What we need in London is a voice for all the people who feel that we need fundamental change in the way the city operates. These people feel there is something wrong with a society which sees its priorities as spending money on war and privatisation rather than helping the poorest people and public services.
The strength of London is its multiculturalism, its public services and its public spaces. But these are things that the government is attacking. There are three main things that people in London say they care about-housing, transport, and crime and safety.
There are periodic crises because there is never enough cheap housing. Because it is left to the market there has always been homelessness. Many people live in overcrowded conditions, live with their family when they don’t want to, or pay exorbitant rents to live anywhere on their own. This is a direct result of successive governments’ policies. They have not built enough council housing. This was true even in the 1950s and 1960s, when the most housing was being built.
It has been made worse by the policies of the last 20 years. The sell-off of council housing has been a disaster. There has been the privatisation of whole estates and a grab for land which is earmarked purely for luxury development. In London they are selling off schools, pubs and factories, not to turn them into housing for people who need it, but into luxury apartments.
These are sometimes bought simply as investments-people buy them to see the values of the properties rise. This is creating a whole range of petty landlords and pricing first-time buyers out of the market because it’s keeping prices artificially high.
We need an emergency programme of housebuilding. Such a programme would mean that people who want to live in the city should be able to get low-cost rented accommodation with security of tenure.
To pay for this programme we should put a tax on office building, which has gone up at a phenomenal rate. Every office development should pay a tax that is earmarked for public housing. We should also tax second homes in London and buy for let properties.
You then begin to shift the wealth towards the poorest people who really need it. There was a huge fight to stop the whole of the South Bank of the Thames being developed by private companies.
Because of that fight you have a walkway, some of the best low-cost housing in London, the publicly owned theatres, a concert hall, cinemas and the Tate Modern along there.
The Coin Street people squatted their places and they won an area where they were able to design their own houses. This has benefited the whole of London. Most of the riverside isn’t like that. If you go from Tower Bridge to Greenwich on the river you will not see practically an inch of grass. The whole of the riverside is almost full up with expensive residential development. Who decided that?
We’ve got a unique situation of having the most expensive and the worst transport in the world. Buses are £1, which most people are prepared to pay. But they should be cheaper and there should be concessions for unemployed and disabled people.
The tube is more than twice that price. This should be cut to the price of the buses. I don’t see why poor people should be priced off the tube. Some people say that if you made the tube cheaper it would become even more overcrowded. But the tube is overcrowded because we’ve put no investment into it for 50 years.
There have only been two lines built since the Second World War. Again, we need an emergency programme of tube building. They’re building the East London link, which is good, but it doesn’t deal with where most people want to go in London-into and across central London. And the whole line will be privatised.
The Cross Rail should be built. There has been prevarication about it for 20 years. Thatcher stopped it from being built and New Labour hasn’t built it. The Hackney-Chelsea line, which has been talked about for 30 years, should be built. It would take people from one poor part of London to a much richer part, both of which don’t have the tube system.
The overground railway should be upgraded to tube level. At the moment it goes so infrequently, it is so unreliable and it is so dangerous at night because it has no staffing most people won’t travel on it. We could also extend the congestion charge to Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster.
Amazingly, the richest residential area in central London doesn’t have the congestion charge. We could make the congestion charge more progressive, so that it isn’t a flat rate that hits the poor harder. Some people do have to drive into central London.
You could tax workplace parking, company cars and cars with engines over a certain size. In any serious society it’s the job of national government to make sure its capital city runs efficiently. That is something that has to come out of national government funds.
I’m committed to making sure there are conductors on every bus and there should be Routemaster buses, the ones with open platforms. They’re trying to get rid of them on the grounds that they’re not suitable for disabled people and not as environmentally friendly as they could be.
It should be possible to develop a new proto-type Routemaster bus but they won’t because it is supposedly too expensive. The Routemaster is generally acknowledged as the most popular, most comfortable and most efficiently designed bus. Modern buses are very badly designed because the driver has to take the money as well as drive. If you had conductors they could help disabled people and parents with young children. Bus conductors improve safety, as do guards on tubes and trains, which have nearly all been abolished now, and as do staff in stations.
I don’t think London is a particularly dangerous city in absolute terms, if you look at the crime figures. The crime figures for London aren’t as bad as some northern cities. But many people clearly feel insecure. That is partly because the quality of life has been so destroyed by privatisation, cutbacks and a materialistic culture that says everyone for themselves.
People feel that they live in a much more brutal society. The solution is always posed as more prisons and police on the streets. I don’t think this is the answer. You only have to look to the US to see where a very highly policed society with a huge prison population also has a very high rate of crime.
We have to look at what makes people cause crime and how you prevent it. If every station had to be staffed, they would be much safer places. Park keepers would make the parks much better.
There used to be caretakers in every council estate. Now they’re called concierges and usually go in the most expensive flats. There should be full-time caretakers on every estate. A lot of potential crime can be deterred if somebody sees you there. This is precisely why the rich have concierges.
You need more youth workers, and more things for young people to do. They feel such a sense boredom and lack of worth from the awful tested education they go through. All of those things would contribute to cutting crime and making people feel safer.
If I was elected I would see my role as campaigning for all the issues we’ve fought on locally. If there is a demonstration, as there is this week, over a construction worker who was killed in Wembley, I would expect to be on it. I would expect to campaign against war and the visits of people like George Bush. I would support any group of workers on strike like the postal workers and the civil servants.
