Sian Berry: ‘There’s no leadership on hate crime under Boris’
Green candidate for Mayor, Siàn Berry, has hit out at Boris Johnson on hate crime, wants to see inclusive education, open up Transport for London spaces for homes, close London City Airport and introduce gender neutral pronouns.
Currently a councillor in Camden, Siàn was first elected to Camden council on 2014 after a number of failed attempts.
Having run for the Mayor in 2008, Siàn also tops the London Assembly for the Greens – where the party hopes to hold onto its two seats.
What are you in favour of in terms of inclusive education?
You’ve got to have proper sex and relationship education within PSHE in schools and that should be mandatory in all schools. That’s what Caroline Lucas has been trying to do in Parliament at the moment.
It didn’t get voted through which was a shame because we have been, recently, making enormous strides and parliamentarians are backing up lots of good rights issues and it’s odd that they wouldn’t agree that proper sex and relationship education isn’t a good thing.
Ignorance is the one thing that you can stamp out quite early if you get in and talk to children. In an appropriate way, I mean don’t teach them everything when they are four, but you give them the right level of education so that they know how to respect other people.
So, take a six or seven year old. Should they get some sort of basic education about same-sex families and someone who is transgender?
Yes, so that they believe that at an earlier age all kinds of relationships are normal. That helps with the horrible gender divide you see in children these days. When I was brought up in the 1970s and 80s we were amazingly unisex when you think about how things were done.
I don’t know that if it was this period of right-on ness but my clothes were handmedowns from boy children who were friend’s of my mum. I wore lots of red and brown and pink wasn’t a thing. Whether you were a boy or a girl was a thing, but girls and boys might play separately but some games where for everyone. It just wasn’t that bad, in comparison to how it is now for little girls.
Obviously back then there were terrible attitudes to gay people and lesbians and I learned about that not in school because there was no sense of acceptance and things. That came much later on for me, but I think certainly on the gender side of things, we’ve done it better in the past and need to learn from what we’ve done before and give kids a really good education that will solve most of the problems that we see once and for all.
In regards to inclusive education, how would you implement something like that in London, where there is a lot of intolerance and strong religious views. Some schools could be teaching if you’re gay you’re going to hell, for instance. How would you try and overcome that that through inclusive education?
That’s the thing. I’m not in favour of faith schools. I’m a humanist and a patron of the British Humanist Society. I would never want to have faith schools anyway. All children should be educated together and that helps intolerance.
Where you have got faith schools, I still think that they should be teaching children first of all about all faiths and the possibility of having no faith. Also, implanting this rule that’s the point of having compulsory sex and relationship education. I means they have to teach all things are okay.
People should at least know there is that possibility and sometimes children are shielded from that and that there is only one way. But at the very least they should know there are laws there and being different is okay.
The Guardian were saying that compared to 2008, your views seem to be different and not just you, but the Green Party are maturing as a party. What do you think about that? That the Green Party is settling in?
We’re not becoming any less radical, but we are definitely learning from having been elected for a long time now.
In London, we’ve had at least two Assembly Members for 16 years. Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson who are retiring this year have both been there for that 16 years. They’ve learned so much about practically how to get policies through and how you keep your principles, while still getting things done and working with all the different parties. They’ve had Mayors of different kinds influence them in different ways and actually had a casting vote over Ken Livingstone’s budget, so there they were doing genuine negotiations. So, it would be really good to be in that position again.
We’ve learned a lot, we’ve run a council now and that is a learning experience. The thing about that is no one likes the council. They were a minority administration and there were things they wanted to do they couldn’t and there was issues left by previous councils, to do with equality.
They won many awards for things like transport policy and, I think inclusivity as well, and pioneered the gender neutral prefix. We’ve learned a lot and we can do our manifesto and it’s realistic.
We found practical ways to get things done and not afraid of looking at details. We’ve not shied away from the fact that our first policy [sic: introduce flat fares on transport] is expensive and that we need to fill the gap that leaves. We’re not afraid to say we need to reduce traffic to reduce air pollution, that it can’t all be done with electric vehicles and so we want to bring in a new, better, smarter congestion charge and that will fill the gap in our first policy, so it all add up.
Politically, we’re in a strong position because the other parties want to cut fares but can’t say how they will fill the gap or won’t cut fares because they’re scared to talk about a new congestion charge.
It was a bit of a shock when the PrEP news came through. It seems to be that the trial is continue for two years and that’s a step to getting rid of it. I know you’re in favour of PrEP, but how have your views changed since hearing the news?
I was a bit surprised about that. We’ve got an increasing infection rate now there is a lot of factors behind that, but from a cost and benefit point of view, which is what we need to look at when the NHS is spending money. It’s so much more expensive to treat someone for the rest of their life on anti-viral drugs than to give them PrEP for periods where they feel they are leaving themselves at risk.
It also means when people are having risky times in their lives, they have contact with the health service to go and get help to resolve that and it just seems completely logical to me.
If you are opposed to PrEP its probably going to be a moral thing.
Dean Street is good at screening it seems like they could be a no-brainer to have it prescribe it.
One of the real problems with infection rates is that people don’t know they have it, so they go and infect other people. The really easy, quick and non-judgemental welcoming thing that they have at Dean Street that model could be rolled out and would be very effective.
You have mentioned that HIV is a massive crisis and London has the highest rates when compared to the rest of the UK, what sorts of things would you like to do with your public health remit to tackle the crisis?
We haven’t got a huge budget for it and it’s being cut back. Local authorities have budgets as well that are reducing quite a lot. I’m a councillor in Camden and very interested in public health and also from an air pollution perspective, so I keep a close eye on it. It is being underspent and I think we could have a soft landing when it comes to the reduction.
