We wouldn't blame you if you did a double take at that headline. The Green Party is targeting three seats in the General Election: its Brighton stronghold, Norwich South and Lewisham Deptford. At first glance, South East London's finest may not seem the most obvious choice for a Green charge but it's not as daft as it sounds. Two of the wards, Brockley and Ladywell, are entirely represented by Green councillors and - we say, sagely nodding our heads - Lewisham isn't the scuzzhole some North Londoners imagine it is.
Darren Johnson is the Green candidate. He's a current Brockley councillor and Chair of the London Assembly, and we wanted to know about a bit more about what he thinks of his chances.
Lewisham Deptford's still a pretty safe Labour seat. What's made the Green Party have such high hopes for the constituency in this election?
At the last General Election it was still a safe Labour seat. But there has been a pretty dramatic growth in Green support locally since then. We've gone up from just one Green councillor in the constituency to six. And in the last local elections, the London Assembly elections and the European Elections we came second to Labour across the parliamentary seat. It's one of our top three target seats in the country this time around.
People who don't live in the area might be surprised to hear it's a bit of a Green base. What do you put Green support down to?
There's been a lot of hard work from us over the years! Initially we were getting some fairly predictable support from Guardian readers in the conservation areas but over time we've been able to broaden that in a way that reflects the diversity of the area - council blocks and Victorian terraces, pensioners and students, black and white. There has been a feeling that people have been neglected and let down by Labour. In contrast we are out and about and visible and don't just appear at election time. The Lib Dems are very weak in this constituency and even hardened Tories recognise the Tories are never ever going to win a seat around here.
Do you think voters are likely to move away from the three main parties - or not vote at all - following the expenses scandal, or is that a lot of media hooey?
There was obviously a big backlash against the three main parties last summer when the scandal first blew up. People are still angry and I still cannot believe how outrageous many of the expenses claims were. But people don't just want to make a rash protest vote - they are considering carefully who to vote for and who they want as their next MP.
Greens are known for their environmental policies, but what about the economy, transport, etc?
We've always had a comprehensive manifesto. But when you have elected Greens, people get to see the full range of issues we are involved with. That's certainly happened at local level where people have seen us get involved in all sorts of issues. In this general election we are really hammering home our policies to protect public services, create jobs and reduce the gap between rich and poor. Unlike the other parties our economic policies are fully integrated with our climate change policies, however.
If you're elected, what are the main things you would want to do for Lewisham Deptford?
Give local people a real voice. I want to support the Deptford and Lewisham pensioners in their call for a £170 pension - not just nod along sympathetically and then vote for the opposite in parliament. I want to get the licensing laws changed so we don't just have to put up with more and more bookmakers appearing when there are enough already. I want to help make sure whoever is in Government takes air pollution seriously so that Deptford and New Cross is no longer the sort of pollution hotspot that's making people ill and reducing their life expectancy.
What are your proudest achievements as a Lewisham councillor and as a London Assembly member?
As a London Assembly Member - working to get the London Living Wage introduced, securing funding for a study that led to Ken Livingstone's roadbuilding plans being scuppered and getting planning laws changed on paving over your front garden. As a Lewisham councillor - helping get the cuts to social care for the elderly reversed, working with community campaigners and other opposition councillors to keep the swimming pool open, getting solar panels on one of our local primary schools and being re-elected last time with the highest vote of any councillor in the entire borough.
Which bits of Lewisham would you recommend to a visitor?
I love it that we now have some decent cafes and restaurants in Brockley. I love Deptford High Street and the absence of all the usual chains you see in every other high street. I think the South London Press is still a brilliant local paper. And every time I pass Goldsmiths College I still think about all the really fun, happy times I had there as a student. There's things I want to see changed but there's also a lot I really love about Lewisham and Deptford.
We spoke to Darren just as Cleggmania was starting to gear up, so it will be interesting to see how the Lib Dems come into play. Candidate Tamora Langley says they "don't see the evidence of a significant Green party campaign in Lewisham Deptford" (comments from locals on visible all-party campaigning welcomed). Tam's priorities for the area would be: "a fairer start for children - ensuring children get the individual attention they need by cutting class sizes; fairer taxes, so that the first £10,000 people earn is tax free - putting £700 back in the pockets of low and middle earners; and cutting crime." She goes on to explain how key Lib Dem policies would help cut crime (scrapping ID cards to pay for 3,000 extra police officers, reducing bureaucracy), adding "it is wrong to scaremonger on crime. But equally it would be deeply irresponsible to ignore the far too common sad instances of stabbings and shootings on our streets. Teenagers in Brockley have told me about their fear of being caught up in a stabbing, and their experiences of being mugged or threatened on the streets".
Despite there being not a single Conservative councillor in the constituency, candidate Gemma Townsend is remarkably upbeat. If elected, she would "want to do much more to champion small businesses and forge better links between them and the local schools and colleges. Areas like New Cross and Brockley have made a name for themselves as up and coming unique areas, particularly in terms of music, art, small food shops and bars. I think it's paramount that I continue to support the existing companies and do even more to help locals to set up shops and companies, particularly with a view to employing young locals. The Conservative party has promised to support small businesses by cutting Labour's jobs tax, cutting corporation tax and abolishing the tax on the first ten jobs in new companies".
The campaign for Labour incumbent Joan Ruddock were "not sure it would be appropriate" to comment for this article. You can take from that what you like.
Prosaically - although it's fun for the locals to speculate, and watch Conservative and Lib Dem leaflets contradict each other over who came second in the Mayoral elections (to clarify: the Conservatives are referring to the 2008 Boris v Ken fight, the Lib Dems to the previous Lewisham Mayoral election) - Lewisham Deptford is more than likely to be a Labour hold. Joan Ruddock came out of the expenses scandal well and, despite some local grumblings on the ground about invisibility, an 11,800 majority will be difficult to overturn. For more on the battle for Lewisham Deptford read the ever-excellent Brockley Central, who are holding 'virtual hustings' with the candidates.
Lewisham Deptford parliamentary candidates
- Darren Johnson, Green
- Tamora Langley, Liberal Democrat
- Malcolm Martin, Christian People's Alliance
- Ian Page, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
- Joan Ruddock, Labour
- Gemma Townsend, Conservative
By the way, presumably the reason the Tories and LDs are splitting hairs over Mayoral elections is because Lewisham is also electing its borough Mayor on 6th May. The Labour incumbent Steve Bullock is standing for re-election against opponents who include, wincingly for such a tolerant and diverse area, the BNP. But as we suspect they're standing more for publicity purposes than actually having a cat in hell's chance, we'll speed quickly past for a look at everyone who's running.
Lewisham Mayoral candidates
- Steve Bullock, Labour
- Tess Culnane, BNP
- Graham Dare, English Democrats
- John Hamilton, Community Need Before Private Greed
- Chris Maines, Liberal Democrat
- Simon Nundy, Conservative
- Dean Walton, Green