There are longer-term campaigns too. If you look at pay, particularly women’s, you can see that London, one of the richest cities in the world, is run by people on some of the lowest wages.
Pay, proper childcare and a shorter working week are all things you can campaign for on an all-London basis. I’m also standing for mayor of London. There are lots of things that I agree with Ken Livingstone about. He was very good about opposing the war and the Bush visit.
He was criticised for that and also for his views on Palestine. He’s somebody who strongly promotes anti-racism and equality. There were two reasons why we thought it was important to stand against him. One was that he rejoined the Labour Party. I voted for him last time when he stood as an independent and wouldn’t have had a problem voting for him again.
But people felt that going back into Labour meant he was not identified by his own anti-war and other good policies but with much more Blairite policies. Most of the people standing for Labour in London are people who are very far from Ken Livingstone politically. So it was partly his identification with Labour that made us decide to stand.
That on its own wouldn’t be enough. I wouldn’t be in favour of standing against someone like Jeremy Corbyn who has a very good record even though they’re Labour.
The other reason was that we wanted to raise our profile as Respect. Standing for mayor opens access to a number of hustings, meetings and you get in the mayoral booklet that goes to every house in London. One of the good things about these elections is that you can vote for me number one for mayor, and vote for Ken Livingstone number two.
We will say, ‘Vote for Respect in protest at Labour’s policies,’ but you can still vote to transfer to Ken Livingstone. I don’t think any other party, including the Greens, are arguing that.
The election will be a referendum on the Blair government. I’m convinced Blair will do very badly, but we don’t want the victors to be the UK Independence Party or the Liberal Democrats.
The Liberals said they were opposed to the war but supported it once it began. Now they’re saying the occupation of Iraq has to continue on a more ‘humane’ basis. We don’t want the beneficiaries of that very strong anti-war sentiment to be the Liberals or the right wing.
It’s a chance for people to say to the Blair government, ‘We reject your policies and want something more left wing.’ If we can do that it will be the first time in a very long time that a force to the left has broken through electorally.
Check out Lindsey’s campaign by logging on to www.socialistreview.org.uk
‘We need an emergency programme of housebuilding. Such a programme would mean that people who want to live in the city should be able to get low cost rented accommodation with security of tenure. To pay for this programme we should put a tax on office building, which has gone up at a phenomenal rate. The whole of the riverside is almost full up with expensive residential development.Who decided that?’
‘If elected I would see my role as campaigning for all the issues we’ve fought on locally. I would expect to campaign against war and the visits of people like George Bush. There are longer-term campaigns too. If you look at pay, particularly women’s, you can see that London, one of the richest cities in the world, is run by people on some of the lowest wages. Pay, proper childcare and a shorter working week are all things you can campaign for on an all-London basis.’
‘We’ve got a unique situation of having the most expensive and the worst transport in the world. The tube should be cut to the price of the buses. I don’t see why poor people should be priced off the tube. The Cross Rail should be built. There has been prevarication about it for 20 years. I’m committed to making sure there are conductors on every bus and there should be Routemaster buses, the ones with open platforms.’
You will get three ballot papers and have five votes on 10 June. This can make voting complicated-but the message to get across to people is that, in London, the ORANGE and the WHITE ballot papers are the crucial ones. These are for the elections carried out using proportional representation. That means that Respect has a chance to make a breakthrough in these elections-getting Lindsey German elected to the London Assembly and George Galloway to the European Parliament.
Remember, ‘Orange and white will see Respect right!’ (or, if you prefer, ‘Orange and white to give Blair a fright!’) Respect is described on the ballot paper as Respect: The Unity Coalition (George Galloway) – because George Galloway is the best known figure in Respect. When you go to the polling station on 10 June (open from 7am to 10pm), you will be given:
THE PINK PAPER
This will have two columns next to each candidate’s name. In the first column you put an X for your first choice, in the second column you put an X for your second choice. Put an X against: LINDSEY GERMAN, Respect: The Unity Coalition (George Galloway) in the first column. You don’t have to put a second choice but Socialist Worker is calling for people to put an X against Ken Livingstone in the second column.
THE YELLOW & ORANGE PAPERS
The left hand side is yellow. Here you can vote for your constituency candidate-put an X against whoever is standing for Respect: The Unity Coalition (George Galloway) in your area. The right hand side is orange. THIS IS THE FIRST REALLY VITAL VOTE for the London-wide list in the assembly elections. You will see the party name. Put an X against Respect: The Unity Coalition (George Galloway).
THE WHITE BALLOT PAPER
The final ballot paper has not been designed yet. This is the SECOND REALLY VITAL VOTE. You will see the names of the parties followed by a list of candidates for each. Put an X against Respect: The Unity Coalition (George Galloway). For a very good description of the voting process in London go to www.londonelects.org.uk and click on the ‘How to vote’ section.
Here balloting will be simpler. The key ballot paper will be the one for the European Parliament. In the North West, North East, East Midlands and Yorkshire & Humberside regions there is all-postal voting.
Ballot papers will start being delivered on Wednesday 26 May and all should have been delivered by 29 May. They must be returned by 10 June at the very latest. In other regions you must go to a polling station on 10 June. Your European Parliament ballot paper will have the names of the parties and a list of candidates for each. Put an X against Respect: The Unity Coalition (George Galloway).
In Scotland, where Respect is not standing, vote for the Scottish Socialist Party.
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