Andrew Boff is the Conservative Mayoral candidate for Hackney. He is currently a member of the London Assembly and will hold the seat until 2012. Some links: Wikipedia biography; His election website: changehackney.com. (Also, there is an interesting piece in Hackney Citizen: Hackney Council rejects Mayoral candidate's election address)
1. Blood and Property: Do you think it is acceptable that Mayor Pipe has answered a similar set of questions to these via the Hackney Council Press office? Should tax payers money be used for this as an election nears?
Andrew Boff: This is one of the points that I'm trying to make about whether or not the Mayor should be paid. The Mayor should be a representative of the people, not subsumed into the bureaucracy of the Council. These questions are clearly related to the election. Using the press office would be highly inappropriate if that is what has happened.
2. Blood and Property: How significant is the PR/Comms department in Hackney? Do you think that it's senior figures - or any of the other departments in the council - have become politicised? And would you be able to work with them if you won the election?
ANDREW BOFF: To quote Government Minister Ben Bradshaw, “You’ve got local authorities that are spending a considerable amount of council taxpayers’ money employing armies of press officers to produce these propaganda sheets masquerading as newspapers. They remind me of (Soviet state newspaper) Pravda and papers I knew from my times in East Germany as a BBC correspondent. If the only information you’re getting is misleading propaganda put out by politicians from one particular party, I think that’s very dangerous.” Read Hackney Today and tell me it's not propaganda without giggling. There are some very good officers working in Hackney Council who can speak for themselves. The regime does not allow them to speak to the press, however, because Mayor Pipe wants to control the message. Under my Mayoralty officers would be allowed to speak for themselves, dispensing with the need for a large media management team.
Andrew Boff answered questions 3, 4 and 5 together below. He said he found them "distasteful" - (does this mean racist?). These are the questions:
3. How would you respond to the criticism that the Conservative Party in Hackney is a vehicle for an (ultra) orthodox Jewish political agenda rather than anything to do with the Conservative Party? (Must read for Hackney Politics)
4. Do you agree that (ultra) orthodox Jewish councillors rarely stand against each other in elections? Do you think it would matter if there was some kind of agreement within the Orthodox Jewish community for candidates not to stand against each other? Have you spoken to your Orthodox Jewish councillors about this issue? (Democracy Problem in Stamford Hill)
5. Last year Mayor Pipe accused Councillor Steinberger of putting the planning needs of the Orthodox Jewish community above the financial needs of the rest of the borough? (23,000 residents used as a bargaining chip, mayor claims) - are you concerned that this kind of prioritisation may be taking place with 2/3 of your councillors coming from the Charedi community?
ANDREW BOFF: Who is the criticism from? Nobody has said this to me. I'm not really one for conspiracy theories especially when it's directed against one section of the community. It's rather sinister. I've recently spoken out against the dangerous islamaphobic nonsense that Channel 4 and Jim Fitzpatrick MP have spread about the London Muslim Centre and these appear of the same ilk and I find them rather distasteful. Still, if I have to answer such questions - of the Conservative candidates in Hackney 11% are Orthodox Jewish 18% have a Caribbean/ African heritage, 4% are Turkish/Kurdish, 4% Polish and 2% Asian. The Conservative Party is a "vehicle" for all of us.
6. Blood and Property: Do you think it matters that Hackney's legal department was 25% understaffed during major development period - olympics, bishopsgate goods yard, dalston development. (Hackney legal department recruiting crisis)
ANDREW BOFF: I'd prefer the legal department to serve the interests of the people of Hackney, not just its administration. The Head of legal services letter to Lowell Grant (“Spirit”) which told him to “desist from misrepresenting the facts to the media” after the Council had corruptly taken away his home and business shows how that department has become a puppet of the political class in Hackney. No wonder they have problems keeping staff. (Easteight's coverage of Spirit's story)
7. Blood and Property: How much has 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) Do you think this will change the make up of the voting patterns in the borough in your favour?
ANDREW BOFF: In Hackney, Conservatives have always had a better reception on the Council estates than in the wealthier streets. Now that even the wealthy are finding it difficult to afford Labour many are realising that if you want to vote for change, you may have to change your vote.
8. Blood and Property: To what extent do you think that changes in the borough are related to property prices and new people moving here - how easily do you think that this process could be reversed (i.e. do you think that many hackney residents see their homes as investments or just as homes?)
ANDREW BOFF: What is clear is that people brought up in Hackney are having greater difficulties staying here. The Council's policy of social cleansing doesn't help, with a large numbers of new dormitory developments and very very little for Hackney families. I will end the public subsidy of new one and two bedroom flats and ensure all that taxpayers money goes into building proper family homes, preferably with gardens. The overcrowding in Hackney is a severe problem and largely hidden. It has an effect on educational attainment, health and the cohesiveness of families. The Council doesn't seem to talk much about it though.
