How important do you think religion and an understanding of religion might be in Hackney? Do you think that it will become more or less of an important factor in Hackney politics in the future? (There seems to be a lot of political activity in fundamental churches) and the orthodox jewish community is said to be growing fast and has specific requirements.
Diane Abbott: A large proportion of my constituents go to church so understanding religion is important to me. Huge amounts of money are being poured into the Christian Party here in Hackney, as your blog has pointed out. This seems to suggest religion may be on the agenda of politicians in the future but it will only really make a difference if candidates can win the support of people outside of their churches as well as within them.
Do you think it matters that Hackney's legal department was 25% understaffed during major development period - Olympics, Bishopsgate Goodsyard and the development of Dalston?
No department should be understaffed but provision was made to cover for staff as best as they could. There are long term issues about the staffing of both the legal and the planning department, and I have tried to help both private and public sector developers with these issues. I agree with you that the understaffing is a problem but I know that the council is trying very hard on this issue which is related to the difficulties of recruiting skilled legal and planning professionals at local government rates of pay.
Do you think it is healthy that so many of the borough's schools are now academies - and whether it matters that these schools are not subject to the freedom of information act? - References here: Hackney academies: too good to be true?
DA: I am concerned about the lack of transparency both in relation to academies and in relation to The Learning Trust itself. But there is no question that academies are hugely popular with Hackney parents and they are all massively oversubscribed. Every year I have to counsel parents who are upset because they can not get their child into an academy. Before the academies were built, the majority of Hackney parents sent their children out of the borough for secondary education. Since the academies program started, academies like Mossbourne have produced stellar results. And the number of parents keeping their children in Hackney for secondary education has risen year by year. This must be a good thing.
What would happen to Hackney if the Conservatives win the next election? How much less money would the borough receive?
DA: More money has been spent in Hackney under a Labour government than has ever been spent before. We have seen millions poured into new schools and the rebuilding of existing schools. We have seen millions spent on doing up council estates and we have seen even more spent on building the East London Line which will connect Dalston for the first time to the wider tube network. All of this has been possible under a Labour government. I was the MP under a Conservative government which redirected money from the inner city to Tory rural areas. I remember desperate Headteachers having to have buckets out to catch water coming through leaking roofs because they could not afford the building repairs. I do not know how much less money a Conservative government would spend because they have not produced detailed figures. But I have no doubt that, if the Tories gain power, they would ‘turn off the taps’ on public expenditure for the inner city. Furthermore, cuts in public expenditure will hit Hackney in two ways. Firstly, planned investments in schools etc will not go forward, but also one man’s public expenditure cut is another woman’s job loss. The public sector is the largest single employer in Hackney and Tory public expenditure cuts would mean a loss of jobs in the borough.
Do you think that Hackney has suffered the worst effects of the financial crisis? Why is Hackney's employment situation improving more slowly than other boroughs?
Hackney had a large number of unemployed people before the recession, which is one of the reasons it has been hit so hard. Unemployment is a big issue for all of us. It is also worrying is that it is young people appear to taking the brunt
For instance, figures released earlier this year showed that 48% of black 18 to 24 year olds were unemployed. This is very damaging for a borough like Hackney which has a large numbers of young people in long term unemployment. I am campaigning for more jobs to be made available on the Olympic site - so far only 2% of the 9000 workers live in Hackney, despite it being the biggest construction site in Europe. I will be meeting with the ODA in the next few weeks to discuss this and see what can be done.
5. Although crime in Hackney has fallen, other boroughs complain that Hackney has more policemen. On top of that, Hackney seems to be able to rely on outside agencies like Operation Trident. Do you know how much support Hackney's police get in fighting crime and whether this might no longer be available either if the Conservatives win or if the government has to cut police budgets?
DA: Crime has fallen in Hackney and I am pleased to say it is at the lowest level for 10 years. This is down to the hard work of our police force and agencies like Operation Trident and if Hackney has needed more police or funding to do this, I can only say that it has truly been worth it and the results speak for themselves. However, we musn't forget that gun crime has increased in the borough. A spate of killings in the Turkish/Kurdish community has gone someway to pushing these figures up and this is something I will be tackling alongside the police and the council. We can already see that a Conservative government would cut expenditure on fighting crime and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson is already proposing to cut 450 police officers by the end of his term.
The BNP wants to stand in the Hackney Mayoral elections this year. How do you think this will affect the elections in the borough?
DA: The recent reports of a BNP Mayoral candidate standing in Hackney are nothing but talk from the party at the moment, and we've yet to see whether they can back this up with action. I don't think a BNP candidate would have any chance of being elected in a multicultural borough like Hackney which has a proud history of fighting fascism.
How much do you think the borough has changed in the last 10 years - demographically (there's some research claiming that Hackney North has the highest density of people with degrees in the country)
DA: There have been big changes in Hackney's demographic over the last 10 years and over the last 23 years that I have been MP. A lot more young people now live in the borough and the 2001 census showed over 25% of the population were under-18. The largest group however is those aged between 30 to 44 years which comprised 27.46% of the borough’s total population. Younger people are now more likely to go into higher education than their parents did and that partly accounts for the rise. It is also the case that Hackney has become a popular place for young professionals to buy their first home and that too contributes to the higher number of people with degrees.