FORMO Hustings: A potential vote-catcher in Ilford North thanks to Green Party activist Deborah Fink

5 May 2015

On Saturday 11th April, the Federation of Redbridge Muslim Organisations (FORMO) held a hustings at Fulwell Cross library, Barkingside (Ilford North Constituency). Green Party candidate, David Reynolds only found out about the event in the local press. Contrary to normal hustings practice, the organisers only invited the three traditional 'main' parties. This meant that the UKIP and Independent candidates were also not included. David agreed that rather than 'gatecrash' it himself, it would be a good idea if I went along and asked if I could speak from the floor.

When I arrived, the UKIP candidate was standing outside. I went in and got permission from the organiser to speak from the floor, having asked to speak to the Chair. I don't think the Chair was ever told. I was hoping that I'd be given a slot where I could summarise where we differ from the other parties, particularly on Israel/Palestine. The opportunity never arose, so I had to find the right moment to put my hand up as the hustings was divided up into sections based on different topics. Each topic was introduced with pre-formulated & pre-submitted questions, before going to the floor. These topics were on what are of concern to the Muslim community, e.g. Islamophobia. 

The mainly Asian audience was also mostly male. Lee Scott, the Conservative MP, did not come due to personal security concerns, having received death threats in the past. He had declined the security he had been offered while agreeing to come to the venue the following week for a Barkingside 21 hustings, so I suspect that this absence was likely due to fear of being grilled by the Muslim community on his unconditional support for Israel. He was replaced by the leader of the Conservative group in the council, Paul Canal. The Chair read out all the answers Lee Scott had given to the questions they had submitted, referring to him in a sneering manner. He is obviously not popular with this community!

Amusingly, the Chair joked about the Liberal Democrat candidate, Richard Clare, wearing a green tie and how it was probably in solidarity with the Green Party as they weren't there! He pipped me to the post on that one... Richard Clare actually said that it's not just about two parties and we can now vote for who we want - a point that I wanted to endorse but didn't get the chance to. He could almost have been encouraging us to vote Green!

I decided to intervene on the subject of human rights. Referring to the comment Richard Clare had made about the Labour mug on immigration, I stated: 'The Greens also have a mug. It says "Supporting migrants".'

Me: 'I know Palestine is a subject close to the hearts of many Muslims.'

The Chair: 'You could bring this up later when 'Foreign Policy' comes up - we are now on 'Human Rights.'

Me: 'This is human rights.' (Round of applause. It was possible that I'd get a chance to speak again.)

Me: 'The Green Party, is the only party with elected representatives - yes, we do have elected representatives - that does not have a Friends of Israel.' (Another round of applause)

Me: 'That means that we are not pressurised into saying certain things. Ed Miliband's mother is in Jews for Justice for Palestinians, as am I. I understand that Lee Scott has received death threats and this is wrong, but I suspect it's because of his support for Israel rather than because he is Jewish. I'm Jewish and I'm proud to be here.'(Round of applause)

Me: 'I've received death threats from right-wing Jewish supporters of Israel!'

I was then told my minute was up but I'd not finished my point and talked over the Chair. I squeezed in that we boycott Israel. Fortunately I did get the chance to speak again. 

The subject of Israel/Palestine came up under Foreign Policy. One man (apparently from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee who later told me he voted Green), highlighted Lee Scott's unconditional support for Israel and exposed and grilled the Labour candidate, Wes Streeting, who also has a poor record on supporting Palestine, asking him to apologise. While Chair of the National Union of Students, Streeting had apparently endorsed Israel's policy of leafleting the Palestinians in Gaza, warning them that they were going to be bombed! It saved me the bother of finding out for myself where he stood  - I had intended to ask him. He had changed his position since his NUS days and put it down to the fact that he had to represent thousands of students. I put it down to the fact that the pro-Israel Union of Jewish Students puts a lot of pressure on the NUS but didn't get the chance to say this.

The candidates trotted out the same old stuff about the two state solution & Israel's need for security, (never mind the Palestinians' need for security and the fact that they have no protection). Wes said the two sides need to sit down & negotiate....

I had my hand up for some time. I think it was the man from 'Cage' who said 'Let the Green woman speak'. I now wish I'd saved what I was going to say until now but at least I got heard by a few people who'd now left. 

Me: 'The other candidates are all speaking poppycock! As long as the UK remains a capitalist state & enjoys trading with Israel, the main parties are going to make mealy mouthed comments. Israel will not negotiate. And let's not call this a conflict: this is an occupation and a subjugation of over a million people.' (Round of applause) 'So we have to put pressure on Israel. This is why the Green Party supports boycotts, divestment & sanctions against Israel!' (More applause)

I did not get the chance to speak again but there were a few amusing moments. When Paul Canal went to the toilet, Richard Clare suggested that I took his seat so I got up & pretended to take it! The chair made a joke about the Greens going too far. Someone said the Greens should have been included, as did Richard to me afterwards. Someone else said they should have had a woman. I joked 'You should have had a Jew. You're anti-Semitic! I'm a Green Jew!' The chair then referred to me as 'The Green Jew'. Of course, Lee Scott is also Jewish - but he didn't come.

They then moved onto the NHS and I was told I couldn't speak any more (even though a white oldish woman in a wheelchair intervened a few times).

Me:'But we have the best policies on the NHS.'

Chair:'I know you do.'

Towards the end, the Chair asked people to put up their hands if they'd changed their position as a result of the hustings. A few did and a few of those turned round to me and said 'We're voting Green'.

I've been saying for some time that we can get Muslims to vote for us once they know about our position on the Middle East. And I spoke to a few Muslims who'd voted Green in the past or who had decided to vote Green. The MPAC man said it wasn't true that they all voted Labour. I think age has a lot to do with it- I think it's often the younger generation, as it is with white Brits, who are more interested in what we stand for. Having said that, the couple who turned round to me were quite old, as was another man who said he'd voted Green in the past. We must not make presumptions!

A few members of the audience took my details and a reporter from the Ilford Recorder took a quote from me which he never used -he was going to write about how the Greens and UKIP weren't included. 

Deborah Fink