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David Henry is a 26-year-old Salford youth worker whose campaigning history represents everything that a career politician is not.
He has a track record of involvement in politics as a formidable gay rights activist. At 16 he set up the Queer Youth Network, which now has more than 18,000 members. He has also been co-chair of Salford’s Youth Council for the past four years. This independent advocacy and campaign group aims to give young people in Salford a voice. Henry stresses the group’s independence: ‘It is totally run by young activists. We have fought hard to resist interference from the council.’
What brought him to running for parliament, though, was the expenses scandal – and, more to the point, the behavior of Salford MP Hazel Blears. When Blears was thrust into the spotlight over her second home claims, a group of Salfordians, spearheaded by local radical rag the Salford Star, began the ‘Hazel Must Go’ campaign to oust her from office.
David Henry explains: ‘The campaign is run mostly by community organisers from Salford. There are trade unionists and left wing activists but it’s non-party political. I got involved as soon as the expenses scandal broke. We tried to perform a citizens’ arrest on Blears – we even had a mock charge sheet – but she escaped by the back door.’
The campaign is going from strength to strength. It receives more than 100 emails a day from sympathisers, supporters and the press.
Henry is philosophical about the expenses scandal. ‘There will always be scandal in politics. It shocked people more due to the financial crisis. It is the tip of the iceberg for the government – it shows how corrupt and greedy politicians have become. They seem to have a sense of entitlement once elected.’
Henry’s platform runs deeper than just ousting the incumbent. He is also backing the Charter for Salford, a document based around the People’s Charter, a national petition demanding a fairer Britain for working people. It includes pledges to protect the NHS, stop the closure of hospitals and schools, oppose privatisation and invest in sustainable social housing.
‘I want to restore the voice of the working class that Labour has failed to provide for us,’ says David Henry. ‘At times Blears was taking home £140,000 a year. I would take the average public sector wage and donate the rest to Salford through a community trust.’
Supporters range from young women in Langworthy to builders in central Salford. The BNP recently confronted him on a street stall, calling him a ‘communist’, which he says ‘isn’t really much of an insult’. He insists, ‘We’ll support minority groups and defend asylum seekers. The BNP is dropping a candidate in from Cockermouth but he has no real grass-roots support.’
David Henry and the Hazel Must Go campaign will soon find out how much support they can mobilise in what is turning into a lively and interesting campaign.
Among David’s supporters is the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (Tusc), the general election coalition formed by supporters of the No2EU coalition that contested last year’s European election. No2EU marked the first time for a century that a major trade union – the RMT – had formally backed a slate of candidates against Labour.
This time Tusc doesn’t have the backing of the RMT, and the Communist Party of Britain has also departed. Nevertheless, RMT general secretary Bob Crow continues to support the coalition, as do other prominent trade unionists. It also brings together the Socialist Party (formerly Militant) and the Socialist Workers Party for the first time since the implosion of the Socialist Alliance.
Many candidates are backed by local RMT union branches, and the coalition’s ‘umbrella’ is wide enough to also include campaigns like Hazel Must Go.
Tusc probably won’t be winning too many seats in the election – but its supporters argue that it is important to raise the banner of socialist ideas in a climate where all the mainstream parties share an agenda of cuts to public services.
Power 2010 is a coalition of democracy, constitutional reform and civil liberties campaigns. Its five pledges have been established through broad public consultation and online voting, with more than 100,000 people having participated.
To get its backing, candidates are required to support at least three of the proposals voted for by its supporters. These are: proportional representation; no to ID cards/scrap the database state; a written constitution; English votes for English laws; and a democratically elected second chamber.
The PCS civil service workers’ union is identifying marginal seats where workers face closures, or where key government ministers are standing, and inviting all candidates to a ‘question time’. PCS will be asking candidates of all parties where they stand in respect of five key pledges on public services: cuts and privatisation, pensions, equality, national pay bargaining and the closure of tax loopholes for the rich.
The Equality Trust, set up by campaigners around the book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, is asking candidates to sign its ‘One Society’ pledge ‘for policies designed to narrow the gap between rich and poor’.
And the Electoral Reform Society will be visiting safe seats offering photo opportunities with its ‘candidate’ – a donkey wearing a rosette.