With just days before Labour Party members decided who they want to follow Frank Dobson as their parliamentary candidate in Holborn and St Pancras, we asked the five hopefuls battling out Saturday's final showdown the same five questions.
What is the number one challenge facing Holborn and St Pancras constituency ahead of the next general election?
SIR KEIR STARMER: Inequality. Holborn and St Pancras is a vibrant and diverse constituency but it is has very high levels of inequality, whether measured by income, housing, health or child poverty. The austerity measures of the current government have made matters much worse. The challenge is to reverse this trend. The essential first steps would be (a) to ensure that the London living wage becomes a reality for those in our constituency on low pay – along with a significant investment in skills, vocational training and childcare, (b) to invest in our public services, especially the NHS and education, and (c) to implement a radical housing policy which meets the need of local people at costs they can afford.
RAJ CHADA: Housing. Unless we address the fundamentals of the housing market, then the very essence of this constituency will be lost – that idea of a community living side by side, sharing this great part of our city. Housing in Inner London is being seen as a place for investment for assets by the worlds super rich – rather than a place for us to live and work. That must stop. Whilst of course, we should regulate the private sector, we need to build more housing – both council housing and housing for shared ownership. Allowing councils to borrow and using the money by abolishing HS2 and Trident, we should create a Housing Fund that will deliver the largest house building program for 70 years. We should allow councils to CPO property left empty for 1 year. Bold policies that deliver real change are needed – not fiddling around the edges.
CLLR SARAH HAYWARD: Housing - it's affecting people from all backgrounds from all types of housing. We need to build more council homes, regulate the private rented sector and lettings agents and build homes that mortals can afford to buy. The ability to tackle other forms of inequality flows from people having access to safe, stable housing. I've achieved what I can as leader of the council, now I need to campaign for national change in parliament. This is an issue that I really can make a difference on.
DR PATRICK FRENCH: The single thing that will destroy what we most love about Holborn & St Pancras; its vibrancy, its diversity and energy, is our massive housing crisis. The lack of new social housing; a poorly regulated private rental sector; an out of control housing market all have to be aggressively tackled if we want prevent Camden becoming increasingly polarised between the rich and everyone else. Bold solutions are needed: the borrowing cap on councils needs to be lifted so they can start building more; we need rent control; we need council tax rebanding and strong legislation that discourages purchase of London properties purely as an investment.
CLLR ANGELA POBER: Worklessness. Economic inactivity figures for 2014 are for the Borough but even stripping out student numbers our figure is higher than the London and National average. In the next five months before the election we need to work with the various agencies in a concerted effort to help those who do want to find work, and work with the employers to create more apprentice roles. Giving people access to work opportunities drives economic independence and takes people out of poverty, and gives people a boost to their self-esteem.
What is your position on HS2?
SIR KEIR STARMER: I am against HS2 because neither the economic nor the environmental case is made out. HS2 Ltd is currently unable to deliver a ‘fundable solution’ for Euston, which provides an ideal opportunity for whoever is the Labour candidate for Holborn and St Pancras to persuade Labour to reconsider its support for HS2 or, failing that, the role of the London hubs, whether Old Oak Common, Euston or elsewhere. If selected, l would do everything in my power to influence Labour, at all levels in the party, on both of these key issues. Failing that, I would campaign tirelessly to minimise the impact on our local communities and to secure fair compensation.
RAJ CHADA: Unequivocally against. According to the Public Accounts Committee, the economic case is “unproven”. I cannot think of a business or local council that would take an investment decision on the evidence before us. If we want to use transport to regenerate the North, then we should look at HS3 – linking up those cities. HS2 simply does not make sense. The money that is allocated for this should be used for transport links like HS3 and the rest for housing. If it has to go ahead, it should stop at Old Oak Common. The current scheme seems to be about making money for developers in central London. I would vote against the current proposals and certainly anything that came into Euston causing the mayhem that it will do.
CLLR SARAH HAYWARD: I oppose it, it will devastate the area around the station and I'll vote against the plans. I've been successful on HS2 already, for example, working with others I've persuaded government to drop the plans for the link and to replace the homes that will be lost so people aren't forced to leave Camden. I'm the best placed candidate to pick up this work from Frank, we need someone who'll oppose HS2 and fight for Holborn & St Pancras. The Tories have already admitted, in parliament, that they're scared of me on this issue. Imagine what I'll be able to achieve as your MP!
