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Free university and legal drugs: meet Ankit Love, the London mayoral candidate you've never heard of

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The youngest candidate for London mayor wants to legalise cannabis and use the profits to fight violent crime.

An intriguing proposition this might be, but it’s not even the most interesting part of Ankit Love’s mayoral campaign.

The self-styled “exiled King of Kashmir” – his family fled the Middle East in the late 80s and Love spent his formative years in a boarding school in leafy Surrey – also believes in cleaning up London’s filthy air and offering free tuition fees for London students, paid for in part by the scrapping of the Garden Bridge.

He also plans to solve London’s housing crisis via the creation of “flat-pack skyscrapers”, which can be built on TfL-owned land in less than three weeks.

They’re ambitious plans, especially for a political movement that isn’t even a year old. So where has Ankit Love – and his eponymous One Love Party – appeared from?

Born in 1983 in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir (he’s the youngest mayoral hopeful by eight years; current second favourite Zac Goldsmith was born in London 1975), Ankit Love – now a Bethnal Green resident – describes his native land as “very strange and mystical”.

It’s a mythology reflected in his own family: his mother’s line can be traced back to the Shahis, the rulers of Kabul up to the 11th Century, who in turn can allegedly be traced back to the Sun God, and both the Lord Rama and the Buddah himself.

He’s quick to acknowledge how unlikely that sounds to the ever-sceptical British ear, though. “I’ve also grown up here,” he says, “so I’ve had a western perspective on it. You wonder if it’s real. But there’s so much history...”

Does his spiritual heritage inform his political beliefs?

The answer is yes – to a certain extent. “I want to find a modern interpretation for everything, you know? I’m a really modern person. It’s something that I meditate a lot on. It influences my moves, and the present.

“I was born into a state of conflict, where Buddhism meets Hinduism meets Islam, and Sikhism is on the border too.”

Growing up, he saw his Hindu but secular father “make some very controversial decisions, to stand up against America” – divisive choices that included supporting Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat against the United States, a nation that Love claims at the time “was funding extremists, who were considered friends.”

Predictably his father’s strong socialist beliefs – fighting for democracy and secularism in a majority Muslim state – caused danger for his family in Kashmir. The young Ankit, who “grew up playing with bullets”, was whisked off to the safety of the UK – and to an American school.

It’s an irony that isn’t lost 30 years later. Wryly, Love says, “I’ve been doing wartime politics since 1983.”

Despite his past, he's “not a hardened socialist. Even though I want to provide great social reforms and create social housing, I believe business is really important.”

His father, still in Kashmir, continues the socialist fight.

Love has lived all over London, from Kensington to Hackney, and is a recording artist, director and producer – which if giving no basis to his political career at least means he has nearly twice as many Facebook fans (166,300) as Zac Goldsmith (96,500)  and Sadiq Khan (98,000.)

The One Love Party came into being last autumn, when, whilst living in a hostel, Love found himself spending all night discussing technology and the human condition with Cambridge graduate and former Google employee Finn Grant. The consensus? That technology should be harnessed for good, to improve people’s lives. They registered the “techno-progressive” One Love Party the next day. 

“It is quite a story, if I do say so myself,” he says. “There’s so much magic in what we’re trying in this campaign... We really feel what we’re trying to do. I’m leading a very small, underfunded team, but we really believe in the vision that we have and what we want to do for this city and for this country. It’s a political party that we created, so hopefully this is the start, to make a big change in this country and maybe internationally, too.”

Utopian it might be (and spreading the message of free love whilst naming your political party after yourself when your name is Love is certainly utopic), but we’d forgive you for still being sceptical of the party’s chances.

With Labour’s Khan comfortably leading the pack and the Conservative candidate Goldsmith a predictable second place in the polls, it’s not a stretch to say that a vote for the One Love Party would be a protest rather than a serious option.

Love was also one of just two candidates (out of 12 who are in the running) that failed to provide a mini manifesto for the booklet that was posted through every Londoner’s door over the Bank Holiday weekend – hardly a persuasive move, days before an election. So why on Earth should we give one of our precious votes to him?

Because, he says, “We’re doing a revolution. People usually feel disenfranchised because they don’t feel they’ll get anything from what they vote for. But we’re really trying to see what the ills of society are, and how we can alleviate them, and how we can help people, and how we can give it our best shot. We’re doing it from the heart.  We’re not a regular political party. I would’ve joined one of the other two if I’d wanted to work my way up. But we really wanted to go for a revolution. One shot can change everything.”

Support might be there, but it’s a slow burner. Love points to a swell of support at London School of Economics, where he has a “small team” of students working on campaigns. 

He’s evasive about what his LSE supporters are actually working on, but reveals that they’re “potentially having a rally in front of Westminster on air pollution” – the issue that is the mainstay of his political campaign.

Maybe, like candidate Sophie Walker of the Women’s Equality Party, Love is hoping to pull in a decent number of second choice votes, accepting that the majority will give their first choice to a more mainstream (or established) candidate?

