Young people discuss the future of London

IMG_4806We were delighted to welcome 3 of the candidates for this May’s Greater London Assembly elections to our NewVIc Future London event, held at Stratford Circus Arts Centre on Wednesday 23rd March. The hustings were part of our Future London showcase including an exhibition of visual art, live performances and presentations by students at our partner arts centre, Stratford Circus.

Students from Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) helped to plan and organise this event together with Emmanuel Gotora from London Citizens, NewVIc Student Development Manager Kate Reed and teachers Rob Behan and Paul Paluch Edwards. This was linked to a wider student research project which aims to come up with solutions to some of the challenges faced by our city.

We had asked students across the college to suggest questions they would want to ask the candidates and, after longlisting the best ones at the NewVIc Student Council, we selected a final set of 7 questions to be asked by students. Housing issues figured prominently in the questions suggested by students and I don’t think I can remember a time when this issue has been such a high priority for young people.

The meeting was attended by 3 of the candidates standing for the City and East London constituency of the London Assembly which will return one constituency member in the election on 5th May. This constituency includes the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking as well as the City of London. All voters in London will also be able to vote for a party ‘top up’ list and, of course, a single directly elected mayor of London in the same election.

The candidates present were: Unmesh Desai (Labour), Chris Chapman (Conservative) and Elaine Bagshaw (Liberal Democrat). The Green candidate, Rachel Collinson had to send her apologies due to a last minute emergency.

The questions selected by students were:

  1. What got you into politics and how would you get more young people involved in politics? (Keir)
  2. What would be your personal top priority if you are elected to the GLA? (Shonika)
  3. What would you do to address the increase in homelessness and rough sleeping in London? (Maisha)
  4. The cost of housing in London has tripled in recent years, how would you ensure that there is more affordable housing to rent or buy for people in East London? (Syca)
  5. Would you guarantee the current students’ free bus passes and would you consider free tube travel for students? What about for 18 and 19 year olds? (Hannah)
  6. How would you ensure that there are more job opportunities for young pople in East London and that they are accessible to all? (Saif)
  7. If you are elected, how would you work with a mayor of a different party?

The candidates cited housing, infrastructure and air quality as key issues for them with policies proposed including landlord licensing and enforcement, cleaner energy and more investment in public transport and house building. They all seemed to agree that the definition of ‘affordable’ housing had to be reconsidered in relation to the average income of people in East London so as not to price people out of new developments.

All three undertook to keep students’ free bus passes but couldn’t commit to going further with free tube travel – it is currently discounted for young people. In responding to the question about skills and jobs, Unmesh highlighted the achievements of Newham’s Workplace scheme, Chris spoke about the transformative impact of apprenticeships and Elaine emphasised the new skills, such as coding, needed in a changing economy. While there was agreement about the challenges, the candidates did sometimes question the realism and commitment of other parties to tackling them.

As the moderator, I asked the candidates to aim for a two minute response to each question in order for us to cover all the ground and they were very disciplined and stayed on track and on topic. They also avoided personal attacks or partisan point-scoring. The students in the audience will have been able to make judgements about them without any of the negative campaigning which we know turns people off. Overall, the impression was of three serious candidates who, while disagreeing on a number of points, understand the issues facing our city and want the best for London.

I do hope this process has encouraged those students who will be old enough to vote on 5th May to do so and we are all now looking forward to the pre-election Mayoral Accountability event organised by London Citizens with London mayoral candidates Sadiq Khan (Labour) and Zac Goldsmith (Conservative) at the Copper Box in the Olympic Park on 28th April. The young people attending will once again be raising the issues which concern them.

Meanwhile, we will be turning our attention to the EU referendum on June 23rd and organising a college event to help students understand the issues at stake.

Photo (L to R): Unmesh Desai, Elaine Bagshaw, Chris Chapman, Eddie Playfair.

See also:

Young people and the election (April 2015)

A better future for London (May 2015)

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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