A visit to Hackney to meet Labour’s London European Parliament candidates

In which I visit Hackney to hear London Labour’s new candidates for the European Parliament Election speak, and I comment on their policies and capability. I was keen to meet the new Labour Euro candidates that had beaten me to a position on the slate, so I went to visit Hackney North CLP’s selection hustings where the six new candidates to join Labour’s incumbents were talking to members from Hackney and me.

picture of the top table at Hackney CLP Euro Hustings
The meeting kicked off with an introduction by the speakers, although two were late. They had drawn lots for the order to speak; their opening remarks were limited to three minutes.

Sanchia Alasisa emphasised her electoral & community campaigning experience in the East End, She is a Councillor on Barking and Dagenham council having defeated the BNP London regional organiser to win the seat, in the 2010 campaign where Labour routed the BNP. She works for Brunel Univeristy where she is a specialist in French politics. She expressed the hope that she would be help in the pan-European fight against the growing threat of the ultra-right. She highlighted the EU’s reforms about banker’s bonuses and the financial transaction tax as gains which she’d hope to help build on.

Ivana Bartoletti then introduced herself. She was born in Italy and came to London to settle and start a family. She is an NHS worker and Labour and Unison campaigner. She has worked with numerous socialist/social democratic parties in Italy and Brussels.  Her tag line is, “She knows the streets of London as well as the corridors of Brussels”. Her political campaigning in London is focused around her role as Deputy Director of the Fabian Women’s network, working across London on the #labourdoorstep and campaigning on the NHS. Among others she is supported by Dianne Abbott MP and Mike Gapes MP, which suggests a broad range of ideological support within the Labour Party.

Next up was Seb Dance, the first south of the river speaker, who is a member of the Bermondsey Party. He also wants to put Labour Values at the heart of the campaign.  Seb is currently a full time worker with Action Aid and said that his experience of work in Action Aid against global corporate tax avoidance is an essential foundation for building campaigns and law in favour of economic justice and jobs.

Finally, since we had two late comers, was Lucy Anderson.  She was the first to state that 2014 is a prequel to 2015 and the election of a Labour Government.  She is a full time officer of the NUT, having previously worked for the TUC on international employment law. This work has given her insight, experience and expertise into education policy, which is not an EU competency and employment law which is. She emphasised the importance of defending the Social Chapter against Tory attacks. She is a long term campaigner for Labour in London having held several Party representative positions; she is supported by among others Ken Livingstone and many of the other Unions affiliated to London Labour. I think she came across really well; very human.

After the first three questions, How to engage voters on Europe, the Referendum issue, combating Islamaphobia and if Turkey should join the EU, one of the two late comers, Andrea Biondi was asked to make his opening remarks.

Andrea is a Professor of European Law at King’s College London. Europe is his job, and he demonstrated throughout the meeting that he is almost certainly good at it. In his introductory remarks he said, he was born Italian and came here to work. He is Chairman of the Italian Democratic Party of the Left in the UK.  He understand the EU and its Laws and like us all, he is committed to Labour Values, although unlike some, he is prepared to accept and use the label socialist to describe himself and his/our goals. Later in the meeting, he described the strategy as to stay in and make it better.

The next three questions were firstly, on the EU Commission’s possible court case on the UK Governments second eligibility test for benefits, secondly if the Euro would survive and if so whether & when we should join in and a question about the European Central Bank (ECB).

During this round of questions, the final candidate Kamaljeet Jandu arrived and introduced himself. He also comes from south of the river, hailing from Vauxhall. He is a full time official with the GMB and has served as their ETUC representative and was part of the team negotiating the European Equality Directive.  His experience and life long campaigning record for equality are evident.  He stated he was originally trained as an economist, which must make much of the current debate on economics a miserable experience. Kamaljeet has also served on Labour’s National Policy Forum.

The candidates that chose to answer the benefits question, were keen that the European freedom of movement of people should be defended, they seem unaware of John Mann MP’s developing views.

In answering the question about the Euro and ECB, there was some confusion and some clarity. The clarity is that the problem with the Euro is the economics of austerity, which also creates a crisis of governance in the EU as the increasing danger that the euro-zone countries align and out vote the non-euro countries, although there is limited evidence that this will happen. We can’t afford to stand back and laugh at the Euro zone crises, it’s our largest trading block, a two speed Europe accelerated by the politics of managing the Euro may not be in our interests, and no-one can see us joining the Euro soon. The ECB question was answered badly, I think some candidates need to be clearer in understanding the EU’s supra-national banking systems, although its lack of transparency was criticised by some.

Picture of the Berlaymont in Brussels. (cc) BY-SA david levy
In the next round of questions, included questions on Immigration, UKIP and the extreme right wing, Fortress Europe and a question on the candidates’ views as to the fairness of the process by which they had arrived on the list of candidates.

