Jonathon Mabbutt is the Social Democratic Party candidate for Bethnal Green and Stepney
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Jonathon Mabbutt on Israel-Gaza, migration and family values

As part of The Slice Tower Hamlets’ coverage of the 2024 general election, we interview Jonathon Mabbutt, the Social Democratic Party candidate for Bethnal Green and Stepney.

Jonathon Mabbutt is the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate for Bethnal Green and Stepney. We spoke to him about the Israel-Gaza war, housing, and the need for proportional representation.

Born and raised in Nottingham, Mabbutt completed his A-Levels before becoming a youth and children’s worker. He worked for a year in a homeless hostel in Cambridge, then moved to the East End in 2009 and Tower Hamlets in 2010. Since then, he’s been supporting people with drug and alcohol addiction. 

Always politically minded, his first political action was marching alongside millions against the Iraq war as an early teen. But despite this, Mabbutt never became a member of a party, feeling unrepresented by mainstream politics. That was until he discovered the SDP in 2021.

But who are the SDP? And what do they stand for? 

Established in 1990, the party combines social conservatism with centre-left economic policy. This means it’s more aligned with the social politics of the Tories – on immigration and trans issues – but it advocates for the same kind of state intervention we might associate with Labour, like re-nationalising the railways.

In this way, the SDP fills a niche – appealing to voters who value traditionalism but who are economically left-leaning. But where does the SDP stand on the major issues impacting Poplar and Limehouse? We asked Mabbutt for answers.

Jonathon Mabbutt, why are you standing for office in this election?

I’ve been interested in politics for most of my life, but I haven’t gotten involved particularly other than in the last couple of years, and the reason was that I didn’t feel engaged or represented by any of the mainstream political parties.

I felt very turned off. I looked again after the last London Mayoral election at what different parties were offering, and again I wasn’t very pleased. And we saw with particularly the last government the lies, the deceit, the fraud. I just think we need better candidates, people that will represent their communities and people that will speak for Britain.

And so after looking, I found the Social Democratic Party and they seemed to align with my values and what I thought would be good for the nation, and they needed people to stand. I thought about it long and hard. Did I want to go down this path? But I think it’s worthwhile and I think we need people that will stand up for what is good for Britain and to represent people and their community, so that’s why I’m doing it.

You’re running in Bethnal Green and Stepney, what would you say are the issues most pertinent to the constituency? 

We’ve got a massive issue with a lack of housing, huge problems with overcrowding, and people living in really difficult, over-cramped conditions. There aren’t council houses available. In the Social Democratic Party, one of the things we want to do is build 100,000 houses a year.

This is a massive deal. We haven’t had house building from the state on that scale in decades and decades, we’ve left it to the private sector who haven’t been able to keep up, and we need to really reinvigorate that because people can’t afford to live. 

It’s the major expense that every family has –  their housing cost, their mortgage, or their rent, and people can’t afford to live here, they’re moving out. It’s hard to put down roots here, to have a family here, and that’s a huge detriment to our community.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Social Democratic Party and their politics can you briefly describe to me what the party stands for?

We are broadly on the left as you would see it economically, we believe in having a strong state, we believe in family, and we believe in community. Culturally, we’re probably more traditional, more on the right. We believe in lower levels of immigration, we believe in the family, and that’s really important to us and we wouldn’t be in line with the sort of social progressivism of Labour. But, we would be economically more aligned with Labour on the national scale.

Tower Hamlets has the fifth worst air quality in any London borough, would you lobby to bring back Low Traffic Neighbourhoods as a way to address this and more broadly speaking what is the SDP’s attitude to tackling pollution?

No, I wouldn’t. The reason is that a Low Traffic Neighbourhood is good if you live in one, it’s not good for the people who live on the boundary roads that actually experience worse air pollution as a result. It gerrymanders the traffic, so it can mean that journeys take longer and that’s more issues with pollution. So in certain areas, they will reduce pollution, in other areas they’ll increase it. And so I’m not convinced that Low Traffic Neighborhoods are the way to tackle that.

I would like to see more natural spaces, more trees planted to tackle that, and obviously we’re moving towards a future with electric cars being the norm which will improve things as well, so that’s where I’d hope to see that improve.

The latest consultation published on the council’s website before they got rid of the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods showed that there were more people in favour of them than getting rid of them. So if LTNs were something that residents wanted, would you still now support them?

I mean, we’d have to look at it under consultation in that case. But I think that if you look at the data, I’m not sure it makes sense from the perspective of the whole community. Yes, it does benefit the people that live inside them, but does it benefit all the people that live around it? 

And I’m not sure it does, so I don’t think it’s a good thing to pit neighbour against neighbour in that way, you know, favouring one neighbourhood over the people that live in often the poorer houses which are on the boundary roads. We can’t discriminate against them just so that someone gets a nice little close. I don’t think that’s right.

You’re running in Tower Hamlets where the Israel-Gaza war may play a major role in who gets elected. What’s your stance on the conflict and how are you going to unite this fractured borough?

There are obviously going to be people on both sides of that debate. What we’re seeing in Gaza is horrific to watch, it’s hard to see people dying and especially when it’s children.

My view is that we need to look for the peacemakers. Who are going to be the peacemakers? Where are the voices for peace? Because there are plenty of people who are a voice for Israel, and there are people who are a voice for Palestine. We need people who are a voice for peace. 

