Policy campaigner and former Labour Party member Rayhan Haque speaks to Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter
A newly-declared independent candidate for mayor of London has said he would establish monthly “car-free Sundays” in the city centre and make the capital “AI-ready”.
Policy campaigner Rayhan Haque, 38, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he was “the wildcard entrant” to the race who will offer Londoners “a real opportunity for change” from “the failed status quo”.
Haque, a renter who lives in the Docklands, pointed to the car-free days held on the first Sunday of each month in central Paris, saying he would look to create a similar model in London.
The initiative would help Londoners realise “that there is another way to run a city, and also give the city a chance to breathe”, he said.
He added: “Paris has also got a much more developed bike-sharing scheme. What I’d like to do is take some of the lessons from Paris – which is introducing more dedicated bike lines, and expanding the Santander bike-sharing scheme outside of the inner London boroughs.”
The candidate also believes London “is not prepared for the AI revolution”.
He said: “This is going to be a transformative change over the next decade, one of the biggest disruptors – coupled with climate change. And yet, people are not aware, people don’t have the access to learn AI skills and other digital skills.”
Haque has pledged to create a “people’s tech fund” along with “a universal AI academy for all Londoners, so they can learn those skills”.
The fund would “help get state-of-the-art equipment into some of the poorest schools in London, so they can benefit from all the opportunities of coding, and other AI innovations”, as well as supporting AI start-ups in the capital.
As mayor, Haque has said he would use citizens’ assemblies to produce a detailed programme of priorities within his first three months in the role.
“When it comes to the future of London, decisions about the capital, the people are an afterthought,” he said.
“I want to try and switch more people on […] I want to really tap into their ideas, their experiences, and their passion too.”
Other promises include establishing a City Hall owned and controlled building company to boost London’s supply of homes, “restoring” neighbourhood policing teams across London to end “soaring criminality” and keeping Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s free school meal programme permanently in place.
In his work for various think tanks and campaigns, Haque counts one of his biggest successes as the government coming round to the view that a community wealth fund should be created – devolving money and decision-making powers to improve life in England’s most deprived areas. Haque said the policy was initially seen as too radical, but the campaign he led had convinced ministers of its merits.
Haque was previously involved in Labour politics, but said he has been an independent since 2019.
With the notable exception of Ken Livingstone, no independent candidate for London mayor has ever scored higher than 4% of the vote. In order to get back their £10,000 deposit, a candidate must receive 5% or more.
But Haque said independents had been successful in other cities around the world, pointing to the surprise 2010 victory of Naheed Nenshi in Calgary, Canada – where he served as an independent mayor for eleven years.
Haque insisted he has “the eye of the tiger” required to win the mayoral contest.
“I kind of feel like I’m Rocky Balboa,” he said. “I’m just getting started, a long way to go, lots of good stuff to come – and Sadiq I feel has kind of lost the eye of the tiger.”
Other independent mayoral candidates who have declared so far include CEO and university chancellor Natalie Campbell, gym owner Andreas Michli and investment banker Tarun Ghulati.
Former Labour MP George Galloway – who later led the Respect Party and is now leader of the Workers’ Party of Britain – also said he will stand.
The election will take place on 2nd May 2024, along with elections for the London Assembly.