Candidates clash over Uber and EU at London Mayoral tech debate
14:49 10 February 2016
London’s Mayoral candidates went head-to-head at a special technology debate at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’s up-and-coming tech hub yesterday.
Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith were joined by Ukip’s Peter Whittle, Green Party candidate Sian Berry and Caroline Pidgeon of the Liberal Democrats at the first ever event to take place at Here East’s 950-capacity theatre.
Speaking in front of a crowd of technology experts and enthusiasts, topics ranged from cyber-security and delivering super-fast broadband to Uber and the European Union (EU).
Largely regarded as the two main front-runners, the Labour and Conservative candidates differ on many things but found themselves agreeing on the need for speedy internet.
“Being able to connect digitally is as important for businesses today as being able to get from A to B, physically, so we do need to roll out superfast broadband right across London,” explained Mr Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston.
“TfL has around 560km of network – tunnels, bridges and roads – which we can partner up with the private sector to deliver superfast broadband without costing the public a penny.”
Mr Khan, who had earlier promised to be “the most pro-business Mayor London has ever had”, believes connectivity is as important as running water.
“We should be thinking about broadband like we do about roads or utilities,” said the Tooting MP. “You wouldn’t think about not having water, gas or electricity so we’ve got to change the way we think.
“The quid pro quo of getting planning permission should be delivering super-fast broadband.”
Organised by Tech London Advocates, Centre for London and techUK, the chat soon turned to the app that has taken the capital by storm.
Loved by students but hated by cabbies, car-sharing app Uber has proved a political hot potato and a cause of much debate, although not all the candidates have had first-hand experience.
“I’m not an Uber customer, I haven’t used Uber and I have an emotional reason for that,” explained Mr Goldsmith. “I love black cabs, I trust black cabs and feel a London without black cabs would be a poorer London.
Although keen not to take sides, Mr Khan believes the answer to the solution lies in embracing the tech.
“We can’t pretend the technology genie’s not out the bottle,” he said. “A million people use Uber in this country so we’ve got to make sure the playing field is level, to make it easier for us to use technology with taxis, but we’ve also got to limit the number of private-hire vehicles in London.”
With Britain set to vote on its status in the EU next year, the question of a possible ‘Brexit’ could have a big impact on the borough’s tech companies.
Mr Whittle, Ukip’s culture spokesman and only candidate in favour of leaving the union, argued restrictions need to be relaxed for the rest of world.
“The kind of people that tech industry needs – software developers and engineers – the places where they might come from – India, southeast Asia, even America – they have to go through all these sorts of hoops,” he said.
“If however you’re from the EU whatever your skills, or lack of them, whatever your economic status you have an automatic right to be here and that’s completely distorted.”