General Election 2017: Hackney South and Shoredich candidates grilled at hustings
PUBLISHED: 09:53 23 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:51 25 May 2017
Candidates for Hackney South and Shoreditch pitted their wits against each other at a General Election hustings last night.
St Peter’s Church in De Beauvoir welcomed 150 constituents for the debate, which featured submitted questions about Brexit, air pollution and education cuts.
Eight of the 10 hopefuls were put on the spot, with only independent Russell Shaw Higgs and Vanessa Hudson of the Animal Welfare Party not attending.
Incumbent Meg Hillier (Labour) got the first big applause of the night for her opening speech, saying the Tories could not be trusted for their “reckless” handling of the Article 50 process, which she voted against triggering.
She said her party would keep Britain in the customs union and single market.
Rebeccca Johnson (Green) used her 90 second free swing to claim her party was the only one taking climate change seriously and said the broken electoral system needed fixing through proportional representation.
Dale Kalamazad (Independent) got off on the wrong foot when he thanked the Shoreditch Association for organising the event, when it was in fact the De Beauvoir Association. He said he would work with teachers and nurses, not criticise them, and told the crowd: “Vote for me and I will come back here and we will do some very nice things.”
Jonty Leff (Workers Revolutionary Party) said his aim was to overthrow capitalism. “We’re not for taxing the rich,” he said. “We’re for getting rid of the rich.”
Luke Parker (Tory) acknowledged his party were not hugely popular in the area, but said he believed a strong economy was the only way forward.
Next up, Dave Raval (Lib Dem) finally got his chance to attack Labour and the Tories over Brexit, saying the only two parties not wanting a “hard” one were his and the Greens.
Hugo Sugg (Independent) a former rough sleeper who crowdfunded his campaign, said he wanted to make sure people didn’t suffer austerity for longer then they had to.
The last person to introduce themselves was Angel Watt (Christian Peoples Alliance) who mostly read from her party’s manifesto – except to say her “heart goes out to marriage [...] between a man and a woman”. She said she was standing for the poor.
The first question was predictably about Brexit. Ms Hillier said no one had “any idea” what the plan was, and no one in Whitehall was working on one the day after the result came in.
Ms Johnson and Mr Raval called for a second referendum once the exit terms had been agreed, while Mr Sugg said the most important thing was to secure rights for EU citizens in the UK. “They are scared,” he said. “They are scared the Home Office will knock on their door, that they will lose their jobs. That someone will come in the middle of the night and say ‘you’re going back’.”
The candidates all agreed Hackney was leading the way when it came to climate change, though Mr Leff called for a national transport system to reduce public transport costs.
Ms Hillier said her party would stop the £3bn cuts to schools that could see geography or history not being taught after Year 9 to save on specialist teachers. She added any public sector pay rises would have to be incremental.
Mr Parker said he wanted all private schools to be closed down because state schools were so good and though he’d like teachers to be paid more, he didn’t want to “bankrupt our kids”. But when a question from the audience asked for the candidates’ stance on free school dinners, he was alone in saying he had no problem with them being scrapped, because he could afford to pay for his kids’ lunch.
Ms Johnson pointed out that for many kids it was the only hot meal they had in a day and it was also important not to stigmatise school dinners by separating the pupils getting them.
Mr Raval pointed out the Lib Dems had brought in free school dinners back in 2010 and said the 1 per cent pay cap for public sector workers would be scrapped under his party.
On whether they would seek to balance the budget, Ms Johnson said taxing the big companies would provide the money to spend more on health, housing and education. Mr Raval said the government had gone “far too far” with austerity and we needed to start investing.
Mr Parker said it was vital to not “rob our kids” and leave them with huge debt, to which one audience member took issue: “You’ve doubled debt!” he shouted – three times.
Ms Hillier said Labour’s stance was to borrow to invest, while Mr Leff suggested – you guessed it – nationalising the banks, and Mr Sugg said he wanted to ensure the UK didn’t become an “offshore tax haven” by taxing the rich.