Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP candidates thin on the ground at Extinction Rebellion eco hustings to debate the climate emergency
PUBLISHED: 13:13 27 November 2019 | UPDATED: 13:49 27 November 2019
A special election hustings themed on the enviroment was organised for Hackney North and Stoke Newington candidates at a packed-out Mildmay Club in Newington Green last night. Emma Bartholomew was there
Voters at an eco-themed hustings were warned there are "only two choices for Prime Minister" at the ballot on December 12 - either Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson, and the latter "would not do anything to tackle the climate emergency".
It was a representative for Labour, Mick Burke, who made the proclamation, rather than the incumbent Diane Abbott, who "sent her apologies at the last minute" according to the Gazette's former editor Ramzy Alwakeel, who chaired the event.
She had "national obligations" and had been working on launching the race and faith manifesto all day, but posted on Twitter to say she was out canvassing in Wesminster.
Candidates for Hackney North and Stoke Newington were therefore rather thin on the ground. Ben Mathis had his invitation withdrawn by the direct action campaign group Extinction Rebellion who organised the hustings, after being suspended from the Lib Dems two days ago.
After a series of tweets came to light they branded "clearly offensive", he is now standing as an independent.
Remaining voices on the panel of five at the Mildmay Club in Newington Green came from the Green Party's Alex Armitage, the Tory's Benjamin Obese-Jecty, the Brexit Party's Richard Ings and Haseeb Ur-Rehman from Renew.
In the first pre-prepared question from the XR team, they were all asked to "put party and politics to one side and share the feelings they experience when contemplating the climate emergency and also how their feelings would shape their response to it if they were elected".
"All the questions are very lengthy because everyone is very clever," Ramzy warned.
Alex Armitage kicked off the debate, expressing his "terror" at the climate emergency and "the prospects for humanity".
"I'm a children's doctor and sometimes I think: 'What's the point?'," he said. "These young people I treat for short term illnesses will grow up to face this horrendous terrifying existence in a few years time.
"The thing I can personally do best is stand as a candidate in this election - the climate election - and put as much pressure as I can on this system that is pushing us to climate disaster," he added.
Mick, standing in for Diane, said he personally feels anger "at the people who brought us here", who he said were "the big companies and the world's leaders".
"We are going to do something very radical in the Labour government and you are going to get very powerful forces pushing back," said Mick. "I think XR and all environmental activists and green groups have done a brilliant job making this the centre of the election. It's one of the reasons it's the centrepiece of the Labour party manifesto."
The party has promised to create one million jobs in a "green industrial revolution", from hydrogen and tidal energy expansion, port infrastructure, tree planting, flood defences and plastics recycling.
Ben meanwhile, who claimed his government was "capable of change" and had "already committed to decarbonisation", promoted nuclear power as part of the solution. He spoke in favour of the Hinkley Point power station - which is now set to cost £22bn if it goes ahead.
He argued renewable energy use had increased under the Tories' rule, but Mick accused them of having cut investment in renewable energy rather than increasing it.
Rick from the Brexit party told the audience "my job is to prove I'm not a Nazi tonight", and said he disagreed with the term "climate emergency". He spoke in favour of developing scientific solutions so we can "have our cake and eat our cake."
"When I was growing up I remember being told the world was cooling down and we were going to have a new ice age, then we moved onto the hole in the ozone layer which was going to fry us," he said. "The issue of the ozone was sorted out by replacing chloroflurocarbons and we didn't have to change very much. There's a very optimistic and positive message in that we can use technology to deal with the problems we have got."
Haseeb expressed an "overwhelming sense of grief" about the climate emergency. He blamed it on a "regulatory laxity and failure of governments to sufficiently regulate the multinationals".
"It feels as though Brexit is the antithesis of confronting the climate emergency," he said. "A low-standards free-for-all, which detracts from any parties's ability to mitigate the effects of climate change and ecological collapse."
The panel was asked how they thought climate change would affect Hackney North and Stoke Newington - and incredibly they all agreed pollution was the main problem here. Their tactics for dealing with it however differed somewhat.
"I'd try to reduce traffic to try to improve air quality if I get elected," said Haseeb to laughter - knowing full well that would never happen with Diane's majority of over 35,000 at the last election.
Ben meanwhile said he would look at the infrastructure around electric cars. "The charging points aren't there," he complained. "There are only 8,500 in the entire country."
Rick from the Brexit party said the main issue would be "taking too many radical decisions to restrict carbon emissions from diesel cars".
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"I would suggest the impact on the poorest people in the borough will be great," he said.
"There are a number of things proposed in terms of carbon emission reductions and I suspect they will have a negative impact on our cost of living and quality of our lives.
In contrast, Mick standing in for Diane, said: "I think there's a real crisis so we do need radical measures".