“I can’t ride a bike!” And other notes from Hackney North hustings, Tuesday 28 April 2015

Took some notes at the Hackney North & Stoke Newington hustings this evening. I was going to rewrite them, but actually it’s more fun just to post my transcript (may not be super accurate).

Organised by the rector of St Mary’s, Stoke Newington – well done her, very well chaired.

Impressive turnout…well over 100 people here. Looking around, it’s 90%+ white (remember this is supposed to be Hackney…). More elderly than the constituency average (i’d guess) and a 50/50 mix of men and women.

  • KF (Keith Fraser, UKIP, Chartered Surveyor)
  • DA (Diane Abbott, Labour, former MP)
  • AG (Amy Gray, Conservative, not sure (ex-teacher?))
  • SD (Simon De Deney, Lib Dem, actor/writer)
  • HF (Heather Finlay, Green, not sure)
  • JS (John Silberman, Communist League, not sure)

Starting point from the rector: what’s your 2 min vision of the good society?

AG: very churchy…good society is about neighbourliness + Samaritanism… talking of public sector values… ‘employee of large company’ ‘active member of St John at Hackney church’

HF: goes thru green manifesto – wages, homes, legal aid; climate change, wealth transfer…cherish the natural world….

KF: ‘common respect…for race, religion, gender, sexuality.’ ‘traditional values are instilled into us and our children…such as the family unit, trust loyalty and honesty…’  quotes that lovely migrant Einstein…

DA: nice bit of personal storytelling…rule of 3… why do we ‘other’ anyone who has every claimed social security…’The test of a good society is how we treat our most vulnerable’

SD: personal storytelling – he should know – lovely delivery… totally didn’t get the memo about 2 minutes.

JS – oh yes! – Revolutionary Cuba mentioned in his first sentence. Cuba again for the second sentence. “The capitalist system cannot act in the interests of the toiling majority”. His father also an immigrant! It’s an #immigrantoff. We definitely need more Communists in politics. He’s a bit like Russell Brand really. Replace values of capitalism with values of human solidarity.

First question from audience is about ‘affordable’ housing – so real people can afford London?

AG: I’m all for transparency. [For developers]

SD: On the committee of Stokey Local campaign to fight Sainsburys. Makes a pitch for his petition the local (labour) council to sign for more council housing for Hackney.

KF: [it dawns on the audience that he’s going to talk about immigration, sighs/groans ensue] You cannot plan a wedding if you don’t know how many people are going to come. UKIPs plan for brownfield building.

HF: Commenting on KF – we shouldn’t blame those who come here as an excuse for mistakes on housebuildng… need more models like community trusts. need to avoid huge homebuilders.

DA: (doing a strange double pointed finger move) I’m for a levy on non-dom buyers. I’m in favour of local councils borrowing to build. Councils should raise money on private market (and thus not ‘get into bed with developers’). ‘We think of property as private wealth…everybody is entitled to a decent home’

JS: “When has there not been a housing crisis for the working people?” I love this guy. He can’t finish without a mention of Cuba.

Second question about those on disability benefits – a genuine work capability test? [Gets a nice round of applause.]

DA: I feel my party could have said more about this…we are encouraged to think that people on benefits are lazy scroungers, living in 8 bed houses..but truth is that most people in here tonight will require social security at some point in their lives…Osborne has chosen to make the working poor bear the brunt of closing the deficit…it’s wrong.

JS: Mentions bus drivers for disabled school kids having wages cut by 50%. The capitalists will divide us up. There needs to be a crash programme of govt-funded public works to build homes, schools, hospitals. [He’s a master of the loaded pause]. I’m in favour of a substantial rise in the NMW (set by the Trade Unions) and to apply it to everybody in society. [He sits back, looking thoroughly non-plussed]. [He didn’t mention Cuba.]

SD: ‘Equal waiting times for mental health as for physical health’.

KF: When people have genuine disabilities [- uh-oh -] we should absolutely look after them. GPs should be testing for genuine need. The benefit cheats are ruining it for those who genuinely have a need for it. [I’m drinking every time he says ‘honest citizens’]

HF: The narrative of the last govt drives a wedge between all of us. Austerity is not needed. It’s a myth to shrink the state. We need to go after those who really cheat our society [applause] – the tax evaders and avoiders.  The market has no role in deciding who is able to work. [Nicely, DA applauds along with the audience]

AG: We need to revisit those disability assessments, because now you can speak to computers. All of us have a role in supporting disabled to get around better.

