Caroline Russell: ‘London can be a city that shares its success with every citizen’
Caroline Russell, standing for Green candidate for London Mayor, discusses her vision for a Green London. You can find more of Bright Green’s coverage on next year’s London Mayoral and Assembly elections here.
I love London but I believe it can be even better. I want it to be the world’s greenest city: a diverse, healthy, fair and prosperous place. A city that shares its success with every citizen.
All of that is possible – but it needs political will, and a team with Green vision and Green values in City Hall.
I’m an elected councillor on Islington Council – the sole opposition to forty-seven Labour members. I won my seat by just an eight vote margin – I know that every single vote counts, that it takes phenomenal teamwork to get elected and that even one elected voice can make a real difference to people’s lives.
The Green Party does not wield power, we seek to empower – and it is this quality above all that I will depend upon as I campaign for members of the London Green Party to select me as our London Mayoral candidate and to put me number one on the London Assembly list.
London is seen as a successful city, but that success is too focused on corporations, finance and property development. We need to redefine success to include community benefit and ensure that it is shared fairly amongst Londoners of all backgrounds.
Despite multiple photo opportunities of the current Mayor on a bicycle, far too many people are being killed and injured on our streets. Public transport is crowded and expensive. Meanwhile, thousands are dying unnecessarily each year breathing polluted air, children’s lung development is stunted and we face a crisis of physical inactivity that creates mounting costs for the NHS.
And as the city becomes ever more densely populated, and green space more squeezed, biodiversity suffers. The catastrophic decline of species like sparrows and hedgehogs indicates just how out of kilter our system has become.
The Mayor has specific powers over transport, policing, the fire brigade and planning but has surprisingly little power on some of the issues that really matter in London, like housing: “affordable” housing that stretches the definition of affordability beyond credibility and the heartless “decanting” of communities to cheaper areas so property (not homes) can be developed. But the limitations on the Mayor’s powers are no block to setting a clear vision for a city run for and with it’s citizens.
London Greens must continue their work with campaigners and activists across the city to support those resisting eviction or campaigning for fair wages and to call for the radical action required to reduce car use and unite the campaigns for safer streets with the urgent health and economic imperative to clean London’s air.
There are better models for how we organise our city – but those models are too often ignored. I was introduced to one such model recently, when a housing community of thirty-nine years standing, invited me to help their campaign to resist being evicted by One Housing Group.
This home that houses a diverse group of low income people, some with significant support needs, shows an inspiring model for cooperative housing in an increasingly unaffordable city. One Housing Group should be learning from and supporting these residents, not trying to evict them to realise an asset they acquired ten years previously for a token pound.
Last week I joined a traffic stopping vigil organised by Stop Killing Cyclists to remember Esther Hartsilver, killed by a lorry while cycling to work. The casual acceptance of a certain amount of death and serious injury on our streets would not be tolerated if it was happening on the railways. But on our roads which are “meant” for cars and lorries it is miserably normal that people die while cycling to work or crossing the road, while popping out for a pint of milk.
This is not inevitable; it comes about because of choices that are made in the way we run our city. When Mayor Johnson was elected in 2008 the first thing he did was to cancel the Year of Walking and the second thing was to prioritise the flow of motorised traffic over that of pedestrians with a policy called “smoothing the flow”.
We need a Mayor who understands that people must be put before vehicles on our streets and that housing is about the provision of homes and not investment opportunities.
The next four years of politics in London will be shaped by our campaign. It is a chance to reach out to Londoners across the capital in ways we may not yet have imagined.
Our London Assembly campaign is not just about what the Green Party can do for London, it’s also about what our campaign can do for the Green Party. We must learn from community campaigning, organise, involve members (new and old), work with more communities, connect the work of Assembly members with that of local parties and build our capacity for contesting elections.
This has to be about maximising our presence on the Assembly, putting a Green Mayor in City Hall and leaving local parties primed and ready to elect Green councillors to Town Halls across the capital in 2018.
London is the most innovative city in the world. Our dynamic economy should turn its focus to the challenge of delivering a socially just transformation in housing, cleaner air and safer, greener less traffic dominated streets. London has the chance to be at the forefront of a worldwide revolution in social innovation and green technology, and all Londoners should share that success.
In the end there is no “they” to fix this stuff. We “are” the Green Party and we need to act together. I hope London Greens will select me as Mayoral candidate and number one on the Assembly List to play my part in making this happen.