Guest post: Jane Ashworth at the hustings last night in Bethnal Green and Bow:
The hustings were set up like Fight Night – live music before the contest, piped music to accompany candidates’ walk through the isle up to the stage as their name was called. Everyone in the audience seemed to be with one party or another – but there was still a lot to play for: honour and reputation. A drubbing here at the hands of Respect would be a major blow for Labour.
The biggest cheers of the night were for Oona when it was her turn to be called through the hall to her seat on the stage and for George when he let out old-labour sounding rants. But there was no genuine drama behind the pageant. The candidates had seen the questions well in advance and both GG and Oona had well sculpted answers. Perhaps even a more free ranging event would have been flat because of the violence earlier in the campaign which all the candidates agreed to condemn and ask for a more peaceable run in to polling day.
Oona played on her own record of dealing with over 20,000 personal cases and the Governments record with the minimum wage. She showed her commitment to lobbying for the area and explained how she successfully bent national and regional budgets towards her constituency. She said she was the only candidate who could operate the system in the interests of Bethnal Green and build community cohesion. And her slogan rang true, ‘unity for the common good’ she borrowed it from Civil Rights America.
GG offered himself as all-together different animal. He is a street fighter who knows how to declaim. He drew plenty of the big cheers last night, but beyond his ten word snippets he barely made sense and when he did it was not a pretty picture. He played on the iniquities of inequality but had nothing at all to say about how to deliver change. He does not do ‘policy’
GG called for a return of heavy manufacturing and apprenticeships. Or at least that might be what he wanted. He certainly bemoaned their loss. He was appealing to a constituency that did not exist – skilled and manual workers who expect a large work force and the unions that went with it. Maybe the embarrassed response from the audience indicated he was out of touch with expectations and history. The Bangladeshi community in the East End never had that experience and no one seemed to want it.
George wants to stop the sale of council houses and like Oona wants to see more social housing. But he could not bring himself to call for affordable first-rung-on the property ladder homes. For George, these last 20 years of expanded home ownership, which is a key factor in wealth inequality at the lower end of the scale, never happened. He cannot relate to the new aspirations of working class people. Which is odd when you consider his own life style – but not so odd if he was just playing to the representatives from the Save Council Housing Campaign who were sitting towards the front of the stalls.
The one that worked very well – The only time Iraq was alluded to all night. When you ‘make war on Muslims abroad, you are going to make war on Muslims at home’’ GG had the Respect boys on their feet, whooping.
That’s not Old Labour – that is communalism.