Monday, 16 March 2015

Interview - Green Party Candidate for the General Election - Gordon Peters, Hornsey and Wood Green, London

In the fourth of a series of interviews with Green Left supporting candidates at the General Election, Mike Shaughnessy talks to the Green Party's Gordon Peters, candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, London.

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

I grew up on the banks of the River Clyde where I saw ships being built above tenement height each day as I went to school in Greenock. The second part of childhood was on the edge of Galloway, in Burns country, where my father ran a pub which had seen the Covenanters – religious revolutionaries of the seventeenth century – as well as the bard himself where he had been an exciseman. So you could say I absorbed living history and something of the struggles against powerful overlords.

I got to university in Edinburgh, then LSE and Essex, spent a year in Cuba, came back to London and went into social work, led a strike for London Weighting and got a lot of political attention as a result, then taught social work and social policy and helped found a journal called Critical Social Policy. I spent most of the 1980s in the frontline against Thatcher’s attack on the welfare state, as director of social services in Hackney. Then after a spell at the Kings Fund, I went into international development work and lived abroad for some years. All this time my politics were more expressed through work and life, in combining intervention in struggles against exploitation of people with those against exploitation of nature. I had read, among others, McKibbin. Kovel, Bookchin, Bellamy Foster and once back in the UK I got more time to relate to organised political activity. I then noticed that Greens were moving beyond environmental lobbyism and their analysis was now linking social justice to planetary conservation.

Why did you decide to join Green Left?

I had been in the Scottish Green Party for a couple of years before returning to live in London in 2010 to 2011. That had been a renewal of political engagement for me as during the years I was working in international development [1992 to 2010] I had either been living and working in other countries [Romania, Latvia, Ukraine, Russia and Bangladesh], or being much more nomadic than settled, my politics were part of what I did rather than any expression through party or place. Since the sixties in fact I had considered myself an eco-socialist and at various times and in various ways sought to integrate thinking and struggles against exploitation of people with those against exploitation of the planet. On joining the Green Party of England Wales I was conscious of its having been regarded [by me as well] as a rather comfortable middle class environmentalist lobby and I was aware of a developing tide --- which I hoped was present in the GPEW ---on the need to challenge the way corporate capitalism is responsible for planetary degradation

What are the main issues that you will campaign on?

I am campaigning on an ‘end to austerity’ – or put more simply ‘no cuts’ platform – and the need for institutions in politics which will challenge the power of the big corporate lobbies and the craven way in which all the mainstream parties yield to their priorities. Our institutions have been shown one by one to be corrupted, yet business as usual carries on. I want to put up a serious challenge to this, as Caroline Lucas has done – but a few more Green MPs would really help change the culture.

I am advocating the full re-instatement of the NHS, an end to Council house sales, rent control for fair rents and an end to land and property speculation in London, a Green New Deal with investment in local jobs and widespread retrofitting houses along with local and municipally controlled energy generation, putting an end to fuel poverty, and a Living Wage for all, funded from a wealth tax, strong regulation of tax avoidance and evasion, and the cancellation of Trident.

How are the cuts to local authority budgets affecting Haringey?

The £70 million cuts budget for the next three years which Haringey Council has just announced will rapidly accelerate the decline of public services over the last four years to such an extent that people with learning disabilities and frail older people, for instance, will be left without day care places to go to and the last publicly owned nursing home to be run down. Over 600 jobs will be lost, including about one third of social workers in a borough which as not yet recovered from all the hostile publicity it got over the death of Baby Peter. They are frankly leaving social work – which was my profession – adrift. There is a much longer list, including parks which the Council now see as revenue producers through closing off in part for days at a time to hold large concerts or other events with all the disruption, waste and social cost of these.

I know you were in involved with the Scottish referendum ‘yes’ campaign, what effect has this had on English politics?

I think it took awhile for folks in England, and maybe more so in London, to realise the extent and the nature of the changes which have come about in Scottish politics. The old Labour fiefdoms have disintegrated and people who thought voting never made much difference have become fired up for an alternative to cynicism and manipulation. The Referendum has become a social movement [the 45, and growing] and it’s not just about the SNP, although clearly they are the main vehicle which can move into Westminster and change the dynamic there. The UK pro-union parties seem frightened and reduced to defending their own institutional decay when confronted by demands for change and an end to austerity politics which harms and exploits the majority and blames people who are poor or vulnerable. The Green Party has chimed much more with this movement and in England is now the only viable social and political force which can have that kind of momentum here.

How do you rate your chances in Hornsey and Wood Green – and the Green party more broadly in England?

Well, we may be still outsiders in this constituency, although I think the odds against are reducing from now till the election, and we had 16% in last year’s Council election. Lynn Featherstone, a Lib Dem minister, stands to lose it, and Catherine West, ex-Labour leader in Islington, may expect to win it – but we are a genuine third force now and the only alternative to austerity and cuts, and for a future younger people can believe in. If everyone who wants that change comes out then we’ll win -- but yes that’s quite a big ask.

I know that you are interested in the issue of adult social care. Why do you think this is such an important matter?

I’m getting on a bit now myself, and have become involved with the Older Peoples Forum in the borough, and seen and talked to folks and their carers who are going to lose out drastically with the cuts to day centres and much more. But as well as that I have a background in having been a director of social services in Hackney in the 1980s which I left when I could do no more to stave off Thatcher’s cutbacks to welfare, and I have long been concerned with the political economy of social care. We could turn round the discourse about welfare and social care, for instance, if people learned that well over £30 billion is contributed to the English economy every year through the employment, interactions and induced effects of adult social care taking place. Yet it’s talked about in media and elsewhere as unaffordable!

There appears to be new Left emerging in Europe, as a reaction to governments’ austerity policies, Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain at the forefront. Can the Green party here in the UK be part of this trend?

Yes I undoubtedly think the Green Party can be part of the emerging European left and the social and political movement required to unseat the vested interests of corporate power and the political establishments which are now so wedded to that power that they are incapable of seeing any alternative.

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

I could never vote for a continuation of austerity and a Labour budget which went down that road. Public investment must come first and deficits dealt with in relation to that. So let’s have a budget for the common good.

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