Luisa Porritt wants to talk about a “dirty little secret”. But the Lib-Dem mayoral candidate does not have a personal confession to make.
Rather, she wants to expose an “uncomfortable truth” about the green credentials of Sadiq Khan.
His 102-page manifesto makes no mention of the Silvertown tunnel, she points out. Nor did his 82-page manifesto in 2016.
Yet the building of the four-lane “inner city motorway” that will link Greenwich and Newham and relieve pressure on the Blackwall tunnel will cost Transport for London in excess of £2 billion and is regarded as an environmental catastrophe by opponents.
“I call it his ‘dirty little secret’ because the mayor is trying to hide the fact that he is still backing this project even though there is no justification for it from an environmental perspective, or a financial one for TfL,” Ms Porritt says.
TfL’s financial crisis, exacerbated by the loss of more than £3bn in fares due to the pandemic, means there is no money for a host of schemes, from Crossrail 2 to the Bakerloo line extension.
“When these public transport schemes that we desperately need are being put on hold, there is no justification for spending £2 billion on another road, when our priority is supposed to become a net zero-carbon city by 2030. That is his own target. How is he going to achieve it by building this road at the same time?”
Ms Porritt’s solution is “smart” road pricing – charging drivers on the basis of how far they travel and how much pollution they create. This would apply across greater London and replace the congestion charge and ultra-low emission zone.
A meeting with TfL commissioner Andy Byford has left her certain that, at a time when the rise in home working means TfL’s income from fares is unlikely to ever return to pre-pandemic levels, motorists need to pay their “fair share” towards public transport.
“It reaffirmed for me there isn’t any money to do anything new at the moment,” she says of her briefing from Mr Byford.
“It made me more convinced that this pay-as-you-go road pricing scheme is the right thing to do, to raise the money that TfL needs in the future.”
Ms Porritt, a former MEP, is at 33 the youngest of the main challengers to Mr Khan. But she lies well adrift in the polls and faces a challenge to regain third place from the Greens.
When lockdown eased sufficiently to allow pubs to reopen their beer gardens, she chose to go campaigning than enjoy an al-fresco glass of wine. A haircut also came higher up her list.
She believes her age allows her to speak for a generation of London women – she is the same age as Sarah Everard. She is a Camden councillor and, between campaigning, works as a freelance financial analyst.
She received her first covid jab at the start of March - “one of the very few perks of being asthmatic” – and believes that, with many Londoners yet to make up their minds, she can deliver a strong result on May 6.
Strangely, crime is not one of her three priorities. Instead, her mantra is jobs, homes and clean air “because these are three basic needs of Londoners that are not currently being met”.
She accused Mr Khan of only building half the affordable homes he promised. She has called for offices rendered redundant by the rise in home working to be converted into flats.
Another idea is a four-day Travelcard, priced to suit workers who will no longer spend a week in the office. “I think that the five-day office commute is dead,” she said.
Soon after the vigil for Ms Everard, she called for the resignation of Met commissioner Dame Cressida Dick. The police watchdog later approved the Met’s handling of the demo and defended it from critics who had a “very limited understanding” of what happened.
“I stand by what I said,” Ms Porritt said. “In that report, nobody spoke to women who were at that vigil [or asked] how they were impacted by the way it was policed. I stand with the women who wanted their voices heard that night.”
Her time as an MEP ended with the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union on January 31 last year. Her pro-Remain stance brought abuse at a “toxic” time for politics.
“I had a lot more abuse online, which we know happens to women in politics,” she said. “I have sometimes been on the receiving end of abuse just because I’m young and female.
“There are people who have experienced far worse than I have. Of course I have also been patronised. Everyday sexism exists. What we need is more representatives who have been through these experiences and want to change that culture.”