Questions posed by London Green Party members post-hustings

After the London Assembly hustings, I answered these questions asked to me by London Green Party members. I have removed their names to protect their identities. They are now published here for all members to read. Please feel free to ask me a question

Many music venues face closure in London due to business rates or noise abatement orders what will you do to support and protect grassroots music in the city?

I support the Green Party’s policy on redistribution of wealth in the music industry, rebalancing the relationship between cultural ‘superstars’ and smaller artists. In a vibrant city such as London, it’s important to explore the feasibility of a tax on these superstar performances which is hypothecated to local cultural enterprises. This would pay for licensing and business rate relief for smaller and more independent venues. In terms of noise abatement orders, there should be clear differentiation between the noise pollution from large multiplex venues and small, independent, local venues.

What are the cultural opportunities from closing London city airport? How can we use the space in an interesting way like Tempelhof park in Berlin?

I have yet to visit the Tempelhof park in Berlin however I have heard great things. Among the obvious benefits in less air travel and carbon emissions, there are also vast cultural opportunities from closing London City Airport. The space could be transformed into a cultural hub including a mixture of community services and activities for all ages. Community housing organisations, local and independent businesses, permanent markets & pop up stores, community schools, youth clubs and faith organisations would enable people to live amongst others, sharing exciting and interesting services with their neighbours. Also, it’s important to include plenty of green spaces and arts spaces such as an arts-hub with museums, theatres, galleries and studios. These are just ideas, but to sustain a space that continues to meet the needs of such a changing population, consultation and listening to the needs of London’s residents is important.

How will you support London’s vast night time economy?

Like my answer to the previous question around supporting and protecting grassroots music in the city, I support rebalancing the wealth by taxing the big, superstar performances and hypothecate this tax to local cultural enterprises. There should be a balance for resident needs and a choice of night time entertainments to enjoy. I welcome the report ‘Think Night: London’s Neighbourhoods from 6pm to 6am’ into London’s Night Time economy, outlining ways to use culture and business to boost local economies and help the capitals hard-up high streets. But I share concerns with current Assembly Member Caroline Russell in that the report fails to include recommendations on workers rights. Over half a million of people working at night are already paid below the London Living Wage, almost double the number of people working during the day. The Mayor should ensure clear guidelines and support to employers in the Night Time Economy to help pay their staff a decent wage and respect their rights to a decent contract, holiday and sick pay.

What developments do you wish to see in London’s cultural strategy?

I welcomed London’s Culture Strategy upon it’s launch earlier last year. It’s great that the Mayor is aiming to improve access and participation in culture and the arts for all Londoners. Culture and the creative industries contribute £47bn to London’s economy every year and account for one in six jobs in the capital. There’s some great plans listed in the strategy such as the introduction of small grants to be made available to individuals and organisations to support grassroots, cultural activity, reaching communities detached from grant or seed funding. However, I was disappointed not to see clear leadership from the Mayor on fair pay for those working in the creative industries. As I stated in the previous question, there should be clear guidelines and support to employers to ensure creative industry professionals can earn a decent living wage and their rights are respected.

Why in your view is The Green Party continuing to average around 1-2% in the polls and how will your approach as a candidate seek to address this?

It was incredible to see Sian clinch the third place in the London Mayor election last time, bringing the Green Party into the mainstream more than ever before. When we are door-knocking, we need to let people know on the door that we can win and talk about the successes of our local councillors and assembly members. We need to listen to the concerns of people in our communities, take their cases on board, then go back to them and deliver results.

We must make the Green Party relevant for ordinary people. Diverse candidates are great, but that must translate into diverse people being elected. To build trust and inspire others to get involved and tell us their concerns and problems, people must see people they relate to in elected positions.

Finally, we must stay radical, continuing to build links with campaigning groups in communities. Stansted 15, Anti-fracking groups, immigration detention campaigning groups. Let’s be bold in our vision and stay relevant, current and visibly radical.