DR PATRICK FRENCH: I am against it. I am not against large infrastructure projects. Britain’s economy needs to to grow. We need commerce, trade and new, well-paid jobs. We need an economy that will support the public services on which so many of us depend. But although capacity on the railways is a problem the economic case for HS2 is unconvincing. If I was the MP for Holborn and St Pancras I would campaign against HS2 and vote against HS2. £50 billion is much better spent on connecting our northern cities and investing in green transport in London. We desperately need to reduce air pollution in Camden and this level of investment in cycling and public transport could massively improve things. We should use this pause in HS2 to both fight against it and get a much better deal for those in Holborn and St Pancras who may lose their homes or have their lives blighted by HS2.
CLLR ANGELA POBER: HS2 and the regeneration of the Euston area are two separate topics that have been conflated. I commuted daily from Euston to Birmingham for 6 months last year so I know that the trains are not full. But drop 11 carriages down to 9 and we travel in less space than animals in transit. Without having seen the business case and the evidence shoring up the capacity justification, just on my travel experience alone I support more rolling stock and line electrification to the east and south west of the UK before shaving 20 Hs2 minutes off a journey to Birmingham.
Do private companies have a role to play in the NHS?
SIR KEIR STARMER: The creation of the NHS is one of Labour’s greatest achievements. It should be restored as a public service working co-operatively for patients, not a commercial business driven by competition. As a step in the right direction, I support Labour MP Clive Efford’s private members bill which seeks to exempt the NHS from the EU-US made treaty known as TTIP, repeal compulsory tendering and remove the freedom of NHS hospitals to earn a significant percentage of their income from private patients.
RAJ CHADA: No - the NHS should be re- nationalised. 17 Billion pounds of contract have been let to the private sector under this Government. I do not want multi national companies having involvement in our NHS – It should be run in the public sector. Having worked in the legal aid sector, all my life, I understand the value of public sector ethos and how a drive for profit can alter a service. When the profit motive is introduced, something has to give and it is not normally the margin – it is the level of service, the terms and conditions or pay of front line staff – I do no want to see that happen to the NHS.
CLLR SARAH HAYWARD: In terms of the provision of treatment - no. We need a publicly funded, publicly run NHS that provides care free on the basis of need. The Tories want to reduce the state and ration all public services - not just in the NHS. This election will be a fight for the future of universal public services - including the NHS. It is an absolute scandal that the BMA estimates that the Clinical Commissioning Groups have bought around one third of their services from the private sector. We have to reverse this. NHS treatment should be provided by the public sector to patients on the basis of need.
DR PATRICK FRENCH: The NHS needs to be brought back into the public sector. The NHS must be publicly led and publicly delivered and it is this NHS which is the envy of the world. Experience from countries reliant on private healthcare and increasingly experience from England shows that these systems are inefficient, expensive and often grossly unfair. The NHS has always collaborated with private companies such as the pharmaceutical industry but the only way to ensure that care is available to all according to need and not ability to pay is if it is firmly in public hands.
CLLR ANGELA POBER: As a former NHS foundation trust hospital governor I firmly believe that there is no need to use private companies in the provision of care across the NHS where volumes have been forecast and activity is predictable. However, there is a need for external companies to step in to help the NHS cope with unpredicted volumes where the normal ‘staff bank’ cannot plug the gap and additional equipment is required, such situations have been experienced during a harsh winter, epidemic or incident.
The only significant electoral loss for Labour in Camden of recent times was in 2006 and is often blamed as a protest vote to Tony Blair's government - how do you view the former Prime Minister?
SIR KEIR STARMER: There is no doubt that the Iraq war cast a huge shadow over Tony Blair’s final years in office. Anger about the war was deeply felt by many people in our local party, including me. But Tony Blair won three consecutive elections. And Labour’s record on the minimum wage, sure start, the peace settlement in Northern Ireland, the investment in schools and hospitals and civil partnerships for same sex couples should not be forgotten. The Conservative led coalition has achieved nothing by comparison.
RAJ CHADA: Tony Blair’s legacy will forever be defined by Iraq - a war that I was against and marched against it. Overall on on the plus side, I am forever grateful to him though for the Good Friday Agreement. I grew up in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles and when I go back now, it is a different place. I am convinced that peace would not have happened without Blair (and Mo Molam and many others). The change in the NHS and education during that time is also staggering. I look back at how Haverstock School, where I am Chair has improved during that time and it amazing. However, his obsession with markets, his failure on the ALMO for Camden and his current abject failure in the Middle east has left me deeply sceptical about his policies and values.
