General election candidates for Hampstead and Kilburn clash over racism and Brexit at fractious Ham&High hustings
PUBLISHED: 17:42 04 December 2019 | UPDATED: 13:28 05 December 2019
Ten days before heading to the polls, 400 Hampstead and Kilburn voters grilled candidates on some of the election campaign's biggest issues at UCS Hampstead.
Tulip Siddiq, David Stansell, Matt Sanders and Johnny Luk went head-to-head over a heated hour and a quarter on Monday, chaired by Ham&High senior reporter Harry Taylor.
The biggest flashpoint came towards the end of the debate, when the candidates came under attack from one another and the audience over political parties' problems with racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia
Other questions came about dealing with Brexit and the climate emergency, and political parties' problems with racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia. during a fractious debate. But it did end on a note of reconciliation - Ms Siddiq concluded her closing remarks by saying her opponents were nice people joking that she would let any of them date her younger sister.
Racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia: 'When a minority community feels under attack, we need to listen'
Ms Siddiq said the Labour Party had not done enough. Apologising, she explained she understood the hurt felt in the Jewish community. She said: "I grew up in the heart of the Jewish community five minutes from here. I went to school here. I spent my Friday nights going to Seder dinners. I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group against antisemitism, I am a trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day trust. I know antisemitism is not a new thing. I know the history of the Jewish community and why they feel attacked now."
She said the party "should have taken action quicker" to throw out those guilty of antisemitism including former London mayor Ken Livingstone. She added: "We let down so many people because we failed to take action. I have faith in the Labour Party and in my opinion, you don't leave the party, you stay and you fight."
Mr Luk said he felt that as an ethnic minority candidate he himself was a symbol of a more diverse Conservative Party. He said: "Tulip Siddiq is saying she's fought for the Jewish community, but that's not working."
In response to anger from black female Labour activist Sandrine Siraju-Kasongo in the audience and from Ms Siddiq about comments Boris Johnson has made, including those referring to black people as "picaninnies" and insulting women who wear the hijab, Mr Luk said: "I don't need to be lectured on this. I live it. I know it." Criticising how Mr Luk had dealt with the audience question, Ms Siddiq retorted: "In this constituency we do not shout down women."
Mr Sanders said "the most harrowing" conversation he had on the doorstep had been with an elderly Jewish woman who had previously been a lifelong Labour voter but broke down in tears telling him she could vote for that party no longer.
He said: "When a minority community feels under attack we need to listen, whatever the community. The lesson from history is that when one minority is under attack, all minorities are under attack."
Mr Stansell concurred saying: "It's an issue and rightly so." He blamed a perceived rise in hate crime on a general "fragmentation of society" over the past decade.
Lib Dem Matt Sanders said: "When a minority community feels under attack we need to listen, whatever the community." Green candidate David Stansell agreed, saying it was "rightly" an important issue but was forced to add the Greens would not ban halal meat, after televised comments by co-leader Jonathan Bartley.
Brexit: 'I have to think about the rest of the country'
Before the temperature rose, though, Brexit kicked off the discussion, and unsurprisingly divided the panellists. Tulip Siddiq, hoping to hold on to a 15,560 majority in the constituency - which saw the 11th strongest Remain vote in 2016, talked up her pro-EU credentials and said: "If you know anything about me you will know that I am an arch-Remainer." She added she had voted against Brexit at every opportunity.
"I campaigned for Remain. I voted for Remain. I was the first MP to vote against triggering Article 50 in parliament.
"Every opportunity I have had, I've voted against Brexit." She reminded voters that she even delayed her Caesarean section in January in order to do so."
In line with her own personal views, she backed the Labour policy of seeking a second referendum and added: "Parliament is gridlocked because no-one will compromise. I have worked within my party to find us a solution. I have to think about the rest of the country."
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Matt Sanders, the Lib Dem candidate, said the result of the 2016 vote had a visceral impact on him. He said: "Like many people in this Remain area, I will never forget the feeling the morning after the EU referendum, the feeling that the country I knew didn't exist any more."
He said if his party were in a position to revoke Article 50, this would mean there was a democratic mandate for it. He added: "Democracy got us into this mess, it can get us out."
Tory hopeful Johnny Luk - a former official in the Department for Exiting the European Union (DEXEU) - attacked MPs such as Ms Siddiq who blocked Brexit in the Commons. He said: "Over the last three years, we have been going around and aaround. It was so difficult to negotiate when we were being undermined.I am confident that as the fifth richest country in the world we can negotiate a good free trade deal if we are confident in ourselves."
Ms Siddiq, hit back. "I have no problem undermining a government if it is throwing the country to the dogs. she said. "
The Green Party's David Stansell broadly agreed with his Labour counterpart saying that because what Brexit meant was "undefined" during the referendum: "The only logical answer is to go back to the people with whatever Brexit deal we end up with and ask 'is this what you meant?'.
The Climate Emergency: 'We have ten years, globally'
Mr Stansell tackled the climate crisis first, saying the Greens were "the only party that has a plan for the country that's focused around rebuilding our economy around the climate challenge". He added: "It is a very serious problem and we have ten years globally to address this in a serious way."
The others all spoke up for their respective party's commitments to the planet. Mr Luk emphasised statistics which show a reduction in carbon emissions of 25 per cent over the past decade and said his party were "working with business" on the issue. But Mr Stansell said this had been "passive coincidence".
Backing Labour's Green New Deal, Ms Siddiq said the climate crisis was "something we have ignored for far too long" and blamed "successive governments" who had "talked about climate change but not developed what we need for this country". She said some MPs had blocked green legislation, telling the crowd: "There are people who still think [climate change] is a made up thing."
Matt Sanders said the problem was like "facing down the barrel of a gun", adding: "If we do not take action in the next 11 years we will not be able to reverse climate change."
Mr Stansell said the other parties have not done enough, he said the Lib Dem target of being carbon neutral by 2045 was "too late", that he had "heard whispers" the Labour Party was not wedded to its 2030 target and the Tories had "presided over one of the worst periods of climate policy".
After a hot-tempered discussion of Islamophobia, antisemitism and anti-black racism which saw Ms Siddiq apologise for Labour "failing to deal with this quick enough" and attack the prime inister's history of racist comments, Mr Luk said his candidacy - as a British Chinese man - was an example of Tory diversity. Mr Stansell and Mr Sanders both spoke of the importance of "speaking carefully" and bringing communities together to mend divides across the country.
Who the candidates are and how they signed off
Tulip Siddiq: Labour's candidate has been the Hampstead & Kilburn MP since 2015. Closing, she said: "The stakes are very, very high. This country's at a crossroads. I have always put this constituency first. This is my home. Send me back to fight for you in parliament."
Johnny Luk: Tory who worked in the Department of Exiting the EU. He ended by saying: "I never imagined I would have the opportunity to be here. We need to move things forward and we need to focus on the economy and housing."
Matt Sanders: Former councillor and special adviser to Nick Clegg. The Lib Dem's final words were: "I love this place and this area. It's my community. We need to stop Brexit and climate change and save public services."
David Stansell: The Green candidate said: "We must do something about the climate crisis. If you vote Green you will increase the pressure on all of these parties. We believe the EU is an essential part of fighting the climate crisis."
James Pointon: The Brexit Party candidate did not attend.