Thursday, October 14, 2010

Interview: Alan Duffell. A Green Mayor for Tower Hamlets

I've been speaking to Alan Duffell, the Green Party's Mayoral candidate for Tower Hamlets. We're asking people to give their first preference to Alan for greater democracy, for a positive vision for Tower Hamlets and for the only candidate who takes climate change and the environment seriously.

D(M): You're standing for Mayor of Tower Hamlets - how did you vote in the referendum and why?

AD: I voted against the position. As a party we weighed up all the pros and cons of the creation of a Mayor and decided that such a position would do more damage to the borough than good. That is still my opinion.

We then had two options - either to disappear into obscurity and try to make our point by heckling at events, or to stand a candidate who pledges to increase democracy and resist centralisation, thereby limiting the scope of the Mayor's position. To that end I pledge to be accountable to the elected Council and reserve my right of Veto only to oppose decisions which explicitly go against Green policy.

D(M): The cuts are set to bite pretty deep. How would you approach the economic situation?

AD: To oppose a coalition making cuts, you must have a coalition organised against those cuts. I would involve the entire Tower Hamlets population in a huge popular campaign to highlight the devastating effects of these cutbacks, and to protest and demonstrate for as long as it takes to get the message across that we are not standing for it. We would involve other boroughs in our efforts to mobilise the population.

We will not be able to save everything of course, but we will ensure that all services are looked at in terms of how we could provide them more efficiently. Norwich City Council's Green group recently pushed for some outsourced services to be brought back in-house, as outsourcing often ends up costing more and offering less flexibility than directly employing the workforce. I would promise a similar review of all of Tower Hamlets' services to identify how best to continue providing them.

I would also accept a considerably lower salary than the amount on offer, and initiate a comprehensive pay review of all the Council's top earners to ensure people are paid a fair but not excessive wage. Some of these savings will go towards ensuring everyone in the Council earns at least the Green minimum wage, and the rest will go towards helping sustain services.

D(M): If you could choose one of your Mayoral policies to get implemented which one would it be?

- To make the Right of Recall and accountability to the Council constitutionally binding. This would permanently limit the power of the Mayor, ensuring that the Council remains ultimately and rightfully in charge of the borough's governance.

D(M): You used to be a member of the Labour Party - why did you leave?

AD: I left because I realised that I was a member out of pure blind loyalty; my family has voted Labour consistently for generations, but I could not carry on supporting a party that has drifted so far from its roots. My decision to leave boiled down to the party's track record of the last 13 years. Whatever the party may now claim to stand for in opposition, the fact remains that Labour in government did not represent those most in need.

D(M): What was the last community event you went to - and what was it like?

AD: On Wednesday 6th October I attended a meeting of The East London Communities Organisation (TELCO). Rather than a hustings, this was a structured meeting where candidates responded to TELCO's wish list from the next Mayor. The wishes included a commitment to meet with TELCO at least twice a year, a promise to promote the London Living Wage (I bettered that with the Green minimum wage!!), expanding the City Safe Havens programme, providing 1,000 work placements for young people in the Council, and allowing community land trusts to acquire land under Section 106 agreements. I agreed to all of these with no reservations, as it corresponded pretty well to Green policy - the 1,000 job promise was in our policy document anyway!

The atmosphere was extremely calm and orderly - I am told this is how TELCO conducts all its business. It is good to see such organised bodies representing residents.

D(M): You work for Transport for London, so maybe you wont be able to answer this one: are the RMT and TSSA right to strike?

AD: The proposed job cuts on the front line will affect the quality of service, and will jeopardise one of the Underground's biggest selling points - staff presence. I for one do not wish us to become another Paris, where staff are very scarce and information is limited. But there is also a safety issue at stake - after the King's Cross Fire in 1987, minimum staffing levels were introduced network-wide, to ensure that all stations had sufficient staff levels to operate safely. In the face of economic pressure, these minimum staffing levels are now being reversed.

In my opinion it is only a matter of time before another accident happens, prompting another inquiry which concludes that staffing levels were inadequate to manage the incident effectively. I would support the strike on the issue of safety, but I think the public needs to be better informed of the dangers of cutting staff numbers, especially as this initial 800 may be followed by considerably more.

D(M): How would you rate this government's performance so far on climate change?

AD: This government is another in a long line that has talked the talk on climate change but done very little to address it. This recession could have been an opportunity to green our economy, just as South Korea did in its last recession, making it more efficient and sustainable whilst providing roughly a million jobs and kick-starting a recovery.

As it is, we have the ridiculous situation where millions sit unemployed whilst this important work goes undone and the country's economy grinds to a halt. No commitment to improving public transport for most of the nation, no commitment to reducing our oil dependency, no efforts to curb flying, apart from the cancellation of Heathrow's third runway (to have been built in a Tory-voting area, of course!).

D(M): You're a TSSA member, which meant you got a vote in the Labour leadership ballot. Did you vote, and if so how?

AD: I voted for Diane Abbott first and Ed Miliband second. This was somewhat tactical, involving the fairly safe assumption that Abbott would drop out in the first round and Ed would pick up her second preference votes. Whilst none of the candidates on offer could really be described as 'progressive', I believe Ed Miliband was the best out of the two front-runners to start shifting the Labour Party away from the super-rich-friendly New Establishment that flourished under Blair. He has his work cut out!

The Mayoral election is next week, and for interest people may like to read Dave Hill's interview with the independent candidate Lutfur Rahman, and Stop the City Airport's review of the Mayoral booklet.

1 comment:

Alan Weinberg said...

People of Tower Hamlets I wish to inform you that while you are suffering severe cuts your councils wastes £10Million on a project that is totally unnecessary and is not even in your borough. The project is to rebuild a school in East Sussex that does not need re-building.
The reason given for demolishing the school are not obvious or at all convincing in the light of the cut backs that is happening on their own doorsteps.
For example, the main reason given by Tower Hamlets planners is that the children should sleep in one building and go to school in the other. Compare that to the hardships that will come with the proposed cuts.
The project that I am referring is the Bowden House School (BHS) owned by Tower Hamlets and located in 12 acres of beautiful countryside very close to the South Downs National Park near Seaford. East Sussex. BHS is a vast and beautiful building and in very good state of repair having had almost unlimited money spent on it in the past. It is, however, undersubscribed.
With only 27 EBD children (the school has a capacity of 38) presently at the school the cost per child must be the highest of any in the BSF program. The running costs are also very high mainly due to the fact that the children have to be taken individually by taxi and the need for more than 2 Staff per child (i.e. 56 staff). Tower Hamlets are pushing ahead with a redevelopment which will cost approximately £10 million and which will cater for 40 (only 2 more) children.
BHS is also unique in the in the BSF program because it is a school development that very few people want, for example:
Local residents at Seaford do not want a new school (300 protest letters); the Lewes District Council voted 7 to 1 against it; our MP Norman Baker did not want it; the bats and badgers do not want it because they lose their home; the environment does not want it because of the carbon footprint required for a new build is equal to about 20 years of the energy running cost of school; the children of the school do not want it -if the old boys Face book web site is anything to go by; Sport England have objected to it -because it builds over nearly 50% of the present playing fields.
The benefits given by a new school are also not so obvious because it is far more institutional rather than the present school that was described as “homely” in one Ofstead reports. The children may well have a problem with the new school since it has been stated by TH that one reason for having a new building is to have more control over the children by making it more easy to shut -off corridors -but this is a school for EBD children not criminals.
If you ask me I can send you some photographs of BHS so that you can see what a waste it would be to demolish it.