The leaders of the main political parties in Southwark went head-to-head over issues including affordable housing, youth centres, and crime during a sometimes heated election hustings.
The event, held at Southwark Cathedral on Tuesday, saw current Labour council leader Peter John face questions from the audience alongside Anood Al-Samerai, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, and Green co-chair Eleanor Margolies.
London Bridge and West Bermondsey Conservative candidate Toby Eckersley stood in for local party leader Michael Mitchell, who he said was out campaigning in Dulwich Village.
Setting out their stools, Peter John said he believed Labour had kept the promises it made to the public in both 2010 and 2014, while Lib Dem Anood Al-Samerai told those gathered that local politics was “very important” and she believed power should lie with the individuals and communities in Southwark.
Tory Toby Eckersley admitted “it will be a surprise if I win” in London Bridge and West Bermondsey, but said his party would argue for lower council tax, and agreed powers should be restored to the community.
And Southwark Greens co-chair Eleanor Margolies argued: “Southwark Labour isn’t doing anything nearly like enough” went it came to dangerous levels of air pollution.
“Over the last two years one in four new homes in Southwark has been sold abroad – that is a scandal for Southwark people desperate for housing,” Ms Al-Samerai said.
“We need to stop selling them off and demolishing but more importantly we need to create mixed communities and that’s what’s been destroyed by this Labour council over the last eight years.”
Pointing to the Aylesbury Estate, in Walworth, where the council has been embroiled in a stand-off with leaseholders who say they haven’t been offered enough for their homes to be able to stay in the area when the estate is demolished, Mr Eckersley said: “I’m not in favour of destroying socially-rented homes.”
Wading in on the debate, Mr John said: “We carried on as a country building tens of thousands of council homes up until 1983 when it was a Tory government under Margaret Thatcher.
“Last year we built something like 1,500 council homes across the country but it’s stored up a massive problem we are trying to sort out now.”
Ms Margolies said there was a lot more Southwark could do – such as looking at models like the self-build co-operative in Lewisham. And both Ms Al-Samerai and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s brother Piers Corbyn, who sat in the audience, both accused Southwark Labour of making the housing crisis worse.
When the topic of youth centres was raised, Ms Al-Samerai added that the Labour administration cut the budget for youth services by 50 per cent in 2016 – and a month later introduced ‘golden goodbye’ allowances for cabinet members.
In response, Mr John said they were “theoretical figures at present time” and “let’s have the debate when the money goes out the door”.