The nuances of the London electoral system means that the Greens normally do well on the London-wide list for the Assembly. Do you believe that this will affect your campaign messaging and, if so, how will you explain what this means for the voters and how they should cast their London-wide vote?

It was brilliant to see the Greens retain two Assembly members last time round and to see massive gains for the Greens on local councils in the local elections last year. Due to this increasing success, it will be fantastic to see more Assembly members elected this time around. The proportional system benefits us as a smaller, but progressive party that people from other parties are likely to give 2nd and 3rd preferences to.

I believe we had such a strong campaign last year in the local elections as the campaign was decided centrally but delivered locally with unique and targeted issues depending on location in London. For the London-wide list, I see a similar model. The campaign should be decided centrally so I would follow the centralised messaging, with small tweaks to show my individuality and personality as a candidate. Personally, I can be an approachable and accessible candidate with a working-class background filled with personal anecdotes aimed to ensure my relatability to the residents of London.

As someone who is classifiable as a BME woman, but who does not see herself as representative of BME people and womankind, and who finds BME-only and female-only short lists, and BME and gender quotas, to be deeply problematic, I am interested to know what the candidates think of positive discrimination.

Rather than positive discrimination, I see these measures as positive action. Positive action is a way of changing society for the better, by making it more equal. Actively encouraging people with protected characteristics to roles will result in them succeeding. And evidence shows it works. The Labour Party’s implementation of all women shortlists has seen huge growth in the numbers of not just women, but people of all marginalised groups being elected, improving the overall representation of these groups in Parliament significantly.

I joined the Green Party because I wanted a more equal society. Even in 2019 we still only have 32% women MPs elected to the House of Commons, and only 8% of MPs are BME. When you intersect the two, only 4% of the House of Commons are both BME and women. We live in a society where people of marginalised groups are unfairly and systematically oppressed day-in, day-out – in political life, at work and in the home. All women shortlists, quotas and positive action is not about giving people an advantage, it’s about creating a level playing field and combatting the disadvantage that holds people back.

In Merton, we are fortunate to have 67 parks and nature conservation areas, but unfortunate to have a Labour-led council who have: (a) outsourced the management of our green spaces to a distinctly mediocre company; and (b) started allowing unsuitable events to be held in our green spaces. They say that they want to ‘sweat our assets’ because of ‘austerity’. What do you make of this behaviour, and how might the London Assembly help Mertonians to defend their right to have access to good quality public green spaces?

I am very concerned to hear of Merton Council’s outsourcing of the management and maintenance of Merton’s green spaces. I agree with the local Friends of Parks groups, the overall funding for parks is already very low, compared to other boroughs in London – reducing it further will harm the quality of Merton’s open spaces. I admire the efforts of Merton Green Party in campaigning against the proposed events for Morden Park including festivals and parties. I support the campaign to protect residents, other park users, wildlife (particularly owls and kestrels) from harm. I am in favour of the call to the Council to draw up a policy in consultation with residents, setting out what types of events are suitable for its major parks, in order that the right balance can be struck between generating revenue, maintaining residents’ ability to enjoy green spaces, and protecting wildlife. I think this is an admirable step that Council’s in other boroughs could follow.

With young people feeling undervalued and often voiceless in both society and politics, what would you prioritize to support young people in London? 

At the hustings, all candidates talked a lot about youth services. Why? Because they are bloody important! Young people deserve a choice of opportunities to be safe, and away from harm. Young people deserve a clean, safe and sustainable environment in which to thrive. I work at UK Youth, the largest national youth charity supporting young people to campaign on issues that matter to them. I see first-hand the devastating effects of austerity against young people and the working class daily.

I support a young girl currently, who has lived her whole life with a chronic disability. Vulnerable to bullying, ill mental health and exploitation. All of this left her open to threat. She was raped by a family member at a very young age but through youth services we have helped her overcome barriers, find work and apply to University. Youth services exist because of years of Government and local authority cuts. The Mayors £45million Young Londoners Fund is but a scratch on the surface. Finally, young people should be on decision making bodies about issues that affect them and have the power to influence change. I would establish a youth advisory board made up of the capital’s local authorities, youth service providers and their beneficiaries.

