Jill Wallis: I am 'Old Labour', but I'm going to Back Zac

I am a 'Doughnut' Londoner, born and bred. I first voted in 1979 and I put my cross by the Labour Party candidate. This was the first of many votes I gave to Labour in National, Local, Euro and Mayoral elections. I am 'old Labour', in more ways than one! I don't vote Labour anymore, but I have never voted Tory or Lib-Dem. I will either vote for an obscure left group or an independent, it depends who is on the ballot paper. I don't do Green either.

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But Zac Goldsmith's proposal to tackle gangs by opening a free school for their members has caught my attention and, if it came to fruition, would definitely be a step in the right direction.

For over 23 years I worked providing services to people affected by homelessness. Over the years the number of my clients that had an offending background as well as being homeless kept increasing. For the last five years I worked exclusively with people who had just come out of prison or were serving the last part of their custodial sentence in an open prison.

I am not a bleeding heart liberal. I believe in punishment, but I also believe we should provide compassionate rehabilitation to offenders and give people second chances, regardless of the crime committed, when it is safe to do so.

Some people may find it hard to believe, but there are actually some amazing people locked up in our prisons who could contribute a lot to our City. I also suspect that the same potential exists in London street gangs. Zac Goldsmith's free school proposal, executed in the right way and staffed by the right people would, I believe, provide a route away from gangs and an opportunity for ex-members to reach their potential and avoid a life of crime and prison.

More initiative will be needed though. I am vehemently opposed to the privatization of the CJS and closure of London prisons. They may be Victorian but they can be made to work. Latchmere House was doing a good job and its closure was a huge mistake. New and private does not equal success, just look at Thameside. London, sadly, needs prisons. Whilst I believe in punishing criminals, I do not believe in punishing their families. Londoners who end up in prison should be kept as near to their families as possible, to facilitate visits and help maintain relationships. We hear a lot about absent fathers but how many fathers or mothers of young up-and-coming criminals are absent because they are halfway across the country in prison?

We are a diverse city. But diversity is not just about ethnicity, it is also about the type of people we are, and some of us, individuals and families, are pretty dysfunctional. London is about all of us, regardless.

A mayoral candidate, even a Tory, who will work for all Londoners, even the dysfunctional, and who can convince me he is sincere about reducing crime by reducing the number of young people who become adult criminals, maybe, just maybe, I could seriously consider voting for.

Then it will be down to me to go into the ballot box and hold my nose just long enough to put my X by the Tory candidate.


Jill Wallis was born and raised in Northwood in the borough of Hillingdon and has lived for many years in Harrow, and works to provide services to people affected by homelessness.