AWARD-WINNING campaigning journalist Paul Foot has been selected as the Socialist Alliance candidate in October's election for mayor of Hackney in east London. Voting begins on Monday 7 October, in three weeks time. His campaign has already attracted national media attention. Socialist Worker spoke to Paul Foot.
Why are you standing for mayor?
'WHAT HAS prompted me to stand is New Labour's decision to have elected mayors. I actually voted against the proposal that there should be an elected mayor in Hackney, and the Socialist Alliance was against it. The whole purpose of elected mayors, which was introduced in the Local Government Act 2000, was to make local government even less representative.
'Labour's whole idea is that society should be controlled by 'clever and gifted' people at the top, who decide about the distribution of resources. There is an obstacle for the government in this whole strategy - it has to get its crony elected.
'One of the main reasons the Socialist Alliance in Hackney decided to stand for mayor is because the very democratic process that Labour wants to curb can be used to stand the whole thing on its head.'
What issues are central to your campaign?
'HACKNEY IS one of the poorest areas in the whole of Europe. There is a tremendous amount of poverty and destitution. Hackney has some of the worst records in Britain on health, infant mortality, and education provision.
'We urgently need two new non-religious mixed secondary schools in Hackney. It is an incredible fact that in this borough there will soon be only one mixed secular secondary school. Hackney has faced diabolical cuts.
'We face the privatisation of the school meals service. I will be arguing to stop the privatisation and to campaign on the issue with the trade unions. There are a whole series of cuts the council is making to save little bits of money. These can appear to be very small issues, but they affect people's lives. They are stopping passes for the disabled. They are going to concrete in children's swimming pools.
'On one local estate, the Pembury, there have been police raids in an operation called 'Thumbs Up'. This really means the police will be arresting a lot of young black kids, who will be stopped and searched because they are black. We should have a full inquiry into that.
'I don't see how anyone who claims to be a representative of the people of Hackney can escape saying that they are absolutely opposed to any war on Iraq. I'm absolutely opposed to the war. It is going to be at the front of my campaign, and in all my leaflets. I'm also opposed to the government's treatment of asylum seekers and I am for welcoming asylum seekers to this country.'
Your campaign has already got New Labour worried with reports that it approached Mo Mowlam to stand against you.
'I WAS delighted to hear they had approached Mo Mowlam. I'm pretty sure they approached her after the first announcement that I had decided to stand. I do think they are a little bit nervous. If a man in a monkey suit or a robo-cop is elected, as has been the case in two previous mayoral elections, the government can handle it. It can deal with a maverick or reactionary candidate.
'But if a socialist is elected then that sets all sort of difficulties. A socialist like myself will argue that there are not limited resources for services and the things people need. On the contrary, the resources available in society are enormous. I'm not going to be curbed.
'The government have made sure there are all sorts of restrictions on the mayor's powers. The mayor's policies will be funded from the council budget. Everything will have to be approved by a cabinet which includes two existing councillors. But I will keep demanding that we need proper resources in Hackney. We need a tube in Hackney. We need to stop the sell-off of council housing. We need to change course dramatically towards public enterprise, not private enterprise, and towards comprehensive education and away from all the talk of faith schools and city technology colleges.
'I can't promise that if I'm mayor two new secondary schools will definitely be built. At least there would be someone who has a mandate from the people to say 'this is what I believe in and this is what I intend to campaign for'. The slogan I've developed is that I've been all my life a campaigning and investigative journalist and I intend to be a campaigning and investigative mayor.
'I'm going to go and find out and expose what is going on and campaign to change it.'
Two thirds of the electorate in Hackney did not vote in the council elections this year. What would you say to people who say it's not worth voting?
'I can understand people's attitude to politicians. This is part of a process which has been happening over the last 100 years.
'There has been a consistent surrender of the power of elected representatives to the power of the non-elected people who run society - the big businessmen, the policemen, the judges, those who run the media. The effect of the first Blair government was to make Labour indistinguishable from the Tories.
'So I'm absolutely sympathetic with those who don't vote. On the other hand, the end product of such thought means there is the danger of unrepresentative government.
'There is the danger of dictatorship or ceding all the power to the businessmen and the High Court. And this is something we should try to stop. I would say to people, do you really want to give up your rights to be represented?
'We are offering representation for working class people that is very different to the consensus of the main parties.'
What sort of campaign are you going to have?
'WE ARE going to leaflet every house in Hackney. And on top of that we are producing an eight-page 'Foot for Mayor' supplement. We've got a very loyal and a very hardworking core of people in the Socialist Alliance. The campaign will depend on pulling people in who aren't normally associated with political activity.
'To help do this we are also organising local meetings. Today I'm going to a meeting with the people who campaigned against the scrapping of disabled passes in Hackney.
'In the next week or so I'm hoping to speak to people in tenants associations, to local trade unionists, and to people in the Turkish community. If we achieve nothing else in the election, we will have guaranteed an increase in the socialist propaganda in this area, and hopefully also engaged new people in political activity.'
London Borough of Hackney
- Some 85 percent of households have an income of below £20,000, compared to 66 percent in the rest of London.
- 21 percent of men and 11 percent of women are unemployed - the highest rate in London.
- 112 of the most deprived estates in England are in Hackney.
- Infant mortality and stillbirth rates are 50 percent higher than the national average.
THE ELECTION for Hackney mayor will be by postal ballot. The first voting papers will be delivered on Monday 7 October. Voting ends on Thursday 17 October.
Hackney Socialist Alliance is urging anyone who can to come and help out with leafleting, canvassing, calvacades and street meetings.