Assembly candidates clash at election hustings

Rob Platts attended a recent hustings with candidates standing for election to the North East London seat of the London Assembly on 5th May

London City Hall

London City Hall

At this environment-themed hustings organised by the local branch of Friends of the Earth, all candidates standing for election to the North East London seat agreed that Waltham Forest Council’s Mini Holland cycling programme was a good idea, but that it was badly implemented.

The event was held ahead of the upcoming elections on 5th May where, as well as voting for the next Mayor of London, Waltham Forest residents will vote for the London Assembly’s North East London member, who will represent Islington, Hackney and Waltham Forest boroughs for the next four years. The seat is currently held by Jennette Arnold, from the Labour Party.

Jennette was joined at the hustings by her rivals Samir Jeraj (Green Party), Sam Malik (Conservative Party), Bill Martin (Socialist Party of Great Britain), Terry Stacy (Liberal Democrat Party), and Freddy Vachha (UK Independence Party). They discussed issues including air quality, pollution, biodiversity, environmental construction, and community energy projects.

As well as agreeing on the unpopular handling of Mini Holland, there was another unorthodox moment of consensus. Both the Socialist and UKIP candidates claimed the London Assembly was a “toothless body”. They repeatedly suggested each of the major issues facing the capital could be tackled by addressing their perceived problems either with the capitalist system, or with immigration, respectively.

Liberal Democrat candidate Terry Stacy strongly disagreed. Speaking of his experience as a councillor in Islington, he argued that strong leadership and focused pressure on the mayor by the assembly can help bring about meaningful change. His main source of frustration was the “vanity project” of the proposed Garden Bridge across the River Thames, the costs of which Stacy clearly felt could be better spent on other environmental issues.

Conservative candidate Sam Malik spoke almost entirely of his party’s mayoral candidate. After he plugged Zac Goldsmith’s plan for a big green survey for the capital to help improve sustainability and biodiversity, Jennette Arnold countered by stating that the current strategy is good, and that it just needs funding. No new schemes, surveys or unnecessary bureaucracy were needed on the issue, she claimed. Instead, “continued cross party collaboration” was needed to achieve results, bringing up her experience as the incumbent assembly member since 2004. The two candidates did both go on to speak out against expansion of Heathrow Airport.

That Samir Jeraj was able to speak well, and at length on numerous environmental issues, was no surprise given the focus of his party. This was certainly home turf for the Green candidate who easily steered clear of any quarrel with the audience. However, the party manifesto pledge to make London carbon neutral by 2020 would surely require a super-human effort. The city is currently making little progress towards the current mayor’s pledge of a 60 percent reduction in emissions by 2025.

At several points, anger over a lack of commitment to cycle lanes flared up and risked derailing proceedings. In spite of this, the audience were pleased to be able to raise a wide range of environmental issues with the candidates. In particular, carbon divestment campaigners from the three boroughs were heartened to hear that the candidates, with the exception of the Socialist and UKIP candidates, were in favour of the divestment motion recently passed by the London Assembly. The motion was overruled by the sitting mayor, Boris Johnson, but the issue continues to be a talking point nationally and internationally.


For more information on the upcoming London election see the previous Echo story:

Visit http://walthamforestecho.co.uk/london-assembly-candidates-make-their-election-pitch/