John Bird: You Ask The Questions

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Are tests performed on Big Issue vendors to ensure the money they earn isn't spent on drugs? DANIEL GREENBERG, Manchester

Are you tested for drugs before you start work? The biggest users of drugs are not to be found among the homeless community. The first Big Issue step is to get people earning their own money rather than begging or getting involved in illegal activities. It's a good basis for getting people straight.

I've heard that you used to be a member of the Workers' Revolutionary Party. Do you think your current right-wing political trajectory has anything to do with your time in the WRP? CHRIS LEARY, by email

I have never done or said anything right wing, so the trajectory comment doesn't add up. I have concentrated in helping the disenfranchised into independent, fuller lives, something rarely achieved by right or left.

Why should any sane person vote for a petty thief and drug-user to run their capital? LIZ BROWNE,

If that was all I managed in life I would agree. But I have also worked to build an international movement from London for the benefit of homeless people. I think you will increasingly find more people who have come out of the problem getting involved in the solution.

Tell the truth: are you only standing as an independent because the Tories didn't want you? SIMON WARNER, Brixton

To tell the truth, no. I put myself forward because I want to do different politics than offered by the parties. I want your participation. London will only get better by turning bystanders into activists. It's time for "participatory politics", not just the cross in the box.

Why did you flirt with the idea of standing as a Tory in the mayoral elections? Doesn't this discredit you? JAMES FISHER, by email

I did not flirt with the Tories. I seriously considered it. Why? Because I thought I could do a Mr Ken. You know who got voted in as an independent to start with and then crystallised into a Labourite, the party that had only recently thrown him out. I thought I might get in, and then become the most socially radical person in the history of politics, then get thrown out by the Tories. The Trojans tried it with a horse a few millennia ago.

Are you a socialist? S J ARNOLD, by email

I am a social activist that believes wealth should not guarantee you better health and better education. So you could say that I am not like a Mr Blair socialist, or a Mr Brown socialist; or even a Mr Ken socialist. I believe we need radical change for those in poverty. Alas, many socialists seem to do little for that end. It's difficult accepting the brand when you have such a strange collective of opposites wearing it. I might just have to settle for calling myself a "social justice seeker".

What's the worst thing Ken Livingstone has done as Mayor? SAM MCCUSKER, Kennington

He has increased the gentrification. London seems increasingly to move towards being like midtown Manhattan, or Beverly Hills. A city where the low-paid and poor don't belong.

You must have met a lot of politicians. Who has impressed you the most - and the least? DANIEL O'SULLIVAN, Birmingham

I have met hardly any politicians who impressed me. So that is why I have decided to enter the fray. Thirty years in politics, to me, is not a guarantee that you are the best person for the job. Get someone like me who has lived a varied, full life.

You seem as egotistical as the worst politician. How will you be different? SANDY LAWTON, Ipswich

The worst thing about politicians is not necessarily their ego. It's that they are egotists but bad deliverers of social justice. I deliver, have delivered for thousands. If you are going to have an egotist, better the one who delivers something.

What is the biggest issue facing London? HENRY SMITH, Clapham

Crime, the fear of crime.

What would you do about all the stabbings and gang shootings of teenage boys? AL AHMAD, Beckton

Do my best to break up the ghettos. The ghettos were largely created by housing policy to put needy families together. Support families so that they can become independent parents. Support those rebuilding communities. And get the police and hopefully MI6 after the drug dealers who poison much of London life.

How would you make public transport safer for women? DEE HOFFMAN, London

You would have to make it safer for all people. I like the idea of community involvement. We have to stand up against the vicious robbers and rapists as a community. I would relish a good debate on how do we get our hands on them, and what to do with them after they have been caught. Certainly the prison system is not working. We also have to find a way of restoring the sanctity of life. That's a big issue.

Would you scrap the congestion charge? ANNE OWENS, Richmond

I would put to the electorate a number of choices. Whatever we think, we can't leave London to get snarled up, and pollutant-heavy. The electorate have to be involved in coming up with something different.

Is the London Olympics a waste of money and could the money be better spent? CHRIS QUIGLEY, London

There's always another way of spending money. The Olympics might be good for London. But the signs are suspiciously Dome-like. We have to make sure that London gets every last drop of social advantage out of it.

What have you personally done to reduce your carbon footprint? BEN MACLEAN, Epping

I cycle, walk and use public transport. I hardly drive. I produce a biodegradable, recycled magazine. I promote best environmental practices.

Why are there still homeless people in Britain, the fourth richest country in the world? CARY O NEILL, by email

Because families break up. Local authority care does not work, meaning that many homeless people come from a care background. One in three prison leavers becomes homeless. Mental health breakdown often caused by drink and drugs adds greatly to the problem.

Societies that love their commodities almost to the exclusion of anything more spiritual or cultured create the pressures that result in homelessness.

Should I give money to beggars? KATY RUSSELL, Chiswick

It is entirely up to you. The reason I don't is because I want to move people out of begging and homelessness, not always the same thing. As a former beggar, I know it also does your mind in.

I've heard you say that we are too soft on the homeless. How do you propose we treat them instead? DANNY LAWLOR, Kilburn

You have never heard me say we are too soft on the homeless. I have said that we mollycoddle homeless people in the daytime and ignore them at night. Virtually all of the homeless sector operates in the day, at a time when we make them feel special. But at night they are just a number in a hostel - at the time when it feels the worst time to be homeless. There are precious little facilities for the homeless at night.

Doesn't the overly aggressive sales technique of some Big Issue sellers put people off? RICHARD HENDERSON, Manchester

Definitely. Please report all bad vendors to our office. But also remember their badge numbers so we get the right person.

What is the worst thing you have done in your life? PETER GILBERT, London

Frighten my children as my father frightened me.

What does more damage to Britain: the benefits system or crack cocaine? ALAN SHERMAN, Ealing

Crack cocaine has no purpose other than to kill your humanity. Benefit, if used judiciously, can be very beneficial. But as I often say: You have to fare well on welfare, to say farewell to welfare.

Is Britain too class-ridden ever to be a happy place? SAMANTHA HAMILTON, by email

If we ever want to attain a classless society it will not be by the present left and their liberal helpers. We need an overhaul of what it means to be radical so we can be radical in ridding Britain of it's upside-down social structure. But don't ever believe we live in a meritocracy. We live in a dumbocracy.