Five of the London mayoral candidates gathered yesterday to debate the city’s fastest-growing sector: technology.
All of them were keen to woo the techie crowd at Here East, a ‘digital campus’ in the former Olympic Park: frontrunners Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith but also Sian Berry (Green), Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dems) and Peter Whittle (UKIP).
However those expecting fireworks would have been disappointed as there was hardly any discernible difference between them.
Goldsmith admitted “the language of coding is about as clear to me as Swahili” and Khan cracked some dad jokes (“I know my FTTP from my HTTP”), but on the whole it was a relatively sober debate with the candidates vying to sound the most ‘tech-friendly’.
All agreed that the UK should stay in the EU aside from the UKIP candidate Peter Whittle, whose views (unsurprisingly) were met with sighs and tuts from the audience.
Interestingly, Goldsmith said he does not use Uber as he doesn’t like “unfair competition” and fears that his beloved black cabs will “become extinct if current trends continue” – a rare break with the consensus.
Khan shot back that the “genie is out of the bottle” as over one million Londoners use Uber. He said the focus should be on making black cabs more tech-savvy, rather than restricting Uber.
The only other controversial moment came after an audience member, who is standing for the Women’s Equality Party, asked the candidates to explain how they would encourage more women into the tech sector.
Unfortunately this question never got answered as the chair bypassed it, breezily saying this topic would be addressed during the debate (it wasn’t).
In many ways the debate was more interesting for some of the issues that were not properly discussed.
After all it is the mayoral candidates’ views on bread and butter issues, and not arguing over who is the most tech-savvy, that we should perhaps pay most attention to. Tech does not exist in a bubble, and arguably one of the biggest issues right now is a lack of affordable houses to live in or offices to work from. Let’s hear more about what they have to say about that.