Mayoral candidates call for Gaza ceasefire at final hustings before tomorrow’s by-election

L-R: TUSC’s Brian Debus, chair David Perks, Green candidate Zoë Garbett, and Peter Smorthit, Independent. Photograph: Julia Gregory

A ceasefire in Gaza received unanimous backing from mayoral candidates at the final hustings before tomorrow’s by-election.

The event, which attracted 40 attendees, was organised by Independent candidate Peter Smorthit and chaired by retired headteacher David Perks.

It was held in a rehearsal room at the Premises Studios, a complex of recording studios used by stars including Stormzy, Nina Simone and Gladys Knight.

Brian Debus stepped in for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate Annoesjka Valent, who was unwell.

Liberal Democrat candidate Simon de Deney was unable to attend, and Conservative hopeful Simche Steinberger had a diary clash.

Labour’s candidate Caroline Woodley has declined to attend any of the advertised hustings, saying she is concentrating on doorstep canvassing instead.

Perks asked candidates if they supported calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Debus said hundreds of Hackney residents had joined protests about the conflict.

He backed a ceasefire and for Israel and Palestine to have their own states, and called for the safe return of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas.

Garbett condemned the “horrific” violence and called for a ceasefire and return of the hostages.

Smorthit said: “Without a doubt there’s got to be a ceasefire. It’s beyond comprehension how many people are suffering in this conflict.”

He also wanted to ensure there are neighbourhood patrols in Hackney to help communities affected by the conflict feel safer.

All the candidates present agreed to write to residents to find out about their top concerns, following a suggestion from a resident.

They also said they would support a referendum to scrap the office of directly elected mayor.

Green candidate Zoë Garbett said she wanted to be the last person to hold the role.

Brian Debus said TUSC is in favour of ditching the role and saving money.

Smorthit said he too would support a referendum on the future of the office.

“The role of mayor is going, 100 per cent,” he said.

Debus said TUSC would fight cuts to jobs and services and wants to build estates with 100 per cent council homes, rather than putting some up for sale.

Garbett pledged to reduce inequalities and stand for social justice.

“I can’t stand back and watch issues and people being ignored,” she said.

Smorthit pledged to be “truly impartial and hold everyone to account”.

When it came to the issue of low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), there were some differing opinions.

Debus said: “The community should decide.”

Hackney Council had ignored their views when it put in the Homerton LTN, he said.

Garbett said: “I think they are good, if done fairly. What we have got has not been done fairly.”

She pledged to “revisit” the schemes.

Smorthit said: “LTNs need to be scrapped altogether.”

Voters from Young Hackney wanted to know what candidates would do to for them.

Debus opposed the closures of youth clubs: “Taking funding from youth services is critical. We must provide that funding.”

Garbett proposed “giving young people more power” and to involve them in budget-setting.

Smorthit championed apprenticeships, and said he would provide more of them “to increase job prospects”. He also pledged to fund more youth clubs.

Young Hackney members also wanted to know how candidates would tackle institutional racism, pointing to a recent incident that saw a Black teenager arrested by armed police after they mistook his water pistol for a firearm.

Candidates were also asked for their views on stop-and-search.

Smorthit said: “The police need to be held to account. It’s the mayor’s job to scrutinise the police.”

Debus said stop-and-search powers “are an infringement of a person’s human rights. It led to Child Q.”

Child Q refers to the case of a Black teenager who was strip-searched at her Hackney school by police.

Smorthit: “I think [stop-and-search] is used more as a weapon than anything else.”

Garbett said she has challenged police over the use of the tactic in Hackney.

“A lot of the time it’s used on young Black people.”

She wants to move away from policing in schools, saying: “I think they should be prioritising violence against women and girls and road deaths, rather than over-policing young people.”

Concerned parents raised the proposed closures of several Hackney primaries because of falling pupils numbers, and the impact on children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Garbett said the council should have included parents in discussions earlier and protected single-form entry, which parents favoured.

She said it is essential that children with SEND have “more inclusive” provision.

Debus proposed using council reserves to keep schools open and wants to ensure the increasing need for SEND support is met.

“It’s a criminal act that the most vulnerable are not treated as a priority,” he said.

Smorthit said SEND services must be protected.

“It’s got to be a top priority in our education system in Hackney.”

The candidates standing for election on Thursday 9 November are: Zoë Garbett, Green; Caroline Woodley, Labour; Peter Smorthit, Independent; Simon de Deney, Liberal Democrats; Simche Steinberger, Conservatives; and Annoesjka Valent, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).