Hackney mayor by-election: Green candidate Zoë Garbett on the party’s optimism ahead of November’s vote

LondonWorld met up with the Green Party’s Hackney mayoral candidate, Zoë Garbett, to discuss her chances at the ballot box next month.
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Having already announced she would be running to become mayor of London while also standing for a city-wide London Assembly position, Hackney Green Party councillor Zoë Garbett clearly decided she did not have enough proverbial plates spinning when she said she would be throwing her hat in for another, more local role; mayor of Hackney.

The position recently became available after the much-publicised resignation of its former Labour occupant, Philip Glanville, who stood down over a photo showing him at a party with Tom Dewey, a former councillor who had been arrested over child abuse images.

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Labour has already announced its candidate for the by-election, penned in for November 9, as Cazenove councillor and cabinet member Caroline Woodley. At the time of writing, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives had not appeared to have put any names forward.

The Greens meanwhile had also signalled their intent early on, with Cllr Garbett chosen by members on September 24.

Green Party candidate for mayor of Hackney, and mayor of London, Zoë Garbett. Credit: Ben Lynch.Green Party candidate for mayor of Hackney, and mayor of London, Zoë Garbett. Credit: Ben Lynch.
Green Party candidate for mayor of Hackney, and mayor of London, Zoë Garbett. Credit: Ben Lynch.

It is a battle Cllr Garbett has fought before, having stood for mayor in the local elections last May. She came second, behind Mr Glanville, with 17% of the vote, though was able to secure a seat as a councillor for Dalston.

This time, however, she believes a combination of her efforts as a councillor over the last 15 months and what she sees as local dissatisfaction with Labour give her a serious chance of winning.

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“I feel completely prepared for this. I think working in the public sector has helped, but I also think it’s how we perceive the value of a politician,” she said.

“Currently, our country is being led by people with complete disconnect from what it feels like day to day to live in this country, and I think it’s about the values you bring and the way that you work as well as your experience.

“And I’ve been able to get across so much stuff as a councillor already, and there’s lots more that I want to be able to reach into and change the way that we do things.”

Cllr Garbett, who currently works for the NHS though has held a number of public sector roles, said it is this background which drove her to get involved in politics in the first place.

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Both her parents are teachers, which she said taught her the “value” of the sector from a young age.

Her association with the Green Party goes back to 2014, when she said she joined up and “immediately started delivering leaflets”.

Since then, she has accrued experience working on campaigns at various levels, including as part of the team behind Siân Berry’s 2021 run to become mayor of London.

All of which, she says, puts her in good stead for the election next month.

Zoë Garbett ran for mayor of Hackney in 2022, coming second with 17% of the vote. Credit: Hackney Green Party.Zoë Garbett ran for mayor of Hackney in 2022, coming second with 17% of the vote. Credit: Hackney Green Party.
Zoë Garbett ran for mayor of Hackney in 2022, coming second with 17% of the vote. Credit: Hackney Green Party.

A local focus

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In a borough which is often commended for its work on environmental and healthy streets initiatives, on paper it may appear as if a Green mayor in Hackney is perhaps less necessary than in other local authorities more visibly falling behind on their climate commitments.

While her policies were yet to be published in full at the time of our discssion, Cllr Garbett however said she is already focussed on areas she believes a Green mayor, and only a Green mayor, can make a difference.

One of these, she said, would be procurement. Or, to give it a slightly sexier title, “community wealth building”.

Describing it as “literally where the money and leverage is”, Cllr Garbett said: “The thing about procurement is, how do we look at how the council is spending money and maximise public good?

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“So that includes insourcing as much as possible, making sure that you’re holding your contracts to a high standard in terms of pay, mandating London Living Wage and good paying conditions through your contracts, but also making sure that when you go out to procurement, that it’s set up in a way that’s really accessible to a local provider.”

She continues to say such providers could be a local builder, or a local laundrette. A hospital hosting a local cafe on-site, rather than, say, a Costa, is another example she gives of of this principle in action.

Her approach to housing is seen through a similar lens, with a focus on the local and servicing those already operating and living within the community, rather than implanting people and businesses from elsewhere into the borough.

“One part of it is looking at how we have used council land to maximise council properties being built, and the failures of the cross-subsidy model of building luxury flats to be able to afford the council housing,” she said.

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“In a lot of cases they say it is not viable, so what is delivered is luxury flats in an area where you’ve displaced people, broken up communities and not got the housing out of it that you wanted.”

“I’ve been able to get across so much stuff as a councillor already, and there’s lots more that I want to be able to reach into and change the way that we do things.” Credit: Hackney Green Party.“I’ve been able to get across so much stuff as a councillor already, and there’s lots more that I want to be able to reach into and change the way that we do things.” Credit: Hackney Green Party.
“I’ve been able to get across so much stuff as a councillor already, and there’s lots more that I want to be able to reach into and change the way that we do things.” Credit: Hackney Green Party.

‘The way we would do things would change’

Perhaps somewhat ironically for someone running to become Hackney’s directly-elected mayor, Cllr Garbett has consistently vocalised opposition to the role, favouring instead a committee-based approach as used in most London boroughs.

The current system in Hackney, said Cllr Garbett, “completely doesn’t give any credibility or voice to any of the great other councillors on the council.

“You’ve got some amazing councillors working incredibly hard for their communities.”

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A committee sytem would also protect the local authority against disruptions such as the upcoming mayoral election, she added, and would allow “for the representatives and councillors across the borough to be involved in decision making”.

While changing the make-up of the council cannot be done by the mayor alone, Cllr Garbett said she will push to amend the mayoral system as part of a wider overhaul of the way the local authority is run, giving greater voice to residents via bodies such as citizen assemblies, as well as to councillors across the chamber.

Even if Cllr Garbett does win the by-election next month, Labour will remain in control of the vast majority of council seats. Currently holding 50 of the 57 available, Cllr Garbett’s own seat will itself require a by-election if she becomes mayor, raising the possibility of the Greens losing one of their two current councillors.

Does this pose a problem for a candidate, and a party, who claim democratic processes are core to their approach? How will she draw the line between enacting Green policies, while also working with a council largely painted red?

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“It’s about creating those systems where you’d listen and balance views,” she said. “I’m very up for working in partnership with people for the good of Hackney residents.”

However, Cllr Garbett added “the way we would do things would change.

“That would be the biggest difference, because I think we’d really open up and change the way we develop policy with people, and then people have more control. It would be finding those similarities.”

As mentioned above, the campaign to become mayor of Hackney is not the only battle Cllr Garbett has on her hands. She has already been chosen as the Green candidate for the London mayoral role, the vote on which is due to take place in May 2024.

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If elected in Hackney next month, she may have to hand over the baton for the London-wide position to another party representative. A by-election will also become necessary in her own ward.

Asked about this, and whether potential succession plans had been put in place, she simply said the team had “mobilised quickly” for the upcoming election.

She added that all involved are “always thinking of the next one (election), and how this can help us get more and more Green representatives, and how this can draw in lots of different diverse people to seeing the Green Party as a party for them. And that’s one of my aims for this election.”

Whatever logistical issues may lie ahead, Cllr Garbett said she and the local party are “really excited about this opportunity. We’ve only been elected since last year, but I think people have really seen what two councillors have managed to do. We’ve got a long list of things that we’ve influenced.”

The Hackney by-election is scheduled for November 9. For more information on how to vote, visit Hackney Council’s webpage on it here.

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