Third question on the plight of migrants trying to cross the mediterranean.

KF: My ancestry is with people fleeing pogroms – #immigrantoff continues. UKIP was one of the first parties to talk about rescuing people from Syria. Of course we have to help genuine refugees. But must also do something about people trafficking, housing, integration. When they go back, that they go back to countries that are working and normal.

SD: We should keep regimes as stable as possible. 0.7% GDP as aid. Total transparency of world’s financial system. [A very long-term answer to a short-term emergency]

DA: In October, the EU withdrew funding from Mare Nostrum – Tory Minister James Brokenshire came before parliament to explain this: ‘because we are saving these people from the sea, more people are migrating’. [Communist puts on parka]  This was a ‘let them drown’ policy – represents a new low in the anti-immigrant feeling in british politics. I have spoken up in Parliament about restoring the funding, stabilising Libya – swipes at ‘ill-thought-out intervention’

JS: The UK borders should be open to all these immigrants fleeing – because it’s us that are fleeing, not them.

AG: More should be done by supranational bodies – like the UN. [Erm, that might be fun, but the UN is definitely not supranational].

HF: [Our first mention of Caroline Lucas! Lovely Caroline Lucas.] “It is a shocking indictment that we are prepared to let people drown.” “We have a responsibility to help mitigate…climate change.’ 1% GDP as aid. But really we want to help small countries develop the societies they want…free from multinationals maximising profits. [DA applauds the green again]

Fourth question (and our last) – many parents in hackney are only able to send their children to academies – is this fair?

SD: No, it’s not. The Academisation programme was ideologically motivated rather than trying to improve education through the quality of teaching. No evidence they’re doing better than locally controlled schools. Lib Dems will bring them under local authority for democratic control.  Academies create fragmentation.

AG: Hackney schools have never been better and one of the reasons is the number of academies. I started teaching at a not-very-well-performing school, which convinced me that local authorities are not the best for running schools. Headteachers know best.

HF: Academies are part of the myth of choice.. to justify competition into public services. What people want are good local-authority-controlled schools. We would bring academies and free schools back into local control. London schools aren’t better because of academies.

JS: I don’t think London schools are great. I don’t think education in this country is great. It’s basically preparing young people for work. [Waves books in the air] The Communist Party don’t restrict ourselves to leaflets, we have books. Education! Not training, education! [He loves books] Culture is reduced to a commodity. [Mentions Havana some more]

DA: I will defend Labour’s record on building new school infrastructure. My own view: it has to come under LA control, because only the local authority can plan for changes in population, only the LA can make proper provision for kids with special needs, only the LA can make sure that schools do all they can to narrow achievement gaps between boys and girls and ethnic groups. Improved results are due to Labour investment and aspirational first-generation immigrant children coming into schools.

KF: UKIP want a grammar school in every constituency….technical schools for vocational training and apprenticeships… Nothing wrong with academies.

Fifth question – mine! – if elected, will you commute to Parliament by bike?

DA: I can’t ride a bicycle!

SD: Yes

HF: my bike’s outside

AG: my bike’s outside

JS: [inaudible]

KF: If it’s safe. [from immigrants?]

Final chance to speak for a 1 minute sum-up:

HF: We are the real progressive force.

KF: Be open-minded; read our manifesto.

JS: Don’t think in terms of lesser evil: what can you do to make a revolution here? Labour not just in name but in deed. READ BOOKS! JOIN US! ARIIIIISE!! TONIGHT WE RIDE!! [words to that effect]

AG: We delivered for the UK and for Hackney.

DA: [stands up] 28 years ago Hackney North took a chance on me. I’ve had my ups and downs. Nobody accuses me of not being progressive – Iraq, tuition fees – I voted against both.

SD: 27 yrs of Labour MP, 14 yrs of Labour. But speak to people on the doorstep and people say that they can’t afford to live in Hackney any more. Until we have new thinking. Why Lib Dems? Um, because of a YouGov satisfaction survey. So wake up on May 8th having elected me, you’ll be 20% happier.



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