No money, no staff, no chance – but independent mayoral candidate Siobhan Benita is getting London excited

She is making waves in the mayoral race. Oliver Wright meets her

It was an odd, but apt, place to launch a political campaign. Sandwiched between stalls for the Royal Navy and Avon at a careers fair for east London sixth-formers, Siobhan Benita could hardly make her voice heard above the din.

Behind her a small projector screen displayed her picture under the simple slogan: "Siobhan for Mayor". In front: just a few television cameras and journalists, and a lot of bemused teenagers, most of them too young to vote. But if Ms Benita's London mayoral launch was a little amateurish, just being there was an achievement.

Last October, she left her job as a civil servant in the Department of Health to embark on a new "career" as an independent candidate in this year's election. She had no money, no staff, no party and, frankly, no hope against the political juggernauts of Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson.

Today, six months on, her chances of winning may still be tiny but her campaign is generating excitement.

Her odds of success on 3 May have fallen from 500/1 to 50/1 and she stands a decent chance of pushing the Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick into a humiliating fourth or even fifth slot. His odds of winning are now 100/1.

Ms Benita, 40, now has a support staff of 20 full-time volunteers, and is getting noticed and written about by the political commentariat. In the ultimate accolade some are even beginning to attack her.

The journalist Simon Jenkins described her this week as "a political upstart who has not even run for her local council". But he still dedicated most of his column to her candidacy.

All this has been done against the backdrop of almost no television exposure – the key way of getting your name and message out to voters.

Despite giving Mr Livingstone equal billing with the other main party candidates when he stood as an independent candidate in 2000 they have all but ignored Ms Benita.

She has been excluded from the Newsnight mayoral debate, and unless the broadcasters have a change of heart she will be missing from next week's Question Time, and other debates on ITV and Sky. It clearly rankles. "The BBC are steadfastly applying out-of-date rules to this election," she says. "They are applying rules that were created for a General Election to an election which is all about an individual. Their criteria are how well your party did at the last election and that is ridiculous.

"I'm an independent. I don't have a political party. I'm saying there are seven candidates in this election and from the moment we are official they should give us more coverage."

The odd thing about Ms Benita is that for an insurgent candidate her background, demeanour and policies are rather too conventional. A married mother of two from New Malden in south-west London, she joined the Civil Service in 1996, working her way up through the bureaucracy of Government with stints in the Department of Transport and the Cabinet Office to become head of corporate management in the Department of Health.

Her candidacy is backed by that arch establishment figure, the former Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, and her policies pledges are generally anodyne to the extent that they would not be out of place in Blairite manifesto. Her leaflets promise "to work for every child to have an excellent primary school place" (even though education is not in the remit of the Mayor), "support long-term investment to keep London's economy strong" and "put more police on the streets".

Controversially perhaps she supports building a third runway at Heathrow – but so did new Labour.

Despite entering politics only six months ago, she also has the "politician's patter" down as well as the other candidates. In her opening remarks yesterday her pitch was as a "fresh, modern, alternative".

"The great thing for me is the fact that we are now getting so much momentum behind my campaign," she gushed. "When people know that I am here and when they hear about my campaign they really, really like it.

"People are very disillusioned by party politicians at the moment and I am reminding them this is the one opportunity they get to not vote for a political party. I can feel from the attention that we're getting that people are really behind us."

After she said the focus on the personalities of Ken and Boris meant little attention had been paid to what each candidate would do in the role if elected. "It's a ridiculous, macho, Punch and Judy show going on between Ken and Boris. They have hardly talked policy. They have hardly got policies. And that's not right. That's not right for London."

But in many ways Ms Benita is selling herself on personality as well, and that is why she has been successful.

She hopes, in particular, to attract women voters put off by the main candidates and to that end will be answering questions on Mumsnet, the parenting website, later this week.

Regardless of exposure the odds are still stacked against her. So the question arises: what next after 3 May? Will she attempt to capitalise on her new found exposure to join a political party with the back-up to help her win elections in the future?

She may say she's not like the other mayoral candidates but she still falls back on the old politician's trick of not really answering the question: "I have loved every moment of this campaign and I have met so many fantastic people across London who don't usually get listened to," she says. "Someone needs to give them a voice so I'm not stopping."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?