General Election 2019: Legalise cannabis to ‘starve’ Islington gangs of cash, say Lib Dem hopefuls

Lib Dem election hopefuls for Islington north and south, Nick Wakeling and Kate Pothalingam. Picture

Lib Dem election hopefuls for Islington north and south, Nick Wakeling and Kate Pothalingam. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey - Credit: Archant

The Islington Liberal Democrats election candidates say legalising cannabis will “starve” the borough’s gangs of income and subsidise more police and youth services.

The candidates hoping to oust Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry at the December 12 poll also say "there's no such thing as a Labour stronghold" in Islington - and they believe the borough's remain supporting majority will coalesce behind them.

But Nick Wakeling and Kate Pothalingam admitted it's "regrettable" the party has been distributing some misleading election literature, with Mr Wakeling saying: "We shouldn't be doing that."

He is hoping to take Mr Corbyn's Islington North seat of 36 years, where the Labour leader won a majority of 33,215 with 72.8 per cent of the vote at the 2017 poll.

Ms Pothalingam, meanwhile, is targeting Emily Thornberry's Islington South & Finsbury seat, where the shadow foreign secretary won a majority of 20,263 votes last time around.

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Asked what the single most important issue was in Islington, other than Brexit, Mr Wakeling said: "Brexit is really important not only in it's own right but because it touches on other issues. Take the NHS. Clearly a poorer country is less able to fund the NHS."

Ms Pothalingam added: "I have to say I have been doing a lot of canvassing and the major issue on the doorstep is Brexit.

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"Someone said to me: 'I'm voting for you to keep Emily Thornberry off the fence. They are people who think we have a clear message with remain and want to get that across.

"I think the problem is, unfortunately for Emily, no matter how strongly she wants to remain, can she deliver remain? I do not think she can."

Properly funded schools, business rates, social home building and the knife crime "epidemic" are other key issues for them.

Mr Wakeling says the Lib Dems will deliver two extra police officers for every ward to tackle the "five gangs".

They believe the Lib Dem manifesto pledge to legalise and tax cannabis will also reduce violent crime in the borough.

Asked if he supported the proposal, Mr Wakeling said: "Absolutely. This is a huge issue. The cannabis market is between £2bn to £2.5bn in this country and that's a life blood for the gangs. They are grooming children in the distribution of drugs.

"It clearly starves gangs of income, you get extra tax revenue to fund community policing and youth services."

Mr Wakeling said he has smoked cannabis but "not for a very long time", while Ms Pothalingam said: "I'm afraid I'm totally square, I never have."

Mr Wakeling said: "Some people say we are splitting the vote and letting Tories in - Tories have no chance in hell of getting anywhere in this borough but we actually can. Labour is beatable in the borough.

"European elections, we beat them. There is no such thing as a Labour stronghold."

At the European election in May, the party took 29.8pc of the Islington vote, compared with Labour's 28.5pc.

The Lib Dems have been criticised for distributing alleged "misleading and irresponsible" election leaflets by factchecking charity Full Fact - which the party refutes. In July a YouGov pollster was forced to discredit a tweet from Islington Lib Dems claiming YouGov forecasted a big increase in support could see the party take Mr Corbyn's seat.

Mr Wakeling said: "I think it's regrettable. I think we have been quite straight in giving the sources but I think, let's hold our hands up and say we shouldn't be doing that. Integrity is what I'm all about."

Ms Pothalingam said Islington Lib Dems have been "punctilious" about the bar chart in their local election leaflet, but added: "We do need to ensure our data is accurate".

Mr Wakeling said the Lib Dems "have to earn" young voters' trust again, after Nick Clegg promised not to raise tuition fees then went into coalition government with the Tories that raised the cap to £9,000 (it's now £9,2500). He added: "That was a mistake, I think it was done for the right reasons. It was done at a time when we had maintenance grants, which was subsequently taken away by the Tories."

Ms Pothlingham said the "main barrier" to university isn't tuition fees but the lack of a maintenance grant, which the party wants to reinstall. They agreed going into coalition with the Conservatives was the right thing to do, as "the country was in crisis".

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