Hackney Unites (HU) held their very first Husting Meeting in the Arcola Theatre, Dalston, London on Sunday 29 April 2012, allowing local residents a final opportunity to put questions to the Greater London Assembly candidates.
The seat for the North East of London encapsulates a vast geographical area beginning at London’ Kings Cross and concluding at the outer areas such as Chingford and Enfield. The position is being hotly contested; the four leading candidates were chosen because in the last election their party had each polled over 25,000 votes (the next party after this had polled just over 5,000): Caroline Allens from the Green Party, Jennette Arnold for Labour Naomi Newstead for the Conservative and Farooq Qureshi for the Lib Dems. Despite suggestions to the contrary, there was not a TUSC candidate in the constituency.
Chaired by John Page (HU Secretary), the evening opened with a HU timeline presented briefly by Andrea Enisuoh. She explained how HU evolved from the Hope not Hate Campaigns that grew up around the collective efforts of Londoners working together to prevent the BNP from winning local elections.
Together with Carys Afoko they engaged the audience in a quick storm-boarding exercise to clarify the Mayor’s extended role for managing Londoners, which effectively establish how the locally elected candidate would fit and operate within the GLA Assembly.
There were a range of questions that had been submitted prior to the meeting and these were grouped together to fit into the broad categories of the Mayor’s duties and functions. These ranged from transport and disability access to cycling and policing - as the Mayor is now the Police and Crime Commissioner for London (16 January 2012).
The hottest subject by far was the gentrification of Hackney where members of the audience felt the new building and development programmes were effectively cleansing them from the area – an area where they were born and grew up and where they felt they wanted their families to continue to grow in. Uncontrollable high rents in the private housing markets along with no employment opportunities means for many, they can no longer stay in their homes in Hackney.
The candidates were given a minute to respond and their views were largely in keeping with their party’s manifestos which are available on line. As with all live discussions one gets to learn about how the party’s intend to address the broader issues affecting Londoners and headline comments are that the Labour party are supporting the Robin Hood Tax as a method to address the inequalities in the borough and globally. (In summary the Robin Hood tax proposes to place a levy on investment banking transactions and to use these funds to address world inequality).
The Greens are promoting the ‘one hour bus ticket’. This will allow for multiple bus trips within the hour for the price of a single journey, which is currently £1.35 on an Oyster. Further money to support Londoners will be raised from increasing the London Congestion Charge. Both of these priorities are in their manifesto; however, the party member and indeed Jenny Jones has publically suggested that when voting for the Green party in the GLA elections, one can apply their second vote for a Labour candidate. Refreshing honesty about tactical voting with just days to go before the public hit the polls, suggests that the Green party share or at least feel confident in working with many of the Labour priorities.
The Conservative candidate responded directly to fears about gentrification and social cleansing in Hackney by suggestion her party plan to beef up Section 106 of the Planning and Building Process. This is effectively a caveat in building and is applied to big projects such as the Arsenal Stadium in Holloway. From memory, Section 106 was applied to this project to get the developers to work with transport - to improve the train and tube links to the stadium. As a consequence to the increase in stadium capacity there is also an increase in fans attending the games; however, the stations that could have been improved as part of Section 106 are often closed on match days or operate with extra staff who limit the fans exit and entry. From this example, one could argue that Section 106 has limitation.
The Lib Dem Candidate was able to demonstrated community empathy as he explained his desire to improve transport services; especially for disabled users. He stated that his partner is disabled and finds it difficult to navigate public transport; therefore he is personally committed to finding improvements. He also suggested more training for the police to improve community relationships; however, unlike any other party and in response to the fears about gentrification and social cleansing in Hackney, he suggested a 50/50 split in all new building developments. Given there is no real mechanism to achieve this and that some large companies such as Tesco’s and Sainsbury who have been moving quietly into residential property management schemes, they are unlikely to change that strategy as this will effect the returns on investments and ultimately their profits. Given this, it is difficult to see how the party will achieve such an aspiration in the four year period of sitting on the GLA.
As there are literally days left before voting, one can see that the public are unlikely to apply the tactical voting strategy suggested by the Greens, unless this is given more air time. Gauging from this audiences’ questions and mass walk out towards the end, the voting mood appears to be at an all time low. Should the public hit polls on the day, it is likely that they will favour those candidates that are committed to stopping gentrification and social cleansing in Hackney and to improving transport services and police relations for everyone.