Monday, 17 June 2013:
Calder Valley Labour Party: Questions for the candidates
The HebWeb posted seven questions to the candidates shortlisted to be selected as the prospective parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party. Here is response by Andy Hull
1. What steps would you encourage the Labour Party to take to revitalise the economy and urgently bring down unemployment?
A Labour government in 2015 should instigate a major house-building programme to kickstart the economy, create jobs and tackle the country’s housing crisis. If necessary, this capital investment should be funded through prudent borrowing. Jack Dromey MP, Shadow Housing Minister, said recently: ‘Andy is part of the Labour team that has put secure, decent, affordable housing centre-stage in the run-up to the next election’.
Last year, I researched and wrote a new national strategy for housing, called Together at Home. The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee wrote that ‘at last housing is off the back-burner and into hot politics’. Our central proposal was that we should shift our country’s housing spend over time away from benefits and back to bricks and mortar. At the moment, 95% of all the money we spend on housing goes on benefits (including £7bn each year to private landlords) and only 5% goes on building the new homes we need. This month, Ed Miliband announced that this new approach would now be Labour Party policy.
Not just talking the talk, as an elected councillor in Islington I have helped secure the construction of 2,000 new genuinely affordable homes – the second biggest social house-building programme in the country. I urge you to judge all four of us candidates by our track record of actually getting things done.
2. Climate change is extremely important to voters in Hebden Bridge. What would you do to urge a future Labour Government to take action on it?
I think the best way to persuade a future Labour government to pursue an environmental agenda and tackle climate change is to dye the green agenda red. For example, where I’m a councillor, in addition to major home-insulation and boiler-replacement programmes, we have run an award-winning affordable warmth initiative and built a new communal power station to reduce people’s fuel bills. We have also brought in compulsory recycling to reduce the cost of waste disposal. These moves are measures to tackle poverty, but they also help us to address climate change.
When times are hard, it is important to appeal to people’s pockets as well as their consciences, fusing social and environmental justice. After all, in the end, the people who suffer most as a result of climate change are the poorest, both here and overseas.
3. The Tories seem to be following the UKIP agenda over Europe. How should the Labour Party respond?
The Labour Party needs to make the case for the UK’s involvement in Europe more effectively than it has in recent years. After the horrors of two World Wars, Europe brought peace and unity to the continent. Since then, it has become the biggest trading bloc on earth and a major player on the world stage. We share destinies and responsibilities with other nations in a deeply interconnected world: many of the most serious challenges we face, including climate change and organised crime, can only be tackled collectively. It has to be better to be in the room in Europe than out on our own in the cold. If we do not make this case more successfully, we are in serious danger of losing the argument, and possibly a referendum with it.
I also think it is important for the Labour Party to take UKIP on in other areas where their policy is weak or non-existent. We need to ask neighbours on the doorstep who say they are minded to vote UKIP whether they really believe Nigel Farage’s party, beyond their views on Europe, would be good for the country’s economy, public services or welfare state.
4.Estimates of the cost to replace Trident vary but it is thought to be in excess of £100 billion. Could this money be better spent?
CND is based in the ward I represent. I have been to Hiroshima and met survivors of the atomic bomb dropped there. Putting aside financial concerns for a moment, neither our country’s international prestige nor our seat at the UN Security Council should be predicated on our ability to obliterate indiscriminately or the macho geopolitics of “Does my bomb look big in this?”. We need to ‘get to zero’ nuclear weapons in this world and renewing Trident is not the way to get there.
I led the secretariat for an independent commission on national security which exerted considerable influence, helping to convince the government to delay the ‘main gate’ decision on Trident renewal to buy more time for multilateral disarmament talks to make progress. Talking about Trident is easy, but actually affecting policy on it is not.
As for the money, development and procurement of Trident like-for-like costs in the region of £20bn - £30bn, with lifetime costs adding a further £70bn - £100bn. This money could be used instead to rebuild dilapidated secondary schools like Tod High and Calder High, prevent the closure of walk-in health centres like those threatened with closure in Halifax and Todmorden, and finance the major house-building programme the country needs.
If we do win the argument to scrap Trident (and other heavy metal), then we must also support the workers whose jobs may be lost in Barrow-in-Furness, Faslane and Aldermaston.
5. Britain is now an ethnically diverse nation. How should a future Labour government approach the issue of immigration?
My Moroccan Muslim wife, Myriam, is an expert on migration and integration policy, so I have learnt a lot from her. I am fiercely proud of the diversity and openness that has helped our country succeed and our communities thrive. However, I do think that New Labour’s embrace of globalisation was sometimes too uncritical. Some people, including significant swathes of working class Labour voters in and around Halifax where I grew up, did feel that the place where they lived was changing around them faster than they could handle. Others did see their jobs taken or their wages undercut. The economists in Whitehall and Westminster were right to say that, at the aggregate level, immigration brings benefits overall to our economy. But people do not live their lives at the aggregate level. At the individual level, the lived experience of globalisation for too many was one of a rising tide not lifting all boats.
I think, moving forwards, we in the Labour Party must not write off the many Gillian Duffy’s in British society as racists or xenophobes. Their concerns are understandable and widely held. That is not to say that they are right, or that we should abandon our staunch defence of multicultural Britain. But it does mean not calling them bigots behind their backs, showing them some respect even if we disagree with them, and seeking to ensure that our immigration policy works for everyone here, wherever they were born.
On the related issue of community cohesion, I have sought to defend Finsbury Park Mosque and its congregation, which is also in the ward I represent, from Islamophobic hate crime, particularly in the wake of the horrific murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. In the past, a pig’s head was left on the railings of the mosque and fake anthrax was sent in the post to its imam. Having worked on counter-terrorism with the Metropolitan Police, the Ministry of Justice and the Institute for Public Policy Research, I will take no lectures from the English Defence League on how to keep our country safe.
6. To what extent should Britain become involved in the Syrian conflict?
I have no clever answer to this vexing question. None of the options are good. Assad is a butcher, using chemical weapons against his own people, but some of the rebels are also vicious in their disregard for human rights. I am not against military intervention in all circumstances: we were right to go in and save lives (including many Muslims) in Kosovo and Bosnia in the 1990s, and we were wrong to stand by and watch as Rwanda tore itself apart. I believe in the UN doctrine of a Responsibility to Protect. But that is by no means to say that I think we should meddle in every overseas conflict. And the invasion of Iraq – which I marched against and have never supported – shows how wrong things can go when we do venture militarily into areas we do not understand.
Perhaps the best we can do at the moment is maximise our diplomatic efforts in the region and, through Europe, support the brokering of some sort of peace, while ensuring that we do everything we can to provide aid and sanctuary to the many thousands of refugees the conflict in Syria is displacing.
7. If selected as candidate, and if elected as MP, would you be prepared to engage with your voters on the HebWeb Forum?
Yes, of course. I read and write online regularly. I believe in open, transparent, democratic debate. I am committed to participatory as well as representative politics, as I have demonstrated through my innovative leadership of the country’s first Fairness Commission and my championing of the Living Wage, striving to do politics with people, not just for them. I would welcome the opportunity as the Labour Party candidate and MP to engage on HebWeb with people who live and work locally.
Calder Valley has gone to the national winner in every general election since 1974. It's a must-win seat for Labour in 2015. But, much as it matters nationally, where it matters most is here, for the people of Calder Valley, where this Tory government, increasing taxes for millions while cutting them for millionaires, is balancing the books on the backs of the poor and turning neighbour against neighbour. So, if you want to help us beat Craig Whittaker and give Calder Valley back its voice, please get in touch.