Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Make Every Vote Count On Thursday

Some of the many supporters who turned up for our last mass leafleting
It was a tremendous honour to have so many fellow residents come out last Saturday to give the Make Willesden Green campaign a last push before Thursday’s election. With about two dozen supporters swarming across various parts of Willesden Green, we managed to leaflet the whole of the ward and still find time to speak to hundreds of residents outside the Sainsbury’s forecourt. Most people said they were disenchanted with the three mainstream parties, but were keen to hear about our electoral offer of an independent voice for Willesden residents.

These conversations, and the groundswell of support I have received over the past few months from a real cross-section of our community, has made me even more confident that we can make Willesden Green a thriving, clean, open, democratic and environmentally-balanced area in future if only we have better representation. People in Willesden Green have spent too much of the past four years fighting against developers and unelected bureaucrats for a neighbourhood with open spaces, secure community amenities, an improved High Road, more affordable housing and properly-funded public services. In the process, we have been ignored by our Councillors and dismissed by senior Local Authority officers. 

Watermelon Men: me with Shahrar Ali and Martin Francis, Green Party candidates for Willesden Green

In fact, when the Make Willesden Green campaign was taking shape one of the main drivers behind its formation was the general lack of accountability and unresponsiveness of our sitting councillors. Our current Labour councillor and one of the LibDem councillors were enthusiastic supporters of the Willesden Green Library project in the face of overwhelming resident opposition, while the second Lib Dem councillor has moved away from Brent, has barely been seen for a year and doesn't even respond to emails. Now of course, it's election time so we see both parties coming out of hiding to claim that they are listening and ‘on your side’, hoping that we will forget their past sins and misdemeanors.

We formulated a policy on the Right to Recall local councillors in between elections and I personally signed a pledge saying that as an elected councillor I would submit to to a by-election if enough residents demanded it. We challenged every candidate standing in the Willesden Green election to sign the same pledge – only the two Green Party candidates, Martin Francis and Shahrar Ali responded positively. Labour, LibDems and the Tories did not bother to respond at all.

However our attention was drawn to this rather mealy-mouthed blogpost from sitting councillor Lesley Jones who sets out a number of objections, all of which can be easily overcome. (‘Who will collect the petition signatures?’ Cllr Jones asks, ‘Well, how about the same people who collected 6,000 signatures against the Library development that you backed?’ would be an answer.)

All in all, the response to the recall pledge has shown that the main parties have learnt nothing from the anger, frustration and disenchantment of local residents. They want your vote on Thursday but they don't want to hear from you again after that. Do we really want to give a mandate to parties that are still scared of democracy, still afraid of participation and still reluctant to give us a real voice? 

I hope that I will get one of your votes this Thursday, but I hope you will also think about whether you want to give your second and third votes to parties who show such a fundamental disdain for the wishes of their electorate.

On Thursday we finally get a say: every vote sends a message, and by giving me one of your three votes, you’ll be making it clear the three main parties have failed our area. We need genuinely radical and grassroots Councillors to represent the interests of Willesden Green, and this Thursday is the time to vote us in. 

No comments: