The four invited general election candidates for Hackney North and Stoke Newington were put through their environmental policy paces yesterday evening at a ‘Hackney Green Hustings’ at Millfields Community School, Lower Clapton.
Long-standing Labour MP Diane Abbott set the tone by noting that she has never driven a car; she also boasted of her active use of the green, brown and blue recycling boxes helpfully supplied by Hackney Council.
Conservative candidate Darren Caplan was somewhat of a fish out of water on this question.
He began with the hesitant claim that he didn’t think he “contributed much to global warming”, before effectively admitting that his two-car family and two overseas holidays a year weren’t likely to meet the expectations of most green-minded folk.
Mr Caplan seemed nevertheless relatively comfortable with his admission, evidently resigned to losing on this particular question. Sure enough, he found his feet when the debate turned to issues such as the budget deficit and how to help business.
Keith Angus of the Liberal Democrats delivered what might be described as a ‘Clegg Lite’ performance. With several of his sentences punctuated with long pauses, he certainly seemed the most nervous of the candidates.
He came into his own, however, when asked whether he was committed to reducing carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2020, confidently declaring his party’s intention to do just that. The audience loudly approved.
The genteel crowd grew rather rambunctious during Darren Caplan’s answer to this question. The questioner herself delivered a Paxo-esque grilling to the Tory, who dithered for several minutes before admitting that his party supported emissions reductions of only 34 per cent by the specified date.
Green Party candidate Matthew Sellwood then calmly outbid his rivals by promising 90 per cent reductions by 2030.
Diane Abbott’s inimitable drawl and tendency to mash her words made some of her finer points difficult to decipher.
Nevertheless, her general line was clear – green issues were important but not central to her overall agenda.
When it came to economic questions, all the candidates save Darren Caplan were falling over each other to claim that they were most in favour of redistributive taxation and introduce ‘green deals’ to create planet-saving jobs.
The Conservative, by contrast, appeared to think that properly ‘incentivising’ people was the answer to most problems.
His confident statement that “the free market is the best way of delivering for most people” generated subdued twitters from sections of the floor.
The debate heated up again when discussion moved on to the topic of poverty. Diane Abbott tried to trade on her left-wing credentials by using a question about fuel poverty to address the more general issue of deprivation, before Darren Caplan intervened to point out that Labour had been in power at national and local levels for 13 years and had therefore had ample opportunity to address this particular problem.
Diane Abbott rounded on her opponent, eventually winning a round of applause for suggesting that regardless of whichever wastrels had usurped power in her party (she referred at one point to “Gordon Blair”), she was personally committed to dealing with poverty.
It was undoubtedly Matt Sellwood who had the easiest job of the evening, however.
Confident and composed, he was also the clear winner if the clap-o-meter is to go by; the Green received five rounds of applause to two for Diane Abbott, two for Keith Angus and one for Darren Caplan.
Yet not all the questions dwelt on esoteric environmental matters, and when the conversation turned to politician-bashing, Diane Abbott won general assent with her comment that unlike her many grey-suited fellow parliamentarians “I’ve never been the same old thing, and even today I’m not the same old thing”.
The evening ended with a laugh when Darren Caplan referred to his fellow candidates as “all three guys”; and Diane Abbott pulled a face.