CLLR SARAH HAYWARD: I prefer to view the record of the Labour government from 1997 as a whole - including Frank's time as health secretary: The National Minimum Wage, Sure Start, Civil Partnerships, rebuilding schools and hospitals, thousands more nurses, doctors, police. The first women to hold the posts of home secretary and foreign secretary, the first black member of the cabinet, the first openly gay member of the cabinet. All of these things were achieved under that Labour administration. But there were things I didn't agree with. The war in Iraq which I left my job over, 42 days detention of terror suspects and we should have introduced more stringent banking regulation. There's a lot to be proud of, but we can also learn from the mistakes.
DR PATRICK FRENCH: It is difficult to give an objective assessment of Tony Blair’s achievements in government when you consider his role in the Iraq War. An illegal war and a tragedy for Britain, the Middle East, the Iraqi people and the British soldiers who fought in the conflict. Its consequences are with us today. It has made the world a more unstable and more dangerous place. But it is important to acknowledge that there were many things in the Blair government that changed Britain for the better: the Good Friday agreement, the minimum wage, Sure Start Centres. For me, I will always be grateful for Tony Blair’s realisation that the crumbling NHS was massively underfunded. The rebuilding of our NHS and the rightly high expectations we now all have for the care we get from the NHS are legacies of the Blair/Brown years.
CLLR ANGELA POBER: I don’t know Tony Blair personally and I always form my own opinion about people rather than have then formed for me by what others say or write. So I’ll restrict my answer to two points. He galvanised the latent Labour vote and got it to the polling booth, he got Labour into Government and kept Labour there to implement our social policies, and I applaud him for making Labour a Party of Government. However, he was rash in believing war benefits the incumbent Government and PM from a Falklands Effect. It was a bad decision to go to war, not justified by the evidence and caused a division amongst the Labour membership that still surfaces today.
Aside from the Iraq War, what is the policy or issue in recent years in which you wish the Labour Party had performed better - and what would you have done differently?
SIR KEIR STARMER Housing. For a decade under Labour, we built the least housing since the war in both private and social sectors. The consequences of this are widely felt. House prices and rents are going up faster than earnings because demand massively outstrips supply. In Holborn and St Pancras, the situation is now acute. House prices and private rents are excessive. The supply of social housing is far too restricted and too many households face overcrowding. Given the opportunity, I would have made house building a priority, maintained a better supply of social housing and put in place tighter governance of private rents.
RAJ CHADA: I would have given Camden Council the money for direct investment into council housing. It is a matter of shame that a Labour government did not do that. They should have done better on housing more generally – and about tackling inequality. We should be very clear that we want the gap between rich and poor to fall – that a society that is not more equal does not work well for those at the as well as those at the bottom. Our economic, tax and benefit policies should be based around that.
CLLR SARAH HAYWARD: Going in to the next election I think we should be making the case to borrow to build housing - just as families use mortgages. Supply is at crisis point and building homes creates jobs and an asset that allows repayment of the borrowing. Building homes also solves the biggest problem that this seat and much of the rest of the country faces. If I am selected by Labour members on Saturday I will campaign on this locally, nationally and in parliament.
DR PATRICK FRENCH: Inequality is the greatest challenge for Labour. We should have been much more vigilant about both the growth of an increasingly insecure, low paid, low skilled economy and the unjustifiable pay and burgeoning wealth of the richest in Britain. We need to tackle both ends of this worsening divide. This means increasing the skills base of Britain, improving pay scales with at least a living wage and progressive taxation. We must state clearly that trickle down economics do not work and unequal societies are unhealthy and unhappy.
CLLR ANGELA POBER: As a former Pension Scheme Trustee I would judge Gordon Brown’s decision, as Chancellor, to carrying out the Tory policy of abolishing the Dividend Tax Credit in 1997 as a policy decision that I would have stopped. Results include pensions schemes restricting access to defined benefits workplace pension schemes, pension funds going into terminal decline from surpluses in the 1990s to large deficits and closure, and for those who had defined contribution schemes they chose to save less. The next Labour Government needs to have to political willpower to sort out the country's pensions crisis.
Original Website: http://www.camdennewjournal.com/selection-questions