Until February 14, Green Party members in London are exercised by a whole bunch of question marks.
Who? What? Where? When? Why?
They’re picking their candidates for the Greater London Assembly, this massive city’s government. And they’re taking their task extremely seriously.
Together with 21 excellent candidates I am up for selection, but only 11 of us will get through the door.
So Green London members are putting their peers through their paces. And they want answers. If you have any thorny questions, send them my way!
Here’s a selection we have received in the last few days, together with my replies.
Pippa Maslin – Merton: 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?
Kirsten says: Councils unfortunately consider green spaces low hanging fruit when it comes to saving money or generally being creative. It’s easy to snap shut the wallet, while no one’s looking. Part of the answer is to keep looking! Naming and shaming works very well with councillors, who have to be re-elected, after all.
In Camden, I have been running a very successful cross-party campaign against the Council’s use of the weed killer glyphosate. Like in Merton, Camden Labour, with their massive majority, didn’t want to know, until we encouraged the local press and a number of residents’ groups to get on board and make life extremely uncomfortable for individual councillors. So, relentless campaigning is the answer.
Sam Murray – Waltham Forest & Redbridge: 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?
Kirsten says: Business rates for all London businesses must be completely reassessed. It is practically impossible to run a financially sustainable business in London now. Rates should be calculated on turnover or profits, not on someone’s arbitrary valuation of the property.
Noise is problematic. Musicians must clearly be able to perform and audiences must have access to enjoy their music. That said, residents in the vicinity also have a requirement for peace and quiet, if that’s what they want. Grants for sound proofing should be available for suitable venues, and empty premises, further away from residential dwellings should be opened up for particularly hardcore performances.
Scott Bartle – Brent: 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?
Kirsten says: The Green Party firstly suffers from existing in the antiquated First Past The Post electoral system, that forces people to vote tactically, rather than with their hearts. Secondly, the Party’s name is probably its greatest disadvantage. People perceive the Party as a one-trick-pony, they don’t realise that a complete slate of fully costed policies are right there in the party manifesto.
We must therefore do everything we can to spread the message – loudly. Write articles and letters to editors, hammer social media, knock on a thousand doors and keep campaigning for electoral reform. A recent survey showed that, had the last election been fought on policies rather than parties, the Green Party would now be in power. So let’s shout 24/7 about our policies.
Aaron Parr – Hackney: With young people feeling undervalued and often voiceless in both society and politics, what would you prioritize to support young people in London?
Kirsten says: Education, education, education. And youth hubs. Open up all those empty premises and hand them over to young groups to make something of them, whatever they feel they need in their particular area. No need to be too prescriptive, let the members themselves be creative. Each hub to have an organising body, voted in by the members and run along democratic principles.
Set up learning/ training centres, funded by London big business, who have corporate social responsibility, to skill up young people in work they’re actually interested in doing.
Jessica Stocks – Wandsworth: Some candidates allude specifically to the unquestionable need for more housing, particularly social and affordable housing. My concern is 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 in order to ensure that the much-needed developments also maintain and preferably increase our city’s green infrastructure and environmental credentials?
Kirsten says: We need more housing, because there are more of us. At least at the moment. But more housing doesn’t necessarily mean new housing. We need to restore the thousands of homes and other premises we have allowed to sit empty and decaying, in order to pander to hungry property developers.
As we increase our leisure time through robotics and other technologies, it becomes doubly important that we increase our leisure and green spaces in tandem with our increased opportunity to use them. This will require legislation, which should be creative and innovative. ‘Active’ green spaces, e.g. green gyms, allotments, wild play areas, will perform an important role in this development.
Sam Murray – Waltham Forest & Redbridge: 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?
Kirsten says: The size and layout of London is vastly different from that of Berlin and comes with its own challenges. There are a number of large cultural facilities in London already, some of which struggle to attract sufficient attention. Were London City Airport to close, it would be hard to make a case for a purely cultural venue. There is so much pressure on housing that building more homes would take priority.
However, a properly mixed development of social sector homes, leisure activities and cultural venues should definitely be campaigned for.
Ben Hickey – Islington: 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?
Kirsten says: Londoners are lucky that our electoral system is one that ensures that every single vote counts. And that includes yours! This means that we can safely vote with our hearts, vote for what we really believe in, not just trying to keep one party or the other out of office. So be the change you want to see and go and vote for the Green Party!
Adele Ward – Barnet: What is your position on Brexit and would you push for a People’s Vote and then campaign for Remain if selected?
1. My position on Brexit is that it would be a totally self-destructive development.
2. Yes and yes!
Sam Murray – Waltham Forest & Redbridge: How will you support London’s vast night-time economy?
Kirsten says: That’s, erm … a vast question Sam. There is no one answer, no one-size-fits-all approach. But London’s night-time economy is one of the main reasons why I live in London, my son makes his living in it, as did his dad. Without its night time economy, London just wouldn’t be London. Simple as that.
It is therefore vital that any funding body e.g. City Hall, Arts Council, National Lottery is in tune with the importance of shoring up the sector where it needs to be supported. Of course, luckily much of the sector is extremely successful and needs no attention.
Pippa Maslin – Merton: 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.
Kirsten says: Positive discrimination is a complex issue, which cannot really be adequately addressed in a hundred words.
That said, I appreciate that sometimes, when attempting to dislodge a deeply embedded cultural preference, it is necessary, in the interest of equality of opportunity, to nudge the crowd in a particular direction. That can mean depriving people of certain choices to begin with, until the new order has a chance to prove itself. The day we have an all black female board of a FTSE 100 company, I’ll have proved my point!
Sam Murray – Waltham Forest & Redbridge: What developments do you wish to see in London’s cultural strategy?
Kirsten says: We ought to make space for more pop-up public art, for the public to participate in. There should also be more opportunity for street theatre on a wider scale than currently practised. We got some way with that during the 2012 Olympics, but it seems to have gone quiet again.
Participation is key. Free museums and wider subsidies for performance and exhibition of all types – think National Theatre £10 tickets. We should emulate the successful continental model of giving every 18-year-old a £500 arts gift card birthday present, to kick-start their interest.
Nick Barnett – Sutton & Croydon: Could the mayor and assembly narrow the wide distribution of income in London and the UK?
Kirsten says: Probably not. It’s not within their jurisdiction. However, London is an extremely powerful body within GB PLC, capable of exerting significant pressure on Government.
What we need is a mixture of a higher London Living Wage,and a tax rate that discourages unseemly multiples for executive pay. An example: Any earnings above 30 times the lowest salary in a business is taxed at 100%. The tax can be avoided if these earnings are deposited in a fund for social benefit – think National Lottery. That satisfies top executives’ bizarre need to earn as much/more than the CEO next door, while being of social benefit.
Paul Valentine – Lambeth: Given London’s chronic housing crisis, what are the candidates’ solutions, specifically in relation to renting, which disproportionately affects Londoners from a lower socio-economic background?
Kirsten says: The private rented sector is broken and the social rented sector is far too inadequate, so that’s where we start. We need a completely new set of landlord and tenant laws, which put tenants and landlords on an equal footing regarding rights. This must be supported by a sustainable model of rent monitoring, tied to median income and inflation.
We also need statutory guarantees from developers that every new development contains 50% social or truly affordable housing, and councils need to be allowed to use their existing housing stock as collateral to build more homes. Right to buy must be scrapped.