Mayoral hustings at St Mary’s

On Monday night I went to Islington’s Commission on Young People & Safety, meeting in St Mary’s church. The Commission, chaired by Lib Dem Cllr Greg Foxsmith, was set up following the murder of Martin Dinnegan in Holloway. Since then another local teenager, Nassirudeen Osawe, was stabbed at the Angel, with other youngsters killed just over the border in Hackney. So the Commission remains sadly topical.

Originally this session was to be for the Commission members – a mix of councillors and independent members – to hear from the young people at St Mary’s youth club. St Mary’s is my church, so I’d planned to attend the youth club visit anyway. Then someone had the idea of inviting the Mayoral candidates, and the event changed completely. It moved from the youth club into the church itself, and became a Mayoral hustings, with a difference. The candidates would have 5 minutes to speak on their policies on crime and youth; then take questions, from young people only.

The anxious adults – press photographers trying to get the best spot, party activists lurking to meet their candidates, council stewards in an unfamiliar venue – were a contrast with the groups of young people who arrived chattering and laughing just before the start. Graham Kings our vicar coped admirably with all this hoo-ha. As one of the token adults in the audience, I sat about six pews back, then got moved further and further back so the young people could sit at the front. There must have been over 200 by the time the meeting began. One councillor said admiringly “We’d never get this many young people into the Town Hall”. We don’t usually get that many in church either.

Whether it was the church or the young people or both I’m not sure, but despite all the photographers, the atmosphere was quite different from the rhetoric and conflict of a typical hustings. And it was the professional politicians who suffered as a result.Boris’ flourishes – there was “a great styrofoam edifice of hype” about crime, “ziggurats of wealth” in the City, a “revolution on a par with de-industrialisation or print” – fell flat. So did some classic claptrap from Len Duvall (Ken’s representative on earth), a side-swipe about budget voting designed to get cheers and jeers; it got neither.

Politicians regularly promise to be straight-talking; this time they really had to be.
Sian made some good points about enforcing existing laws rather than introducing new ones, but bizarrely advocated 10-year funding cycles for voluntary organisations; where’s the accountability in that? Boris didn’t share his plan to confiscate Oystercards from rowdy youths.

Brian Paddick argued that stop and search should be targeted on the bad guys, not all youth, not least because you need to build trust with young people to get the intelligence about who’s carrying knives in the first place. While Boris and Len were advocating a ‘just say no’ approach, Brian advocated having real victims, reformed offenders, people with street cred, to get the message across. He spoke really well, very directly (Boris kept referring to young people as ‘them’), getting the only spontaneous applause of the evening.
“This is great” said Boris, rather wildly. “If I’m elected we’ll do this every month, right here!” Perhaps he should consult the vicar….

After the Q&A, the Chair declared a recess, before going on to take evidence from the youth groups represented. As the candidates mingled with the audience, we rushed into the lobby, ready to thank Brian and get photos. Len left, Boris left, no Brian. Had we lost the candidate? No, he was staying on (as did Sian) to listen to the young people’s presentations.

All the candidates had called for more things for young people to do; youth worker Natalie Suleiman said it’s not ‘more’ youth activities we need but ‘more appropriate’. We have to provide things that teenagers, particularly boys, want to do and that means listening to them. Two lads spoke about how EC1 New Deal (a major regeneration project in Islington) had enrolled them as ‘community consultants’, training them on how to read council policy documents “which aren’t always youth-friendly” and then paying them to respond. The chair pointed out that the papers aren’t always adult-friendly either.

Finally we heard from Abid Ali, a Muslim who is one of the community chaplains from Feltham, London’s youth prison. He provides counselling and support to inmates while they are in Feltham and after they leave. Most inmates have a 75% reoffending rate; for those Abid counsels, it’s 26%. Worth noting in a week when Islam’s relationship with the justice system has been under so much debate.

Afterwards a group of us went for an excellent meal at Isarn Thai opposite the church. Beautiful room and really good food. On the way home I met friends coming back from the Arsenal match. Their daughter had been at the hustings and had already phoned them full of praise for Brian. Plus Arsenal won. A great end to the day….

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1 Comment »

  1. bridgetfox said

    I’m not the only one who thought Brian was best: http://davehill.typepad.com/london3ms/2008/02/comment-from-st.html

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