By-election battle hots up

The by-election in Stamford Hill’s New River ward on Thursday 16 September is looking to be a hotly-fought contest.

It is being held following the death of Conservative Councillor Maureen Middleton on 30 July. She had been a member of Hackney Council since 1998 and was one of the most prominent and well-regarded opposition councillors, respected particularly for the energy and enthusiasm she put into holding the Labour administration to account.

Though Cllr Middleton will be sorely missed, the contest to elect her replacement promises to be an interesting one.

New River was, somewhat unexpectedly, one of the closest races in the May local elections. In the run-up to the polls, an internal division within the Conservative party in Hackney resulted in the deselection of sitting councillor Simon Tesler in Lordship ward, which abuts New River. This event provoked much disquiet among sectors of the Stamford Hill Conservative community, and Tesler stood (unsuccessfully) as an independent.

The Labour candidates were quick to capitalise on Tory disarray, plunging into the electoral breach with gusto and picking up five Conservative-held seats: two in New River, two in Lordship and one in Springfield.

In New River the votes were tightly bunched: the three top losing candidates were all within 150 votes of the winning trio.

In this month’s poll the Conservatives will thus be seeking to claw back one of their lost seats. With their numbers on the council now down to four, this by-election is a crucial event for the borough’s main opposition party.

Hackney’s main political parties have all put up young and energetic candidates for the race, and local housing issues are emerging as a prominent campaign issue.

The Tory candidate is Maureen’s former running-mate Benzion Papier, a 26-year-old student living in Lynmouth Road with his wife and two-year-old daughter. Papier hails originally from New York, and has lived in Stamford Hill for five years.

“I learned a lot from Maureen about fighting for the people of New River. I aim to put in the same energy and commitment as she did to make sure that the residents here are not ignored,” he said.

Papier is keen to give a stronger voice to the local community on issues such as housing and public facilities. “Labour have dragged their heels on the Woodberry Down development for over a decade. They are spending money now on blocks that they say will be pulled down in a few years. Residents need to be told honestly what is going on!”

Labour’s candidate is Jonathan Burke, 28, who lives in Bergholt Road, Stamford Hill, and works as a researcher for the Labour Group in the London Assembly.

Burke says: “While I have many practical proposals for how New River ward can be helped to realise its full potential, I also intend to work closely with the Labour Group and Mayor of Hackney to deliver the kind of policies which help to reverse the profound impact of London’s unacceptable and socially corrosive wealth and income divide.

“While it may only be the tip of the iceberg, I can guarantee that, in my small way, I will campaign as a local councillor to reduce these inequalities. I will do so by fighting for local economic investment, a green industrial policy for London, and an index-linked London Living Wage for those working in both the public and private sectors.”

The Liberal Democrat candidate is Ben Mathis, a communications and design professional who lives on Woodberry Down Estate. Mathis’s priorities include improving local housing. “In 2010, 36% of homes in Hackney failed the decency test up from 32% last year,” he said.

“It is time that Hackney Council was able to provide decent homes for its tenants. We will push for better standards to be achieved and maintained.

“In 2009, the Labour government withdrew the finance for the Woodberry Down and Kings Crescent regeneration.

“Tenants desperately need to know what is happening but the Council’s failure to communicate properly with residents is keeping them in the dark.”

Standing for the Greens is Stuart Coggins, a 26-year-old who works in marketing and has lived in Hackney for the past three years.

Coggins says: “My priorities will be to address the endemic unemployment in Hackney, pushing schemes such as the Green’s proposed £1 million insulation programme and a living wage of £8.10 per hour.

“I will fight for an NHS that is publicly funded, democratically controlled and freely available to all, as well as focus on proper funding and support for Hackney’s nurseries.”

One other candidate in the race, independent Darren Fraser, could not be contacted for comment.

With the Labour party in control of 50 of 57 seats on the council, this byelection represents a key test of the ability of the borough’s opposition parties to prove themselves. For Labour, the contest is a chance to increase their control from 88% to 89% of the seats on the local assembly.

Results of the May 2010 election in New River ward
Sean Mulready, Labour (elected) 1,659
Michael Jones, Labour (elected) 1,574
Maureen Middleton, Conservatives (elected) 1,489
Yusuf Kilinc, Labour 1,450
Harvey Odze, Conservatives 1,380
Benzion Papier, Conservatives 1,353
Martyn Sibley, Lib Dems 693
Aled Fisher, Green 584
Mark Smullian, Lib Dems 456

(Turnout: 56%)