Many voters complained that the electoral system used in the first GLA elections was complex. Leaving aside the fact that it gave the Greens (and Lib Dems) representation on the Assembly what are your views on this?
I genuinely think that this system provides the best of both worlds – and I’m not just saying that because it got me elected. They use the same system in Germany and it allows for individual members to represent their constituency whilst also ensuring the political balance of the chamber as a whole reflects the wishes of the electorate. My big complaint is that the Government did not do nearly enough to explain the system last time. It’s not complicated but it does need explaining.
You were elected on the so called ‘top up’ vote. How do you think your relationship with Londoners differs from colleagues who represent a constituency?
I think it has made a real difference to many Londoners who have not had Green politicians to represent them in the past. There are a huge number of Londoners who want to take up issues with a Green politician rather than someone from another party and my postbag reflects that. Of course, I cover the whole of London so it would be easy to become remote and out of touch and just spend my time sitting in endless committee meetings. I’ve strenuously avoided doing that and make real efforts to get out and about around London to lend my voice a whole variety of local campaigns and initiatives.
The congestion charge would appear to further the Green cause and yet you seem to have fairly quiet on the subject, is this just an example of the media ignoring the smaller parties? Does the policy have your support and what (if any) changes would you like to see to it?
I’m rather worried that you think we’ve been quiet on this as we’ve been very vocal supporters. Greens have been really disappointed with Livingstone in many areas but I’ve consistently admired his determination to bring in congestion charging. In terms of changes, the current scheme has got to be just the start and needs to be expanded to cover a wider area of London. Ken Livingstone was out of his mind to say he would abolish it after two months if it doesn’t work. It needs to be given time and if £5 per day is not enough of a deterrent he needs to bump the price up.
What one responsibility not enjoyed by the GLA would you like to see come under it’s remit?
There are a number but I certainly think the GLA needs to have a strategic housing role. Devolution is a rolling process and I’m sure more powers will come to the GLA over time. However, we need to ensure that the Assembly gets some real decision-making powers, not just the Mayor.
With the recent move to City Hall, Southwark has now become the home of London wide government. What efforts will the Greens be making to ensure that existing local residents of a borough with high unemployment do not become disadvantaged by increased rents and house prices?
I’m happy to be in the new building but there are some real questions about local people being pushed out of the area as it becomes more lucrative for property developers. The Mayor needs to use his strategic planning powers to ensure that the interests local communities do not always lose out to the interests of big business. Unfortunately, his draft London Plan places too much emphasis on London’s role as a world city and not enough on the needs of local communities.
We all know the Mayor’s efforts to rejoin the Labour Party were quashed. Do you think it would have been acceptable for him to rejoin the party midway through his existing term given that he was elected on an independent platform?
Even though Ken has not been allowed back into Labour in many ways he’s incredibly suited to them. Both are supporting new roadbuilding in spite of pre-election promises, both are supporting airport expansion yet are being disingenuous about the environmental consequences, and both continue to have a love-in with big business at the expense of tackling the problems facing ordinary people and the environment.
In initiating a partnership register London’s government set out its commitment to equality. What further developments in this area would you like to see?
I lobbied hard for the partnership register to be set up when the GLA was first established and it is a good example of London leading the way on an equality issue that the rest of the country can follow. At the moment Greens are pushing for an alternative to Section 28. Abolishing it isn’t enough. I think we need a new clause that actively promotes equality, tolerance and respect.
What one achievement of the GLA are you most proud of?
In terms of the GLA as a whole I am really pleased that congestion charging is going ahead. In terms of the things I have been most closely involved in, I have been most proud to have played a part in the campaign to save Crystal Palace Park and help scupper plans for an enormous concrete multiplex cinema on this historic green site.
Can London be both a leading environmentally friendly city and a leading city for business?
The Mayor has got to decide which means more to him – London as a world city or London as a sustainable city. The Green vision for London is not just one sprawling metropolis but rather a collection of over 300 urban villages each with its own thriving local community, strong local economy and quality local services, thus reducing people’s need to travel. Yes, we might get overtaken by Frankfurt as a financial centre and, yes, we might not be able to compete with other so-called world cities for the affections of footloose multinationals and dodgy investors, but if we can create a fairer city and a cleaner, healthier and happier environment should this matter so much? Living in London shouldn’t have to be such a fight and such a struggle and we do need a radical alternative.
In 150 words or less how has London most benefited from the establishment of the GLA?
Whilst Londoners have not seen dramatic changes yet, there have been some real improvements, such as bus service improvements, and I do believe the congestion charge will begin to tackle the huge traffic problems. However, Ken Livingstone’s mayoralty is disappointing in many respects. He is completely obsessed with London’s status as a world city and global financial centre and is neglecting the needs of ordinary Londoners and the environment. His London Plan proposes a massive round of new road building, major airport expansion and new office accommodation the equivalent of an additional seventy-five Canary Wharfs. To make a difference we need to see some radical green policies coming out of the GLA. I would advocate the slapping a levy on company car-parking spaces, scrapping proposals for road river crossings in East London, and promoting green industries and local economies rather than creating ever more jobs in the financial sector.