9. Blood and Property: Do you think that Hackney has suffered the worst effects of the financial crisis? Why is Hackney's employment situtation either improving more slowly than other boroughs? or degenerating faster than other boroughs?
ANDREW BOFF: The question is in the past tense and the past is not the biggest issue. The effects of the recession will carry on through the next few years and it will hit Hackney particularly hard. We already have the highest number of job applicants chasing each job (92) and I shudder to think of what is going to happen if we carry on with the current Council who have neglected their duty of care to help local residents find work. The example of only one Hackney resident on an apprenticeship on the Olympic site is a symbol of how rubbish the Council is at finding work for local people. It needs to be much more pro-active in assisting the unemployed.
10. Blood and Property: There is a fear that if the Conservatives win the next election, Hackney will see a substantial fall in financial support. Is this fear justified?
ANDREW BOFF: Whoever wins the General election will be cutting back on financial support to Hackney. That is the brutal reality of the financial crisis. The Government is paying out more than they are getting in. Their current policies are less to do with Keynesian stimulation of the economy and more about delaying the inevitable for as long as possible, well, after May 6th anyway.
11. Blood and Property: What sort of relationship does Jules Pipe have with Boris Johnson?
ANDREW BOFF: They have to have a constructive relationship. I do not know if Bozzer has ever invited him round for dinner.
12. Blood and Property: Do you think that you would be more effective at winning money and resources from Johnson's administration than Pipe?
ANDREW BOFF: Yes, because I am well placed, as a member of the London Assembly, to argue for the kind of things that Hackney needs. Having spent most of my life in proper jobs, becoming a paid politician in 2008 has given me the chance to campaign at the GLA for the things I think that Hackney needs such as more family housing, protecting small independent shops against the threat from chain stores and improving the London Plan in its attitude to street markets.
13. Blood and Property: Would a Conservative government and a Conservative Mayor of London be more benevolent towards Hackney if the borough had a Conservative Mayor?
ANDREW BOFF: They'd want to see a Mayor who was spending their financial support effectively rather than building plush new Town Halls, glossy marketing and jollies to Beijing. So yes, they probably would.
14. Blood and Property: Although crime in Hackney has fallen, other boroughs complain that Hackney has more policemen. Meanwhile, Hackney seems to rely on outside agencies like Operation Trident. If Boris Johnson cuts numbers of police officers, how will this affect Hackney?
ANDREW BOFF: The overall number of a Police Officers on the street will increase by 95.
15. Blood and Property: Also, while other boroughs are actively lobbying Johnson to siphon resources away from Hackney, can Hackney residents be sure that you will put in as many hours as a paid-up Mayor?
ANDREW BOFF: Yes.
16. Blood and Property: To what extent do you think that the crime figure improvements in Hackney are down to numbers of police men in the borough?
ANDREW BOFF: The effectiveness of Police Officers (they can be women as well you know) is one part of making Hackney safer. However, there is an enormous amount of unreported crime especially that which is perpetrated against young people. We have also seen a disturbing increase in hate crimes and it appears that whilst the quantum of crime may have had a statistical improvement, the severity of crime has increased. This points to Police time being directed to the low hanging fruit to hit targets. The rise in knife crimes and anti-social behaviour indicates that there is not enough attention being given to issues around social deprivation, overcrowding, the shameful lack of positive activities for young people and the breakdown in community based self-policing . The Council has to abandon its hostility to people of good will in the community who are trying to make a difference. Only then will there be a truly sustainable and equitable decrease in crime.
17. Blood and Property: Do you think it is healthy that so many of the boroughs schools are now academies - and does it matter that these schools are not subject to the freedom of information act? - References here: Hackney academies: too good to be true?
ANDREW BOFF: I welcome there being more information about the academies coming into the public domain. The success of the academies comes not from their secrecy but their ability to manage themselves without the target-driven tick-box obsessed Learning Trust breathing down their necks. That dead hand and lack of trust is creating impossible pressures on excellent teachers and driving them out of the profession. The Learning Trust must be scrapped. It has been an abysmal failure. We need to bring trust back into education. Trust in the professionalism of the teachers, headteachers and parents who want to see their schools thrive.
18. Blood and Property: 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.
ANDREW BOFF: Understanding is generally a good thing. The secular media are curiously bi-polar when it comes to the activities of people with faith. If they separate themselves from the political process they are accused of not integrating, if they join political parties they are accused of entry-ism. The chattering all has a rather nasty taste to it. Hackney is the sum of its parts and must meet the needs of all its residents.
19. Blood and Property: Do you think the BNP will stand in the Hackney Mayoral elections this year: if so, how do you think it will affect the elections in the borough?
ANDREW BOFF: It now turns out that this was a hollow threat. That party works on creating mistrust between communities. That kind of approach has absolutely no place in Hackney. (Hackney Citizen covers Boffs BNP clash in the London Assembly)