We met Jenny Jones, Green Mayoral candidate and Assembly Member, canal boat owner and former archaeologist, on the campaign trail this week in Peckham and East Dulwich. It’s her manor, having been a member of Southwark Council between 2006-2010, but that alone doesn’t account for how many people stop her to talk (she says people have also started collaring her on buses). Part of this is undoubtedly the profile the BBC have given the Green candidate, putting Jenny on the same platform as Ken, Boris and Brian – and during the bad tempered Newsnight debate, she was the one who came over as sensible and policy-focused, trying to put the tax question to bed by suggesting they all publish their tax returns.
After an hour of chatting, leafleting and seeing the number of homes on the Dog Kennel estate that are boarded up, we repaired to a local cafe for a chat.
Why were you in Southwark today, what were you aiming to highlight?
What’s been happening in Southwark, and I’m sure it happens in a lot of other places as well, is that councils are strapped for cash – which is perfectly understandable – but instead of making a choice between refurbishing social housing and selling it off, they’re actually leaving them empty. I just think that’s unacceptable, particularly here in Southwark where there are so many homeless people. I suppose I’m angry that property’s being left empty.
There are all sorts of things you could do, compulsory purchase for example. Another way is to be a bit more creative; there are community land trusts, which in other parts of the world is 12-15% of the housing stock. Here in London we don’t have any. It’s where a bunch of residents get together and get a piece of land – they can either buy it, or be given it sometimes, or they can lease it. Then they develop the land themselves, choosing the kind of housing that the community needs. That will usually be affordable, it will be to a high environmental standard, it will have lots of green space. Then they sell it as affordable housing but they keep possession of the land. That means the housing is affordable in perpetuity, which means you have long-term affordable housing. Whereas in the current system the affordable house is only affordable once, when it’s first sold, and that first lucky buyer gets the advantage of selling it later at a market rate.
The Mayor is going to get extra housing powers in the next year and that’s a huge opportunity. There’s land there, there’s money there, to focus on what London needs, which is basically affordable housing.
What do you say to people who complain that they have a good job but can’t afford to live in zone 2 or 3, so why should other people get help to live there?
It’s not a good argument. We want a more fair London and a more affordable London, that means building more social housing. The sale of social housing’s been an absolute disaster and the government’s going to do it again and give people 80% mortgages, which sounds like a recipe for more debt and a longer recession. We are obsessed with owning houses in Britain, and given the private rented sector is expanding all the time it seems perhaps we should think more about protecting people who have to rent, of whom there’s an increasing number. We did a piece of work on the London Assembly recently about the private rented sector and we found that about a third of landlords are good, about a third are amateurs, and another third are pure evil, out to make as much money from the system as they possibly can. We need to educate the middle stream who don’t really know how to do it properly and clamp down on the complete rogues. And that’s something the Mayor can tackle and help councils do all sorts of work in that area.
Will you make it cheaper to get to work?
Yes. We would reduce fares from where they are now, and we would keep them below the cost of inflation for the whole four years. I’ve got a fully costed plan for that. Boris Johnson says on every platform that our plans are the only intellectually honest ones, because we admit where we’ll get the money from. We’d put the congestion charge up from £10 to £15 for three years while we consult Londoners on a pay as you drive scheme. We wouldn’t consult on whether or not to introduce it because it’s got to come in, but we’d consult on how to make it fair. And every penny from that would go to public transport. I’m told the scheme that we’d use is easier to run than the congestion charge so it would be cheaper to run.
I’ve met people on this campaign who’ve said that they can’t afford to get to work so they walk into the next zone and that’s just wrong. It’s quite interesting that the Greens, Labour and Lib Dems are saying it’s possible to bring the fares down, it’s only the Tories that are committed to keeping high fares. Why would they do that?
Why do you think the campaign has got so bogged down in personality and negativity?
That’s actually a really hard question and I have absolutely no idea. I keep saying to Ken, don’t bother attacking Boris, always talk about your policies. His policies are better than Boris’s, even I’ll say that and I’m not signed up to all of them. Boris’s policies are a total rehash, an uncreative rehash of inaccurate statements. His manifesto is rubbish and so perhaps the only way they could fight Ken is to attack him and make him look bad. I know Ken is a long way from perfect, he’s an idiot at times, but if you ask me who cares more about London, him or Boris, I’m going to say Ken does. I don’t think Boris cares at all. I don’t know what’s in his head and perhaps it’s wrong of me even to say that, but having held both of them to account [on the Assembly], I still have respect for Ken.
The Greens are encouraging people to vote for Ken second. Is that a reflection of how well, or not, you’ve been able to work with Boris?
Yes, that’s exactly right. We could work with Ken but we haven’t been able to work with Boris. Some of his policies are 180 degrees opposite to ours. His whole ‘smoothing traffic flow’ – I worked for eight years with Ken to bring down road casualties and in four years Boris has turned that around and they’re rising again. He cut the road safety budget from £30m to £10m and he speeded up the traffic. Those two things have meant that more people are hurt on our roads.
Your goal for the number of police seems to be the lowest of the main four parties.
We haven’t really got a goal. The others keep talking about numbers, but we think that form should follow function. So first you need to know what those police officers should be doing and then make sure they’re doing it. Part of the problem at the moment is – if I can use a football analogy – what Boris Johnson has done, it’s as if he’s sending out a team of 11 strikers, no defenders and no goalie. That’s not an effective team. They’re going to lose because they can’t stop the other team putting the goals in. And that’s what’s happened to the police. He’s got so many police officers and got rid of around 900 [civilian] police staff and they’re now 1,500 police staff short of where they expected to be. That means that police officers, instead of being out on the streets doing what they should be doing, are taking phone calls, doing custody suite work, paperwork. So there might be 32,000 police officers in London but they’re not all doing policing.
Police officers are more highly paid than staff so it’s inefficient, and if you join the police force you don’t join to be in a call centre or do paperwork. You want to be out meeting people and putting the world to rights, so they’re not even the right people for the backroom jobs.
Would it be fair to say that the Green approach to business and the economy is to focus on the small and local?
Yes, that’s pretty fair. We’re not saying that big business shouldn’t happen, but to kickstart the economy it’s time to make sure small businesses get a leg up because they’re the people who usually employ locally, it means they spend money locally. We should be thinking about the sorts of jobs that small businesses can create. We do want to do things like an industrial estate out in the East End – City airport really has to close. I personally would like to turn it into allotments but our policy at the moment is a green industrial estate. Or we could use it for housing.
If Londonist gave you £60m, what would you do to make London better?
I think the very first thing I’d do is give money to the boroughs to go 20mph default if they want to. I don’t know how much that would cost but it could take about £60m. But once it’s up and running it costs nothing; when you do the default it takes out a huge number of street signs, it declutters the street, it sends out a signal to everybody that if you live or work or want your kids to play on the street then it’s yours, and it’s not for traffic. When I last looked at 20mph three years ago, eight councils then wanted to do it so I’m assuming there would be more now because the argument’s been made and understood by a lot more people. That alone would ease problems for cyclists and pedestrians. I’d prefer not to spend the full £60m, though. Greens are super scrimpers, we are very good at getting every last penny out of the pound.