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Hundreds of Christians grill hopefuls for Mayor of London

Hundreds of Christians grill hopefuls for Mayor of London

Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan, along with other hopefuls to be the next Mayor of London, spoke to hundreds of Christians at the church hustings two weeks before London heads to the polls.

The Evangelical Alliance and Churches Together in South London invited the five main candidates to hear the issues that matter to Christians and answer their questions.

Hosted at Kensington Temple, the candidates heard about the work of Christians and churches across the capital.

Each of the candidates, with Caroline Pidgeon from the Liberal Democrats and Sian Berry for the Green Party, joining the two front runners, along with David Kurten representing UKIP, spoke about how their faith and values influenced their politics.

There was a rare outbreak of consensus between the candidates as they agreed local authorities needed more powers to tackle the proliferation of betting shops on the high street.

Zac Goldsmith commented: "I believe we need a change in the law. I do believe that local authorities need to be able to take the decisions that they want to take. No local authority wants to see their high street dominated by betting shops, by payday lenders, by premises they don't believe enhance their local community."

Likewise, Sadiq Khan said: "You don't see these betting shops in the more affluent areas of London and there's a reason why.

"What we've got to do is make sure if the market isn't working - and the market isn't working - not to be afraid to interfere in the market, and as mayor I would interfere with this laissez-faire approach to our high streets to stop what is a scourge on the most vulnerable in London."

Addressing the candidates at the start of the event, the Rt Rev Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington, told them the Church of England has three times as many outlets in the capital as Starbucks does.

He went on to say that churchgoers punch above their weight: "The Church in London is unique both nationally and globally. Nationally it is bucking the trend … here in London the Church is growing. And we're probably unique as the only capital city where the established Church is growing and not declining.

"We're rooted in communities right the way across London. The Church is one of the major sources of volunteer working in the UK. In fact across the UK it's estimated 1.4 million people volunteer around 115 million hours of volunteer time."

During the debate the candidates spoke about the need to protect freedom of expression while also protecting London against terrorism, as well as tackling homelessness and the need for affordable housing in the capital.

Chairing the debate Rev Christopher Landau questioned whether the public believed the promises candidates were making, and observed that it was "reflective of a bit of a trust challenge".

In her closing comments Green party candidate Sian Berry commented that the 400 plus churchgoers were the politest and clappiest audience she'd been quizzed by during the campaign.

Zac Goldsmith said in his remarks at the end of the debate: "The truth is the Big Society does exist, it's here in this room. The Evangelical Alliance is part of the Big Society, on the front line tackling crime, on the front line tackling homelessness, and so many other of the challenges London is facing. I know that if I'm lucky enough to be elected on May 5 I won't be able to solve all these problems that London faces without tapping into the real Big Society."