Siobhan Benita: NHS backlash fuels independent bid for London Mayor

After quitting Whitehall in protest, she tells Matt Chorley why she's aiming for City Hall

The senior civil servant who quit Whitehall in protest at the coalition's NHS reforms believes her bid to become Mayor of London could be the catalyst for a wave of independent politicians to sweep to power. Siobhan Benita, who was dismayed at Andrew Lansley's plans to hand £60bn in health spending to GPs, claimed there is a "real groundswell of support for independent voices".

Last month, The Independent on Sunday revealed a group of doctors opposed to the reforms were planning to stand at the next general election in the hopes of unseating up to 50 Tory and Lib Dem MPs. They condemned the Health and Social Care Act as an "embarrassment to democracy". Ms Benita said the GP campaign showed how strongly they feel "against some of the shambolic policies of this government... I am tapping into that public mood".

She was dismissed as a rank outsider in the contest's early stages, but bookies have slashed her odds from 500-1 to 25-1, putting her at third favourite behind the Tory Boris Johnson and Labour's Ken Livingstone. However, election rules have all but barred her from TV and radio programmes, which rely on a party's previous election performance.

She is thrilled at comparisons with Borgen, the Danish political drama that saw a female outsider catapulted into the role of prime minister after capturing the public's imagination. After 15 years in the Civil Service, the controversy of the health reforms was "definitely the very big last straw" that convinced her to quit.

"When you are a civil servant you know you are going to have to implement policies you don't agree with, and you are told that from the beginning. As long as you have put forward your objective advice and you feel that ministers have listened, that's democracy.

"What I didn't see in the Department of Health was any democratic remit for the reforms. And I didn't feel ministers were listening to the objective advice. They said 'No top-down NHS reform' before, and then you have a secretary of state coming in with a pretty fully formed plan for doing exactly that."

Mr Lansley yesterday pleaded with David Cameron not to sack him in the reshuffle, expected in the autumn. "The idea that in any job you introduce reforms and then you walk away would be regarded as absurd," he told The Times. Senior figures in Downing Street believe he will survive the cull.

But Ms Benita believes she can capitalise on public anger at the reforms. "There has never been as little trust or faith in our party politicians. This is a moment in time."

She has the backing of senior medical professionals across London; some claim she could be a "trailblazer" for the prospects of doctors at the next election. Dr Clive Peedell, a cancer specialist and co-chair of the NHS Consultants' Association who is hoping more than 50 health workers will stand for Parliament, agreed with Ms Benita that it was increasingly important that politics has "independent voices". He added: "The public is getting fed up with the political class."

Guy Baily, an HIV physician at Barts Health NHS Trust in London, added: "There are so many people who work for the health service who are in a state of rage about the [reforms] – hopefully, they will make the connection with Siobhan."

Ms Benita will launch her manifesto on Tuesday, having turned for advice to Sir Gus O'Donnell who was Britain's most senior civil servant until the end of last year. She also has the backing of Sir Richard Branson, Dragon's Den's Peter Jones, actor Tom Conti and the former MP Martin Bell. Her pitch is "a mix of social issues and hard commercial decisions".

She wants a greater focus on education, claiming 160 new primary schools are needed in the capital in the next 15 years. She would take a pay cut if elected, to fund a young mayor of London and a youth assembly.

She is also calling for a capability review of the Metropolitan Police following fresh allegations of racism in the service. It should be headed by a major figure such as Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, or the former Home Office permanent secretary Sir David Normington.

Unlike every other candidate, she backs a third runway at Heathrow – "It is in a terrible location, but it's what we've got" – and wants an independent watchdog to keep a check on spending at City Hall to stop the "Mickey Mouse figures" being thrown around by her rivals.

"An independent mayor will be more focused on the job and will be better for London because they will be more open to ideas from wherever they come," she said.

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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living