Jewish community, so of course it should be allowed to go ahead," she says, seemingly wanting to move on quickly. But what about the animal rights groups lobbying against religious slaughter?

"Okay, I'm not aware of that. It's not really a matter for the Mayor of London," she says, annoyed. "I'm not in Parliament getting lobbied on these issues. It's not something I've considered. I'm quite happy for religious slaughter because it meets the needs of our key communities in London."

At last week's hustings session at JW3, Ms Pidgeon was applauded for her positive stance on faith schools and plan to put an extra 3,000 police officers across London's transport network.

She has never been to Israel and says having her son stopped her travelling. "I have a two-year-old. I have not been abroad in several years. I am sure I will go in the future, but I do not travel anywhere at the moment. Center Parcs is about as far as I get I am afraid."

If elected to run City Hall, she would support next year's planned Tel Aviv festival in London. The two cities make good partners, "particularly around tech industries. I don't support boycotts. If we want peace in the Middle East we need dialogue, proper diplomacy."

The same applies to any issues that might arise between religious communities in London. "I would be setting up consultative groups to help advise me on all my policies and the situation in London - like the rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crime.

"We need a really comprehensive strategy looking at the reporting, investigating and the prosecuting of all hate crimes," she adds. "We need some really high profile prosecutions so people understand it's not acceptable. We need to train up the police more. Clearly the criminal justice system isn't working in this area."

Ms Pidgeon says that she does not believe that the government's Prevent strategy to combat radicalisation is working.

"A lot of it is about secrecy, it's all done at the Home Office, none of us know which projects they are funding or what's going on," she explains. "The mayor should have far more control over it so we can adapt to issues locally."

She does not want to talk about the controversies around Mr Ward and the damage they did to her party's relationship with the community. He had accused "the Jews" of "inflicting atrocities on Palestinians" ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day in January 2013.

Clearly irritated by the mention of Mr Ward, she snaps: "It has really got nothing to do with London. He's not an MP anymore."

Her aide steps in. "People are voting for Caroline Pidgeon," he says, dismissing any suggestion that voters choose a party and its approach to issues as well as its candidate.

"What David Ward and the party may or may not have done has no bearing."

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