May elections: hear from mayoral candidate Hugo Pierre

In the run up to the May elections, we interviewed Hugo Pierre, Socialist candidate for Tower Hamlets Mayor 2022

The local elections are fast approaching. On Thursday 5 May, you can head to your local voting station and have your say on who will be Mayor of Tower Hamlets. The last time such elections took place was in 2018.

In the run up to this year’s elections, we spoke to five of the main mayoral candidates to ask them what they would do if elected as Mayor of Tower Hamlets.

Q&A with Hugo Pierre

Below, we speak to Hugo Pierre, Socialist candidate for Tower Hamlets Mayor 2022

First and foremost, what is your connection to Tower Hamlets?

I was born in Mile End Hospital and have lived in the borough for most of my life. I’m not going to say all of my life because actually I’ve lived in the East End for the vast majority of my life. When I was about three, we actually lived in Hackney for about ten years and then a few years later we lived in Hornchurch, loads of East Enders moved out of the East and lived in what was then Essex, so we moved to Hornchurch and I lived there for about five years. And then went to University and came back and I’ve lived here ever since. The vast majority of my life I’ve lived in the East End, and most of it in Tower Hamlets.

What do you think are the biggest issues in the area? What are the principles that you’re standing on?

The biggest issue in the borough is housing. And to be honest, it has been housing for a long, long time. The housing waiting list is ridiculous.  20,000 plus on the housing waiting list. People just can’t get rehoused in the borough and they’ve been rehoused all over the place. The actual cost of rented accommodation, not council rented accommodation, but private rented accommodation is astronomical. I think it’s the fifth or sixth highest in the country and Tower Hamlets has the highest levels of child poverty and one of the lowest resident median incomes as a borough. So the cost of housing and the lack of housing in the borough is probably the biggest issue. And then on top of that, you’ve got a cost of living crisis which is ravaging the country. We’ve got a council that just put rents up by over 4%. For some households like two bedroom households, that’s just over fiver a week. And these really big issues come on top of longer standing ones including 12 years of austerity and cutbacks to our services, cutbacks to youth services, cutbacks to adult social care. You know, we’ve seen a lot of cuts in this borough. And then we on top of that, we saw a mayor that was prepared to attack their own workforce and cut back on the terms and conditions of that work force in the most brutal way in which the likes of British Airways were firing and rehiring staff, so that’s obviously done a lot of damage to staff morale and confidence. So I think there are big issues in the borough and the Labour mayor has made them worse. And I think that we need to have a real socialist campaign to transform that.

What specifically then would you do? You talk about the rise in council taxes which came because of cuts at central government. So, one of the principles of socialism is to have high taxes to provide a public service, so doesn’t increasing taxes actually align with that message? 

You’re asking me a very leading question because I don’t agree with any of that. The council tax has gone up by 1%. Rents have been put up by 4%. If I was elected mayor, I would find a way of reversing those, particularly the rent increase. I would find a way of reversing those decisions. I think what we do need to do is not focus our attention on increasing and squeezing more money out of local people who really can’t afford it. But by squeezing more money out of the government. The government have got the means and the resources to increase their funding to local government, they’ve reduced their funding to Tower Hamlets over the last 12 years to roughly 50% of what it was in 2010. So where has all that money gone? I want to demand some of that money back, and the government can’t say to us that the money isn’t available. You’re probably aware that this investment banking is a quite a big industry in this particular borough in Canary Wharf in particular. Investment bankers this year received bonuses of £10 billion. £10 billion in total, that would be a fraction of that would be enough to solve some of the problems that Tower Hamlets has. So I would say that we need to campaign with the trade unions, with community groups, with residents associations, and we would have a mass campaign to demand that money back from the government. The people that live in this borough by and large have always been quite poor people, and we still have a good solid working class community across the borough. We’ve also had an influx of younger people into the borough, there’s been a change over the years I’ve lived here and we’ve seen an influx of younger people coming into private rented accommodation, and for want of a better word they’ve been fleeced. I think we could use their energy to help drive down private sector rents. We could use their energy and the energy of local working class people to gain a really good value for the money that we need for our services. So, no, I don’t agree that we should be putting up taxes in this borough.

Currently, according to Tower Hamlets website, you’re not actually a councillor at the moment. Do you think this puts you at an advantage or disadvantage?

I’m glad I’m not one of the current councillors. They’re all tarred with the brush of failing to do anything about the funding crisis that the borough has had. They’re all tarred with the brush of implementing Tory austerity. All of them, whether they’re Labour, Lib Dem or Tory themselves, they’re all tarred with that brush. And so I’m glad I’m not one of the existing councillors. I’m also standing in Weavers Ward and if I am  elected to the council, I would be standing on a no cuts ticket and I think that would be a real advantage. I don’t think I’d be smeared by any of the decision making that’s happened over the last 12 years, particularly in terms of the cuts that have happened in this borough.

But does your lack of experience as a councillor mean that it’s going to be harder to figure out how to get decisions passed and how to lobby successfully for policies? What experience do you have of that?

 My background is as a trade union representative. I’m actually on the national executive of UNISON. Unfortunately UNISON isn’t backing my campaign, but I’m also a local shop steward in the London borough of Camden. And I’ve got a lot of experience of campaigning and lobbying councillors and officials against low pay for the workers I represent and against cuts in services. So it wouldn’t be a problem trying to work through the bureaucracy that faces a lot of councillors. But I would also hope to enlist the support of the town hall trade unions. The teaching trade unions and all of those trade unionists who have gone through a really rough time with this council. And I think that that would be a real bonus for those people that work with the council, but it would also be a way of getting things done. 

One of the things you’ve said is that you pledge not to take the mayoral salary but live on a workers wage. I’m quite interested to ask, you know, what do you define as a workers wage?

So the median household income in the borough is around about £30,000 or £32,000, something like that.

Can we get an exact figure from you?

At the moment I have about 40,000 in my current job, but I like to lower that. So about £32,000, I think, which is roughly the median family income in the borough. And then I would donate the rest of the money back to campaigning in one way or another. 

To finish on an open question, is there anything that you wish I’d asked you during this interview? What is your message to voters?

I suppose that’s the hardest question you’ve asked me. What would be the thing I would most like to see? I would like to see a real transformation in this borough that benefits local working class people. For years in this borough, or probably decades if we go back to the Thatcher years, we’ve had places like the Isle of Dogs being handed over to big business, and the council has just cooperated with big business against the interests of working class people and that’s what I’d really like to transform. We need a council that really works with local people, particularly young people, to give them a future. We’ve got some of the best schools as a borough yet they’ve been chronically underfunded by the government. We’ve got some of the best schools in the country because most of our secondary schools are outstanding by Ofsted standards. We’ve got loads of outstanding primary schools and Iwant to see those schools properly funded. We’ve got one of the youngest populations in the country. I’d like to see our youth services and after school services properly funded so that our young people have got something to do. I’d like to see young people get apprenticeships in the borough that lead to a proper job with a proper trade union rate of pay at the end of it. So I’d like to see a borough that is really a fantastic, vibrant borough. I’d like to see the people of this borough be able to expect a standard of living and have a level of services in their community that really match the spirit of the people here. 

Hear from other mayoral candidates in Tower Hamlets:

Read our interview with Conservative Mayoral Candidate Elliot Weaver.

Read our interview with Labour Mayoral Candidate John Biggs.

Read our interview with Liberal Democrat Mayoral Candidate Rabina Khan.

Read our interview with Independant Mayoral Candidate Andrew Wood

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