Monday, 2 March 2015

Interview - Green Party Candidate for the General Election - Davy Jones, Brighton Kemptown

In the third of a series of interviews with Green Left supporting candidates at the General Election, Mike Shaughnessy talks to the Green Party's Davy Jones, candidate for Brighton Kemptown.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you came to join the Green party?

I have been politically active most of my life since the late 1960s and involved in many campaigns. Initially I was active in the far left, then the Labour Left including playing a prominent role in the Socialist Movement with Tony Benn & others. I helped set up Red Pepper magazine with Hilary Wainwright & others and am still on the Board. When I moved back to Brighton (I grew up in Saltdean as a teenager in the Kemptown constituency) 12 years ago, I had not been active for a few years but I became very impressed with the local Green Party. I met and campaigned for Caroline Lucas MP and felt that the Greens had a real chance of achieving something special in Brighton, so I joined 5 years ago, hoping I could help. I had no intention of standing for parliament! I only did so when Caroline & others suggested it to me. It seemed right to do so in the area where I grew up and my parents had lived for so long.

Why did you decide to join Green Left?

For the first few years in the Green Party, I was reluctant to get involved in overtly partisan internal groupings – I simply wanted to play a back seat role and help generally. But as divisions emerged over how the council should respond to government cuts, I became more involved in the inner party debates. Then recently the internal goings in the Green Party locally made me change my mind. It was clear that there was a de facto “pragmatic” grouping operating in the local Party and the Left felt the need to become similarly organised.

What are the main issues that you will campaign on?

Three things:

For a focus on the need to tackle climate change and the Green New Deal. It is extraordinary that despite the evidence mounting each month of the potentially catastrophic increase in CO2 emissions, the other political parties do next to nothing on the issue of the environment. Here in Sussex too, there are big environmental issues – fracking in the Downs, and local campaigns in my constituency against inappropriate housing on Greenfield sites.

Against austerity. It is of course the same vested interests, the super rich elite, who have both trashed the planet and the economy – yet the rest of us are being forced to suffer to bail them out. There is plenty of money around – it is just that some people have got far too much of it. I am anti-capitalist and believe that we need to turn the economy upside down so it works for the majority.

The need for a complete political alternative to the mainstream parties which are now extremely discredited. As a lifelong internationalist, I am inspired by Syriza and Podemos and their ability to present such a different politics and yet still win massive electoral support.

Being a member of Brighton and Hove Green party, I have to ask about the record of the first Green led council in England. There has been a lot of criticism of the Green councillors in the media, poor recycling rates, bin strikes and cuts to public services for example. How do you respond to this?

I am very proud of what the local Green Council has achieved, but it has made some bad mistakes. Let’s remember though that this was arguably the worst possible set of circumstances for us to run the first Green-led Council in the country:

The attack on local democracy and the massive cuts in funding to councils has made life incredibly difficult for every council in the country. It has never been harder to run a Council anywhere, whatever the political colour;

The Green Party did not win a majority – on the contrary Labour & the Tories combined have far more seats on the Council. We therefore have to win support from one or the other to get anything passed. And Labour is pathologically hostile the Greens and supports anything it can to discredit us; The Green councillors had never run a Council before and while very talented, some were also very inexperienced.

This “perfect storm” of circumstances made it an incredibly difficult job to try & run the Council over the past 4 years. Lots of good things have been done – the Living Wage, terrific transport improvements, a vibrant local economy and so on. Above all, compared to virtually every other council in the country, very few damaging cuts to services have been made.

But mistakes have been made – the bin strike, some dodgy decisions over NHS services. Above all, I have been disappointed by the failure to consult, work with and listen to the local community and to involve it in decision-making. The Council leadership is widely seen as arrogant.

This current Budget-setting round has been very difficult. Personally, I believe that there comes a time when you have to stand up for what you believe in and refuse to make cuts. That time is now.

How do you rate your chances in Brighton Kemptown – and the Green party more broadly in England, particularly in Brighton Pavilion?

The bookies have me at 25-1 so I am an outsider. But the odds have dropped consistently over the last year – from 100-1 to 66-1, to 40-1, then 33-1 and now 25-1. Traditionally the seat is a 2-way marginal that is won by whichever party wins the national election. But this time is very different – UKIP and the Greens will both do well. If it becomes a 4-way marginal, anything is possible but at the moment, Labour and Tories are ahead of us. We only won 5% in 2010 so expecting to win this time round is unlikely. But you never know! First past the post makes winning any additional seats to Brighton Pavilion incredibly difficult – I would be delighted if we win any more. I think Caroline will retain her seat – she is amazingly popular locally and an outstanding MP.

What effects have the government’s cuts to local authority had in Brighton and Hove?

Not as devastating as in some Northern cities but still very significant. When you step away from the bright lights of Central Brighton, there are many areas of entrenched disadvantage. A voluntary sector report on the cumulative impact of the Government’s benefit cuts said that 10,000 families in the Kemptown constituency alone were worse off. This has been made even worse now with the cuts to Housing Benefit Support. Homelessness is up in the City, there are more and more food banks opening up, and many public sector workers have suffered big cuts to their living standards.

If elected to Parliament, would you vote for a Labour austerity budget?

NO – not under any circumstances.

I know that you are a supporter of the Brighton People’s Assembly, what do you think this movement can achieve?

I was a founding member of the Brighton PA and I continue to support it as much as I can. It has held some very important events in the City. Recently more and more local campaigns have been set up in the City – on austerity and environment-related themes and the BPA has acted as a co-ordinator and supporter of them. It is the nucleus, along with the other campaigns, of a broad-based support network in the City.

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