All the candidates supported immigration on economic and cultural grounds, they argued that London’s communities are multi-cultural, immigrants are a lower benefit cost and their work contributions to the economy are necessary and make us all richer. Community and workplace organising together with economic policies that give hope, growth and jobs are the answer to today’s problems.  The Fortress Europe question allowed the candidates to explore the Schengen treaty and their limited support for it.

With respect to the Labour Party’s process, I need to declare an interest. I applied to be one of Labour’s candidates in London and so the selection panel have selected these six candidates ahead of me, as well as 92 others.

The first thing to say is that being a good MEP is hard. It is technically the most complex legislative role available in British politics today.  There is no doubt in my mind that the six candidates chosen have the expertise, skills and experience to do the job well.  They have these skills and experience in abundance. They may even be the best of the 99 that applied. The Labour Party is united around defending and improving the Social Chapter and worker’s rights. The obvious location of expertise in this area of law and policy is within the Trade Unions and expertise is needed in the European Parliament.

One of the evidence points used to substantiate suggestions that the Unions used their influence unfairly was that a previously successful Labour candidate was not interviewed by the London selection panel. They conveniently forget that it’s a different party, at a different time. There are many thousands of more members in the London Party than in 2009, when the last Euro elections took place and many thousands more members than in 2010 when Labour lost the General Election, returned to opposition, elected Ed Miliband as leader and selected Ken Livingstone to be London’s Mayoral candidate. There were also many more applicants seeking to run for the positions.

On the Labour Uncut thread, there is a row as to whether the selection panel had any objective criteria; the evidence of the six candidates we have to consider is that experience to do the job well is definitely one of the criteria used. I know from the questioning by the selection panel that an effective campaigning record was another of the tests applied. I suggest that someone who has already lost may not pass that test. Behind the arguments is a political one. It is being suggested that the unions, led by Unite are somehow illegitimately supporting left-wing candidates at the expense of Progress supported more moderate candidates. They seem to forget that it is still in the rules that to be a Labour Party member you must join a Union if you can.

These criticisms are not being made by friends of the Labour Party, all they do is delegitimise our processes in the eyes of members and voters. What would definitely be undemocratic is changing the process ½ way through because you don’t like the results. I hadn’t planned to talk and write about changes that might make the process better, or my experiences as a candidate until after the selections were complete. It seemed to me the right thing to do since if you don’t think the democratic contest is fair, you shouldn’t enter it, if you’re not prepared to be fairly beaten, you shouldn’t enter it. In an internal party election if you’re not prepared to support the winners, you probably shouldn’t be in the Party. The selection’s also not finished, so we can’t know what the results are going to be yet and, I suggest, only when we know what’s happened should we talk and consider any changes and improvements. It maybe best to wait until after the election in 2014. Sadly others either lack the self-discipline, or have friends that lack the self-discipline to allow me to do this.

Being an MEP is hard, it needs skills and experience. We require candidates that can do the job, represent Labour and its voters and campaign effectively. I think any of the six candidates meet these criteria and the London selection panel have done a good job; even if they didn’t select me.

The final round of questions included a request for comments on the EU’s push for Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) and a question on the US’s attempts to create long term guarantees for long life service contracts within the current US/EU free trade agreements.

By placing the question of the US/EU trade agreement in the context of the guarantees to services providers, the questioner pointed the candidates at the privatisation of the NHS. Not only are the Tories trying to privatise vast parts of the NHS, they are now looking to entrench these commercial agreements in international treaties even less amenable to  democratic control and revocation than the EU treaties. The point was made that healthcare is not an EU competency, unfortunately public procurement is.  I was disappointed that the question was so tightly focused on the NHS, since all the candidates obviously supported the defence of the NHS. The broader threat in the US/EU treaty, in fact any treaty is that regulation, enforcement and amendment of the terms of new trade laws are vested in the treaty and treaty organisations.  Once this occurs, neither we, as citizens, nor our elected representatives can influence them.

Free Trade is no longer about tariffs, it’s about intellectual property, data protection, consumer protection and monopoly regulation. It is a fight between citizens and corporations and I think we need MEPs who’ll take our side and not that of the corporations. The right wing have captured the Commission and criminalised Keynesianism through treaty, and it is a persistent theme from the corporate lobbyists that Governments and Legislatures enmesh their ability to regulate and change their minds to reflect their electorate in immutable treaties.

It’s why the European Parliament is so important. Europe’s citizens elect it, we can change our minds, and they must ensure they can too.

The final question was about local campaigning and local relevance of the MEP and EU. It would seem that the Labour Party is developing ideas about how MEPs can bring money from Brussels to London. The point was made that the Mayor is not doing this, and that greater expenditure from the Social and regional funds and the unmentioned R&D budget should be available. It would be good if our next bunch of MEPs worked to help London get its share.

ooOOOoo

After the meeting ended, I returned south of the river, using the new old east London line, which is pretty awesome,  as are Zone 1&2 travel cards.

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