Well no – not really. In fact, it appears that he’s going for a straight-up win. He’s either an incredibly good actor (he is a performer, after all), or 100% believes in his chances. It’s almost impossible to tell which.

 “If you come out,” he says simply, “we will win this election, and we will change the world, actually.”

With that declaration, it’s time to chat about Love’s actual policies.

Pointing out that more people have been killed by London’s dirty air than there were civilians killed in World War Two (67,200 in the latter against 40,000 nationwide and 9,000 in London, per year, in the former), he says it’s a situation that “devastates” him. 

Love says: “I read this article that nine and a half thousand Londoners die each year, and it shocked me. I was thinking; this can’t be true. But it was in the Guardian.

“My heart sank when I found out.”

Based on recent legislation, he says, this is entirely illegal – and the solution is to bail out the automobile companies to the tune of one trillion pounds, in the same way the banks were bailed out. It’s a solution that he believes would also lead to less Western involvement in the Middle East.

“If you don’t see the data,” he says, about the city’s endemic air pollution “you’ll think I’m a madman.”

He describes breathing in invisible poisonous air “biblical”, believes that adverts for cars should be banned in the same way adverts for cigarettes are, and that pollution is the main issue that anarchists should focus on if they want to “oust the Prime Minister.”

“Ousting the Prime Minister” is something, it appears, that he thinks is a real possibility – and he’s more than ready to take the top job himself...

“I’m by far the best to run the city, and the country,” he says. “I’m the leader of a political party. I wouldn’t put myself forward if I didn’t feel that way. That’s why I’m the leader of the One Love Party.”

He continues: “If the army takes my call and they want to remove the Prime Minister, I will then implement my plan to save more lives in this country than have been saved since the Civil War.”

“I believe I have some logic. I’m confident.”

He’s now writing a book-length essay on the subject of air pollution in London.

Moving on from thoughts of environmental revolution and the overthrowing of government, to one of Love’s other “new and innovative angles” – his plan to scrap tuition fees for London students.

“We have a £17 billion budget for London, and we really want to take some of this budget and use it for Londoners who want to stay in London for university,” he says, simply. “So we’ll pay your tuition fees.”

He does understand the loan system, but judges “a civilisation on how it values education. It’s the quality of the people you want to make in your civilisation.”

He continues: “We’ll have to make some cuts, because of course at the moment London spends all of the £17 billion that comes in.” Cancelling the much-maligned Garden Bridge, he says, would free up around £16 billion of public money.

“It’s a luxury, but it’s a bit of a joke. We’ve got an air pollution endemic, that’s going on, and here’s the irony – we’re building symbols with greenery on a bridge. Instead of fighting the real killer, that’s killing people in this city and in this country.”

Instead, he wants to build six bridges in East London, to “create access to 10,000 more jobs in the area, and create the potential for 47,000 new homes – a huge economic impact for the East London economy.

“Even though air pollution is our primary thing, we can make policies for anything,” he says.

So, cancelling the Garden Bridge is how he’ll begin to fund university for the approximately 40,000 students at London’s universities. What of his plans to legalise cannabis?

“People think that this is a radical stance,” Love says, “and it is, here. For now.”

He believes that the issue of drugs is one of class rather than of health, fuelled by moral outrage in the Depression-era United States and exacerbated by the press of the time, whose “stories about black men getting white girls high on the front pages” have “led to the state controlling what people think for the next 70 or 80 years.”

“One has to consider why there is this moral aversion to cannabis in the first place,” he says. “When people have a moral aversion to cannabis, who told them that? And who told them that before?”

Legalisation and distribution through dispensaries would “put the black market out of business... they would not be able to go and supply to these children as readily as before.”

He believes the police are “enforcing a law that is based on blanket racism” and that taking away the policing of cannabis would free them up to fight violent crime. He cites Washington State, where violent crime has dropped since legalisation, as an example of how the state should deal with the cannabis issue.

“40,000 people die from drinking alcohol,” he says. “So what’s the real reason behind the ban on cannabis?” He may have a point.

And so on to Love’s final manifesto point – his plan to do something “revolutionary” to solve London’s housing crisis, where foreign investors are king, rents are outstripping wages and there are far, far too few houses for those who need them.

His answer? “Flat-pack skyscrapers. Not flimsy. Engineered to the highest quality...  you can build an area the size of Canary Wharf in 19 days.” It’s a plan that will give the city “a million new homes”.

He’s from a fashion background, so promises that they will be “designer homes” that will “make things beautiful for the people.”

And where will this new community be...?

On brown-belt land (“I’ll scope this out more when I’m elected”) that is owned by TfL. They’ll primarily be to rent, with “pods at around £50 or £60 per week.”

He doesn’t want to over-promise, though... when he can help it. Any closing words?

“We will change the world in London. Your vote is not just about the London election. This is going to be revolutionary. This is your chance to change the story of the world by just making a tick. That’s powerful.”

Whether his plans to change the world come true, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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