London’s East End is full of people with a wealth of experience and ideas to change both their lives and the world, and yet most of them feel – and are – locked out of politics.
In Tower Hamlets we’ve gone through the years being told what to do by Westminster (with our elections overturned and Commissioners being installed to run parts of the borough) while our local political class have lost touch with what it means to represent people. They’ve spoken for residents rather than with residents, and become mired in vendettas and petty bickering which has dragged down all of those around them.
The challenges we face are too great to keep going with the politics of the past. We still have one of the highest child poverty rates in Britain. Like other councils, we are not allowed to take advantage of cheap borrowing rates to invest in the social housing we need to alleviate the greatest accommodation crisis in living memory. We might have had two and a half thousand homeless families on our hands if we had not taken the decision to plough money into absorbing the costs of the government’s economically-illiterate bedroom tax.
I’ve led in creating more social and affordable housing than any other borough in the country. We’re the only inner-city London borough in the top ten for getting our young people into university. A recent report credited us with some of the world’s best urban schools.
We did that because we took the rhetoric of ‘working together’ that all politicians use and made it work in practice, and because Tower Hamlets has no end of local people willing to stand up for good causes. As a councillor I am constantly visited by a constellation of campaigners – people fighting to save a local LGBT pub, people wanting fairer leasehold charges, people campaigning for a special educational needs unit at their local sixth form college or people wanting more space for cycling and a better deal on road safety. And when things go wrong, such as the tragedy of local schoolgirls leaving for Syria, we instantly come together across faiths and backgrounds to work out what went wrong and how we can prevent it happening again.
More than anything else, I will fight for a more inclusive and more accessible style of politics, one that puts women, families and ordinary people at the heart of policy and decision-making. I will lead the most transparent administration ever, with my work and decisions accountable to People’s Question (and Answer) Times regularly. The days of iron walls and political cliques that have plagued this borough for decades before any of us were on the scene will be over.
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. We need to continue creating social housing and ensure that developers are made to put something more into the community than another pile of luxury flats. In an age of austerity, we need to make sure that the arts and culture are preserved and encouraged to flourish. We need to stand with vulnerable people, whether its over the scrapping of the Independent Living Fund for disabled people, helping working mothers like myself with childcare costs or standing up against a rising tide of racism and xenophobia. And we need to be working together to create decent jobs and decent wages.
I will be publishing a detailed manifesto in the next few days, but for now, I can promise to cap leaseholder charges at £10,000; to support the London Living Wage and London Living Rent campaigns; to put in place a new plan to celebrate our culture and help the East End’s arts and creative industries thrive despite government cuts and put in place a concrete plan to help small businesses deliver decent jobs at decent wages while keeping themselves afloat.
I will work with a broad coalition of people. I will not shut down ideas because they come from people I have political differences with. I will work closely with the Commissioners to ensure that the governance issues identified in last year’s auditors’ report are addressed, but at the same time, I will make sure that the Council is run for the benefit of East Enders, not Whitehall bureaucrats. And I will encourage everyone who is physically able to vote in person, not by postal ballot, because democracy is precious and the people of Tower Hamlets must show their strength at the ballot box.
I like to think that fixing everyday issues can be part of a bigger picture, something that shows we have the power to do politics differently. In Scotland we’ve seen how the main parties have been completely and utterly left behind, and for the first time in a generation people feel energised by politics because politics is giving something back to them. Here, while the main parties obsess over decades’ worth of vendettas, we have a chance to focus on the future, strengthen our communities and create an open, rainbow politics where no one is left outside the room.
There are over a quarter of a million people that call Tower Hamlets home. I think all of us deserve more, and that’s why I want to be your next Mayor.