Profile: Siobhan Benita

The dark horse in the London mayoral race is secretly an establishment insider.

She is the wild card, the loose cannon, the independent in a race beset by party politics. But she spent all of her professional life in the civil service, three of them next to Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell. For a dark horse, she's very establishment.

Siobhan Benita was the daughter of an Anglo-Indian mum and Cornish dad, who entered the civil service fast stream after leaving Warwick University. She spent ten years as a policy adviser on transport, local government and environment issues before moving to the Cabinet Office. While there, she established a network for women in the public sector.

She then became head of corporate management at the Department of Health but stood down in protest at NHS reforms, which she believed had no democratic mandate. It was then that she decided to run as an independent for City Hall.

Her background helps explain why so many of her policies seem reasoned and well intentioned – extremely moderate leftism, if you like. On housing, for example, she proposes a secondary housing market where the mayor fixes the value of homes by gifting it to development companies and cutting the price to about 50% of market value. Then when leaseholders sell on the house, rules would insist on them doing so in the secondary market, offering the prospect of sustainability.

As the candidate herself says: "I have voted Labour in the past and that's where my heart lies".

Benita has made excellent headway with print journalists through the campaign, where she's relied on her friendships with columnists to earn a prominence she would not otherwise have enjoyed. Writers from newspapers as diverse as the Guardian and the Daily Mail have tried to boost her support.

On television she has been less successful. Her war with the BBC over her attendance at debates has become the main talking point of her campaign. In truth, her points on non-party political coverage on the BBC probably have some truth to them, but it will need solid performances from candidates like herself to nudge a change in the rules. It's a chicken and egg thing.