From Daleks to Doughnut Economics: Inside the Green Party’s insurgent campaign against Labour in Hackney

Ahead of the May 5 local elections, Jessica Frank Keyes meets three Green Party candidates (and a Dalek) in Hackney, hoping to sway wavering Labour votes.

Winning an election is rarely as easy as ABC, whatever pollsters would have you think, but in Hackney, a trio of Green Party candidates are hoping they can do just that.

Alastair Binnie-Lubbock, Bettina Maidment and Charlie Norman are standing in Hackney Downs.

The borough is a heavily Labour area, there are just five Conservative councillors, from the Charedi orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill - one of the largest outside Israel and the US.

From left, two Green Party activists, candidates Alastair Binnie-Lubbock, Bettina Maidment and Charlie Norman, with London Assembly member Zack Polanski. Photo: LondonWorld

After narrowly missing a council seat in Dalston by just 21 votes in 2018, now, as they put it, with no “risk” of a Conservative majority, their pitch to voters is for “Green representation”.

Hoping to convince Hackney they are a much-needed opposition voice on the council, which is forecasting a budget black hole of somewhere between £14m and £28m in 2023-24.

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Arriving to spend a cold, sunny evening speaking with the candidates and prospective voters, I approach the dark green front door of a tall townhouse, with party posters in the window and a VW bus parked in the drive.

Hackney Council after the 2018 election. Credit: By The/WikimediaCommons

Inside, along with a life-size Dalek, are the prospective councillors.

Charlie, a longstanding party activist; Bettina, who founded local campaign group Plastic Free Hackney after switching to a waste-free lifestyle in 2017, and Alastair, who missed out on a council seat, he tells me, by just 90 votes in the last lot of local elections, in 2018.

His parents own the property, which resembles a campaign headquarters, and is where the family welcomed Baraa Halabieh, a Syrian refugee who lived with them during the lockdown.

A Hackney Downs Green Party leaflet. Photo: LondonWorld

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Binnie-Lubbock’s grandfather Eric, a Lib Dem MP, human rights campaigner, and later Lord,  would have been “really into it”, he told the Mirror.

Heading out into the ward, Norman tells me candidacy has been tricky, after a landlord sold the property they were living in, forcing them to move for at least the twentieth time since turning 18.

Clearly the inability for some to put down permanent roots is affecting who gets the chance to get elected.

Housing is instantly the priority for the people the candidates speak to, from a man with a chunky silver nose piercing who tells us about problems with a leak, to the mother-of-four whose teenage daughters are sleeping on the sofa after mould took over their bedroom.

It can obviously be a thankless task, whether that’s knocking empty houses, or speaking to people through windows, who either have Covid-19 or simply don’t want to open the door.

But the group’s consistent patter - offering out postal vote forms, pens, leaflets and party posters, complete with blu-tack, to hang in the window - quickly falls into a rhythm.

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And it’s interesting to see how, when they just keep talking, most people, some reluctantly, end up listening - or even get drawn into a debate about the merits of doughnut economics (which one teacher promises to introduce the concept of to his business studies class).

Candidates mutter disapprovingly in my earshot about rumours their opponents are badmouthing them on the doorstep, but are keen to say they focus on positive campaigning.

Nationally, the Green Party has one MP and two members of the House of Lords, while in London, there are three assembly members, and 12 local councillors across five boroughs.

After some rough calculations, as our hands begin to freeze, we estimate there are around 40 or 50 councillors per borough, of which the Greens are targeting five, giving them 60 or so target seats in London. (Corrections on a postcard, please…)

And Zack Polanski, a London-wide Green AM, who joins us canvassing tells me there is “no complacency” within the party.

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Over an orange juice at Clapton pub The Crooked Billet, he talks me through their hopes for May 5, from retaining seats on Enfield, Camden, Islington, Richmond and Lambeth councils, to potential gains in Hackney Downs, Dalston and Ealing.

From left, two Green Party activists, candidates Alastair Binnie-Lubbock, Bettina Maidment and Charlie Norman, with London Assembly member Zack Polanski. Photo: LondonWorld

Public transport issues are a major focus of the campaign, but the Greens don’t simply want to tell people living in outer boroughs they need to give up their cars, he says.

Low traffic neighbourhoods are another contentious issue, with some residents frustrated by a perceived lack of consultation around the congestion-calming schemes.

While rising energy bills, the cost of living crisis, and so-called ‘partygate’ are also key topics.

Hackney has also made headlines for the shocking strip search of ‘Child Q’ - a 15-year-old black child - who was stripped by police officers at her school while menstruating.

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NHS worker Zoe Garbett, standing as the party’s mayoral candidate in the borough, has called for “deep reform” of the police, and said the search “should never have happened”.

She said suspected cannabis possession is “too often used as an excuse by police in Hackney and elsewhere to target young black people”.

Child Q protest. Credit: LW

What’s more, they may be small in number, but a Green wave across the capital is growing, Polanski, an ex-Lib Dem, who has a unique living situation as a property guardian, says.

Two Enfield Labour councillors joined the Green group in the last 12 months, while deputy Camden council leader Lorna Russell quit Labour to go Green in December, saying her “principles and core values of social justice, equality and environmentalism” are the same.

One activist tells me the Greens are “something fresh and new” and he recently made the switch from Labour to join them himself - even hiding his new badge from an ex-colleague.

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“What’s really striking is the same pattern I keep seeing in London, which is people feeling disillusioned with Labour or the Conservatives,” Polanski explains.

“People are interested and ready to try something new.

“They notice the commitment of local residents being active in the community and then standing for election and not being professional politicians.

“People know we have their back and are there to help them.”

It remains to be seen whether the party’s electoral maths in Hackney Downs will add up, let alone win them seats.

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But who knows? Maybe this time, it will be easy being Green.

Local elections 2022