Left Foot Forward speaks to Luisa Porritt as she launches her London mayoral campaign.
At 33, Lib Dem mayoral candidate Luisa Porritt is the same age as Sarah Everard. Like millions of women across the country, the events of the past few weeks have deeply affected her.
The Lib Dem candidate has spoken out about how simply getting home safely as a woman in London often feels like an achievement.
But the heavy-handed reaction of police at Saturday’s vigil in Clapham – which saw women being dragged off by police – has added insult to injury, following the murder of Everard allegedly at the hands of a policeman.
“The Metropolitan police’s handling of this situation has been completely wrong from start to finish,” Porritt told Left Foot Forward ahead of her campaign launch on Tuesday. “I thought their behaviour was abhorrent.”
London police were initially engaging with the organisers of official vigil, and a High Court ruling on Friday made clear there was window of opportunity to ensure it went ahead safely in partnership with police and organisers.
“Instead, police changed their tune, and said individual women organisers wold be fined £10,000. It was shocking and disproportionate,” Porritt says. “All we wanted to do was go there and grieve for Sarah and all the women who’ve been killed or harmed at hands of men.”
Despite the vigil being deemed illegal, Porritt says she ‘completely supports’ the 1,500 women who attended Saturday’s event. The Met’s response – “mainly male police officers aggressively manhandling mainly women” is the ‘absolute last thing’ that should have happened, she says.
While Sadiq Khan has demanded an investigation, the Lib Dems are calling for Met Commissioner Cressida Dick to go. Porritt is scathing about Khan’s response.
“Calling for investigations isn’t good enough. This was an egregious error in my view – a sackable offence in and of itself…I don’t know how her position can be tenable.”
“[Khan] was very silent until after the events took place. He didn’t say he’d support the vigil going ahead.”
Would Porritt attend a future demonstration – even if it’s illegal? “Yeah – I’m am thinking of going along…I want to express my feelings about it and stand alongside those women.”
Porritt’s sternest words are reserved for the Tory candidate Shaun Bailey, who caused outrage after the murder of Everard. While she was still being searched for, Bailey tweeted an article about it saying he would “deliver for the safety of women and girls” if elected in May – leading to accusations of ‘grotesque’ political point-scoring.
“Shaun Bailey has said many terrible and frankly stupid things over the course of his campaign. What he said last week was beyond the pale. Politicising the horrific death – at that point disappearance – of a young woman, it shocked me to my core.
“Most of us were just worried for her at the point. But he used it as an opportunity to jump on a bandwagon and try and score political points against the Mayor. It was completely inappropriate,” she tells LFF. She’s also clear that Bailey’s proposed solution – more police – is not the answer.
“It’s not the first time he’s got it incredibly wrong. He’s managed to insult lots of Londoners over course of his campaign. He said if we introduced a Universal Basic Income people would use it to buy drugs. This is a candidate who’s completely out of touch with Londoners,” Porritt says (she backs trialling a UBI scheme across the capital).
I mention the story of Georgina, 27, who I interviewed over the weekend. Georgina says she was flashed on the way home from the vigil. She reported it to a nearby policeman who allegedly dismissed her: “No, we’ve had enough with the rioters tonight.”
Porritt says that while she hopes the case is not representative of the police, “you can see why women often feel they can’t come forward to the police when instances of harassment happen to them…If that’s the response to first reporting something deeply disturbing, then why on earth would you want to go to those people?”
The ‘appalling’ response is being investigated by the Met after LFF raised the case. “I can only imagine how she was feeling – people who were supposed to protect her weren’t there for her,” Porritt adds.
That problem – London’s police failing to protect those who need it – is an issue that looks seems likely to shake the mayoral debate ahead of May.
Part two of this interview on housing, the climate, and recovering from the pandemic will be published soon.
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