Given London’s chronic housing crisis, what are the candidates’ solutions, specifically in relation to renting, which disproportionately effects Londoners from a lower socio-economic background?

London like many other capital cities is undergoing a crisis with its housing. But Londoners face the highest rates in Europe. Everybody deserves the right to an affordable, safe place to live. The housing market is stacked in favour of landlords and investors who profit at our expense. Our rigged housing system is making our city more unequal.

Rent controls should be introduced to stunt the growth in house prices and limit the amount of ‘affordable housing’ that can be purchased by international investors trading on gig economy market sites such as Airbnb. For the homeless, I would campaign for the many empty buildings in London to become open accommodation for the thousands of rough sleepers in London, this is especially important in such cold weather. I would also lobby the London Assembly to formally support the London Renters Union (of whom I am a member) to ensure that renters get organised, support each other, stand up to landlords and speak with a collective voice to win lower rents, longer tenancies and better housing for everyone.

Could the mayor and assembly narrow the wide distribution of income in London and the UK?

Even in 2019, and despite the Mayor’s efforts to increase the London Living Wage to £10.55 per hour, up to a fifth of Londoners earn less than the living wage. Low pay contributes to poverty which contributes to poorer health in London. The people most likely to be low paid are those with low-level qualifications, ethnic minorities, young people, those over 50, women and part-time workers.

As a London Assembly member, I would first encourage more organisations and employers to adopt not just the London Living Wage, but the Real Living Wage, which is independently calculated and based on the cost of living, rather than the minimum. I’d also encourage training and skills development to help those in low-paid jobs progress up the labour market.

What is your position on Brexit and would you push for a People’s Vote and then campaign for Remain if selected?

Very simply, my position on Brexit is that I am faultlessly pro-remain. I campaigned hard in the run up to the 2016 referendum with Green campaigns and pro-remain groups and I was devastated on the morning of the result. I voted by postal vote as I was visiting my Swedish partner in Umeå, north of Sweden on the day of the vote and was returning home the next day. I remember going to bed feeling positive but waking up with the feeling of huge existential dread and worry, not just for the future of the UK, but also for my journey flying home that day.

In the two years since the result was announced, I have tirelessly campaigned for a second referendum, a People’s Vote to ensure we have a right to say what makes up the final deal. I have campaigned with groups both in and out of the Green Party and have been able to deliver rallying speeches at events such as the People’s Vote marches in London. I have been impressed with how Caroline Lucas has truly led and pioneered the campaign and as an issue very personal to me, with my EU national partner now living in the UK, it’s an issue that will continue to be a priority.

Some candidates allude specifically to the unquestionable need for more housing, particularly social and affordable housing. My concerns are that, often, large-scale developments are in direct conflict with environmental objectives. Have you/will you consider improved legislation and regulation around planning and development to ensure that the much-needed developments also maintain and preferably increase our city’s green infrastructure and environmental credentials?

With homelessness drastically on the rise and more people renting than ever before, it’s vital that some drastic changes are made to tackle London’s housing crisis. Rent controls, monitoring of rogue landlords and opening empty buildings for rough sleepers are all necessary to help tackle the growing problem. London needs more affordable housing with restrictions on purchases to ensure that young people, families and people in need of affordable housing can access it.

But I agree, these measures shouldn’t weaken or hinder our green infrastructure and environmental credentials. Social housing is being put in direct competition with green space, causing conflict between two of the most important issues in the capital. Green spaces that are a public and social good should be protected and cherished. Perhaps improved regulation around the minimum percentage of green space in each borough could be considered, to mitigate endless planning applications to build on parks, allotments and greens. Research shows that contrary to claims by developers, building on green spaces did ‘virtually nothing’ to address the crisis of affordability of housing, especially for young people. We need stronger and more efficient regulation of protected green spaces to ensure irreparable damage to the London’s protected land.

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