“I’m not anti-immigration.”
That’s the view of UKIP’s mayoral candidate Peter Whittle. The Peckham-born politician cites the fact he was once a journalist working in the United States as evidence of his belief.
Whittle comes across as charming as he chats to us in his Westminster office, much softer the often abrasive persona of his party leader, Nigel Farage.
Whittle launched his manifesto last week and surprisingly, the word ‘immigration’ only appears nine times in it. Despite this, the issue sits at the very heart of his campaign.
Both Whittle and his party favour an Australian-based points system for people coming to live in the UK and this is aligned with almost all of their policies. On transport and housing in particular, he accuses his rivals of only looking at the supply side of the argument, ignoring than the demand side.
"None of the other candidates will bring it up, they simply won't."
On transport, Whittle tells us that he would not spend any more money on Crossrail 2 until a final decision was taken — and even then it would be subject to a local referendum, so that people who may be affected by the building works would be able to have a veto on it.
“It might even be obsolete by time it comes on in 2030. There’s already a fair amount of growing opposition to that, from Wimbledon right up to Chelsea to Crossrail 2.”
But are those people NIMBYs, as on the whole, they aren’t opposed to Crossrail — they just don’t want it running through their area?
“I really don’t think its fair to accuse people of that. No, I don’t think it's just NIMBYism.”
Despite the fact the Mayor’s powers are limited to the borders of our capital, when discussing UKIP, there is no getting away from the issue of membership of the EU.
The City UK, the representative body for financial services in the UK, has said that up to 100,000 financial services jobs in the UK, many of which are in London, would be at risk if the UK voted for a Brexit. Whittle says that's not what City workers have told him.
“When it comes to the City, it's not a picture I recognise.
“These are claims that are coming out left, right and centre because there are so few arguments for really being in the EU that they’re resorting to this.”
So, if there is no business reason to be in the EU, what is the City UK’s motivation for producing these figures?
“The EU works very well for big business because they have the lawyers to deal with it. And also because they have endless cheap labour and that’s all they’re worried about.”
If indeed the UK votes to leave the EU, is the UK Independence Party going to hang up its hat, considering it will have fulfilled the goal contained in the name?
“No, it's not the end at all.”
Whittle goes on to use the example of the Scottish National Party as an example of why that wouldn’t be the case, although it is worthy of note that the SNP lost the recent referendum and do continue to campaign for an independent Scotland.
Would UKIP rebrand then, if Britain left the EU?
“No, I don’t think so. You work hard to get a brand, and one thing is for sure — people know our brand. I think it's just going to be business as usual.
“Maybe if we’d have been sitting here five years ago you’d say to me ‘aren’t you a repository for disgruntled Tories’? That is never asked now because our policies are so mixed, if you want to say, of left and right — we’re not allied to one or the other any more”.
So have UKIP stolen the middle-ground? Not quite. Whittle recently supported the RMT in its dispute with Transport for London, he champions the role of council housing and points to a lack of localism in decisions taken within the capital. Perhaps it's more a case of the part where far right and left meet, rather than the traditional middle ground that political you or we would recognise.
Whittle is the only LGBT candidate standing in the election, so we ask him about a row engulfing his party concerning comments from a fellow party candidate for the London Assembly, Alan Craig, comparing homosexuals to Nazis, coining the phrase ‘Gaystapo’.
Former Deputy Chair of UKIP, Suzanne Evans, who ran within the party to become the UKIP mayoral candidate, added her name to a petition calling for Craig's candidature to be removed and was subsequently suspended from the party for six months, escalating the bitter row that's been raging between her and Farage.
“It’s actually very clear, it's in our constitution that you don’t do this,” says Whittle, before his media handler steps in to clarify that Whittle is not part of this process and “keeps himself far detached from it all”.
Whittle adds however that he was invited to speak at Pride and was happy to do so and his sexuality has never been an issue for the party.
We end our interview on a lighter note; who’s your favourite Londoner? After a little clarification as to the criteria one would have to fulfil (“is it just born in London or live in London?”), and a little more deliberation, we settle on a top three:
“David Bowie was a great pop hero and I spoke about him at great length on the Vanessa Feltz show on the day he died.
“Boy George was from nearby me. David Bowie, Boy George and Noel Coward.”
Key points of the UKIP manifesto:
- Social housing only for those who have been resident in London for five years or more
- Prioritise home building on brownfield sites
- Referendum for local people on major planning decisions
- Introduce a 90 minute bus ticket
- Back London’s motorists by opposing London-wide 20mph zones