Thursday 23 April 2015

Local Debate 1 - cancellation of the Forest Hill/Sydenham hustings

While I've been busy with my day-job as a teacher trade
Thanks to the SLP for giving me equal billing
unionist, I can see on emails and social media that a debate has been taking place on two local issues: developments at Sedgehill School (which I will post on separately) - and (discussed in this post) why the hustings due to be held at Holy Trinity Church tomorrow night has been cancelled. As a local TUSC candidate, Sedgehill parent and Lewisham NUT officer, I have been asked to comment on both debates - and I am happy to do so here.

Should the hustings have been cancelled?

The Forest Hill and Sydenham Societies have had to take into account a range of views, including my own, about how their hustings event originally planned for Friday 24th April, was to be organised. I appreciate the complexities but have differed with the organisers on two issues. Firstly, they should have included me as a candidate on the panel in the first place. Secondly, they need not have cancelled the hustings.

Invitations were originally sent by the organisers to five candidates: Conservative, Green, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP - but not TUSC. When I found out about the hustings, I wrote to the organisers pointing out that theirs would be the only local event excluding me from an open hustings and that, as a well-known local campaigner who has lived in the constituency for over 25 years, I would hope to be included.

Regrettably, I was told that I would only be offered the
Yes, it looks like 25 years has been a long time ...
chance to ask a question and briefly introduce myself from the floor. Why should I have to accept that? I replied in detail explaining that this would not seem justifiable to many of those attending. I have posted elsewhere why I felt that Electoral Commission guidance should allow TUSC to fully participate as a sixth party, one standing in over 130 seats nationally, and with a candidate with genuine backing in the constituency.

Particularly after the Conservative, UKIP and Green candidates also responded in my support, the decision was then taken to extend an invitation to me after all - rightly so but gratefully received.

However, while my argument was only about my rights to attend as a sixth candidate with genuine local prominence, the organisers concluded that they should extend an invitation to all eight nominees. The news then followed that as it had "proved impossible to get all eight candidates to agree to attend the hustings due to the presence of a candidate from Liberty GB", the event had been cancelled.

For my part, I was never included in any discussions about the attitude to Liberty GB's presence. There is ongoing debate within the trade union movement as to when it is right not to give a platform to racist and fascist candidates. I certainly sympathise with the organisers in not wanting to invite a candidate whose Party Manifesto expresses views that many would find divisive and dangerous. Their stated education policy would be laughable if it wasn't so offensive: to "limit the funding of schools to a base amount ... with any extra spending raised by the local authority. This will mean that inner-city schools with multicultural vanity projects will have to raise money through taxes from their own multicultural population".

However, the reasons that I gave to the organisers to include me on the platform also provided genuine reasons why Liberty GB could have been excluded, while remaining within electoral law.

As a trade unionist and socialist, with a proud record of fighting racism locally, I am only too happy to explain how such right-wing parties only serve to divide communities, as they try to unfairly scapegoat migrants for a lack of decent jobs, homes and services. Those threats should be blamed on the permanent diet of austerity being offered by the main parties, not on minorities. However, TUSC also points out that there is a genuine danger that, unless these austerity policies are reversed as we demand, then fringe racist parties could start to gain backing, threatening the unity of our local community.

UPDATE: Friday April 24th
Regrettably, I received an email today from the Penge Forum saying that their hustings next week has also been cancelled. 

Understandably, voters on local forums are angered that, unless '38 degrees' can secure a venue for their event, there will be no further public hustings where they can hear local candidates speak together.

Firstly, I should make clear that TUSC has not been included in any discussions about cancelling hustings and I also share in the disappointment that the meetings are not going ahead. As well as denying local voters the chance to hear the debate, TUSC of course also loses an opportunity to put across our policies too (opportunities which are being unfairly denied us too often already, despite us standing in 130 constituencies.)

Given their divisive views, I would prefer not to have to share a platform with Liberty GB at all but, if the choice is between having no hustings at all and sitting alongside them, then the choice seems clear. A tiny right-wing party, standing in only a handful of seats, should not become a reason why voters in Lewisham West and Penge are denied the chance to hear from their prospective candidates.

I am unable to take up Tom Chance's suggestion of a street meeting in Penge tomorrow, as I am one of the organisers of the anti-academies march assembling on Hilly Fields at midday. However, I am keen to see whether, perhaps through our rights to ask for access to rooms for meetings, candidates can assist in making sure a hustings does still take place.

Separately, TUSC is keen to give voters a chance to hear from us at our own public meetings - still taking place in Penge and Forest Hill in the run-up to the Election (see separate listing)

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