London needs a proper strategy for this. And education and publicity can be really, really effective. One of the things that I’ve pledge to do is reintroduce a centre for young people and older people too. Somewhere they can go physically or somewhere online they can get advice. We have all the experts that can help us put something together.
I don’t know about a physical centre because you might be committing to build something which would be a lot. I do have ideas though, half of London is being rebuilt and some projects that the mayor has control over, so we could find somewhere for a physical centre.
That would be a centre for education and awareness?
No, just for people to do whatever. A space that’s safe and welcoming and make sure trans people have a say.
That was something I was going to hit on. What we have noticed is the next big barrier that needs to be dealt with is trans inclusion and trans awareness and making people aware of what trans is. Is that something that you would want to raise awareness of?
From my own experience it’s something I learned about really late and has been a bit of a blind spot up until now. Just things like the unavailability of the gender neutral prefix, the fact that gender is binary and how that hasn’t been dealt with so far when we’ve made such progress on things like equal marriage is odd.
We’re playing catch up and it needs to be led by the trans community.
Would use bring in gender neutral pronouns in London?
Yep, it can be done in five minutes. I’ve worked in software companies and quite frankly it’s not the biggest thing and we could add that to everything that GLA send out. Just make it available to whoever wants it.
It can be used by people who don’t want to declare their gender.
We did some work with YouGov that showed London is one of the most intolerant parts of the whole of the UK. It’s also one of the areas that people who come out as LGBT are most likely to struggle. What do you think can be done?
That is worrying because it’s not the same for racism because the places with the most immigration tend to be the least racist. It is a worry that there is so much and that it’s going up.
I think the increase was 25% or more last year. It’s terrifying because there is increases in all hate crime and it should be going down.
Do you think that it’s because more people are reporting it or that it’s going up?
I think it’s the latter, unfortunately. Given that it’s across the board. There are initiatives to encourage people to report, but I do think it represents a real increase.
Leadership, the feeling that are we coming together or growing apart in London, is something that we’ve lacked under Boris Johnson. There is no sense that London is a thing, there is the sense that Boris is a thing, that it’s all about him and him being in charge of London, but what I think is needed is the kind of leadership that talks about London as being better and welcoming and tolerant.
London needs to take more steps in that direction. Having more festivals and things like Pride.
I presume that you’ll being going to Pride, win or lose?
I think so, yes. I’m assuming it’s compulsory, but also brilliant so you go.
I’ve seen that you want to close City Airport, do you not think that’s quite controversial?
It does sound a bit controversial, but actually not that many flights use City Airport.
When Crossrail opens, people from the City can get to Heathrow in just over half an hour and once that happens the case for the airport does decline quite a lot and actually business flights are forecast to decline quite a lot.
That’s why they want to expand to increase flights to make up for that and i think that’s not the right thing to.The opportunity that you have then is to close it down and reclaim the 500,000 square metres of land that there are.
It blights the area, you’ve got restrictions on building heights, a safety zone where people can’t live, you can’t have offices where people spend large amounts of time, you can have sparsely populated industries, air pollution and noise problems. You get rid of all of that by closing it and the number of flights can be easily absorbed by the other airports.
It’s genuinely a practical thing.
The new owners who bought it, a Canadian Teachers Pension Fund, do have quite ethical policies and could be persuaded to change its use.
That would lead onto my next question, what will you do with the land? Will it be used to tackle homelessness and housing?
It would be a great place to kick off a new model of development that I’m talking about, though there is a lot of Transport for London that would be good for this. there are lots of places we can build coops.
A large number of young people who are homeless are LGBT, how would use address this? Should there be a specific LGBT homelessness policy or should it be part of a wider policy?
My approach is the housing first policy, just get people into a home.
The moment people become on the streets they’re not already ruined. The lifestyle of living on the streets is incredibly damaging and you can reduce this just by putting people into a home.
Centre point are good with younger people they have hostel space and they have money from the government for people from the UK for three months. Moving people on however is difficult. They get put into the private sector, they can’t afford it and getting into trouble and back on the streets.
You need good, affordable moving on spaces. That is something the Mayor of London can provide.
Can you imagine using disused Transport for London spaces and buildings as temporary hostels and living spaces?
Yes. People need these spaces for one to two years. You’ve got a lot of places that are publicly owned and I’ve talked about using closed fire stations for instance. You empty something and before the bulldozers move in you can convert the space for a few years.
There are these prefab ideas and in Brighton they experimented with shipping containers, you know once these things are adapted they can be quite a nice little place to live.
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In regards to the EU, is it in or out and why?
In and for lots of reasons. Its a force for good. Lots of people talk about the environmental legislation, the fact we have a clean air plan. The fact we’re being taken to court, it’s the only reason we have the government taking action on clean air.
It also the general keeping the peace, countries talk to each other rather than being rivals. All of that is strengthen is by being in the EU. I think that countries splitting off and wanting special treatment undermines that ethos and bad for the continent and the world.
We have hundreds of thousands of EU citizens who live here and are fully integrated, they vote in our elections, other than the General Election, there is so many people here that we are throwing them into uncertainty.
A big argument is that in the EU we have to be in the ECHR which protects LGBT people. The Government can’t touch it. If the vote was to leave and the UK withdrew from the ECHR, as Mayor, what precautions would you take to protect LGBT Londoners?
That’s a good point. There is going to be a lot of wrangling to put the same protections into UK and a lot of people are likely to try and push back on that. We always have to remember that rights are fought for and I think the Mayor can take a really good lead on that because so many things come to a head in London. London can be an example and the Government should be listening to the Mayor. It’s a huge platform.