If you look to what happened with the peace process in Ireland, you have to have stakeholders from both sides that are able to come together and facilitate a long-term peace, and I don’t see the conditions for that yet, unfortunately. It’s very sad we might have another generation of war ravaging the region and ravaging people’s lives. I don’t see a solution that we can broker from over here in the UK until there are people from Israel, from Palestine, that are willing to step out of their side and engage in a peace process.

The SDP has pledged to reduce net migration to 50,000 per year. At the end of 2023 net migration was over 10 times this at around 685,000. How are you going to cut the numbers so drastically?

Primarily, we would look to reduce work visas and reduce student visas. We would want to have a pause because we think it’s important that we train up British workers to fill jobs rather than recruiting from abroad.

I think that gives better wages for particularly the lowest earners of society, it gives them better opportunities, better training opportunities, and that’s really important to us. I don’t think it’s sustainable to have 650,000 net migration, and that’s what we’ve had the last few years. We need to bring it down to 50,000, which is where we would aim. 

On the illegal immigration side, what we would look to do is deny asylum to people that cross illegally with the help of criminal gangs. And that’s the compassionate choice, because that means that we can help more desperate people who are living in refugee camps that haven’t paid tens of thousands of pounds to get here with the help of criminals, usually young, fit and able men – they’re the ones that are coming across in the boats.

So, we would deny asylum to people that arrive here illegally. We would process them offshore, probably in the Ascension Islands, and we would look to help at a rate that we can sustain and that is democratically accountable. People would come from refugee camps instead. But as I say with the larger scale migration, we would look to massively cut the number of people that we were importing, because we want to have a huge program of skills training to bring back the five million people that are on out of work benefits into our workforce and give them a new opportunity. And that’s where our growth will come from, that’s where our tackling of poverty will come from, because there will be these new opportunities for growth and for people to have sustainable work in this country.

The SDP has also called for a return to moderate migration in order to achieve a less divided and more socially harmonious Britain. But you’re running in Tower Hamlets where many would say migration is the bedrock of its culture. Do you view migration as socially harmful to Britain?

So, I’ve lived in Tower Hamlets for 15 years and I’ve been very blessed by people that weren’t born here that live here. You can have a community that is brought that way, you can’t have it if we have a pace of change that is unsustainable.

The extent to which I’m blessed by people who’ve come from overseas is the extent to which they will integrate and engage with me and I can engage with them. If they come in and have their own insular community within the community, then we just become a community of communities. All separate, living alongside each other, but not really interacting. And that’s not sustainable for a community.

If we’re going to do multiculturalism, we need to do an integrated multiculturalism and for that we need a much slower pace of immigration

Would you say that insular communities are a problem, particularly in Tower Hamlets?

I would say it could be. I would want to have relationships with people that are from across different communities, and I think that would be really valuable, and so we just need to ensure that happens with a proper program of integration. And we need to not just facilitate that as the norm. We have people coming and going all the time in Tower Hamlets. It has a very high turnover rate of residents, and again we want people to be able to stay there, put down roots, build a family there and build a community there. Build one community, and to do that we need to slow down the rate of change.

Tower Hamlets is one of the most deprived boroughs in London with the highest rate of child poverty in the country. What will your party do to tackle this wealth inequality?

It’s a huge issue, wealth inequality. So we are probably the most pro-family party that you’ll find anywhere. We would like to see a shared tax allowance for couples bringing in children, looking after a child or children. We would want to see every policy addressing that issue of family. 

Is this good for families? That will be our test. As I say, what we were looking to do with housing will bring down one of the major costs, another thing we’d like to do is dealing with the energy cost that families have. We would nationalise energy, utilities, and bring in quite a lot of nuclear energy, and that gives us a much lower level of cost for family budgets. That’s what they really need, is family budgets to not be under such immense pressure. 

So we’re dealing with those causes rather than specifically targeting aid to a family. We actually need to deal with the system and only the SDP really has the answers on the big questions of how do we make the economy work for the people that live here, so that’s what we would do.

Would you support a transition to proportional representation as opposed to first-past-the-post and if so, why?

Yeah absolutely, I would. I think quite often, people vote for their least worst candidate, the candidate they don’t really want. And if they get it, well then the person they’ve elected is someone they don’t really want. If someone else gets in, then again, it’s someone they definitely don’t want. 

What they really want to do is to be able to vote positively, and the first-past-the-post system disincentivises you from voting for what you think is right for the country because you know that your candidate is unlikely to get elected in your particular area. That’s wasted votes and that’s damaging to democracy. It’s damaging to our levels of engagement, so we do need to move towards a more proportional system. That’s very important and so we would as the SDP back that, that’s one of our main policies.

Throughout our conversation, the concept of family has come up a lot and you said that the SDP is a party where family plays a central role. How do you define family? Some of our LGBTQ+ audience might wonder if they would be represented by your party should you be elected.

I mean, I would look to represent all the constituents of the borough. Our view of family is one that is the foundational bedrock of society. Different people have different families, but we’re looking specifically about families with children mainly, because we think that unless you’re protecting and safeguarding the future, which are our children, then what are you passing on? 

That’s where we’re focused. We will shelter British families from economic and social pressures, that’s what we want to do because the family is where you spend your time, it’s the people that you love, it’s the people that you care about the most, and we want to make it so that there is an environment where families can really flourish.

I think it’s been quite damaging where different parties in the past have promoted a very individualistic idea of how to be and of lifestyles, and I don’t think individualism is a very good foundation for society.

I don’t think it’s stable, I don’t think it’s self-sustaining at all, I think it could cause all sorts of issues. We don’t want to be a selfish nation, we want to be a nation where we care for our husbands, our wives, and our children and so that’s at the heart of our policy.

And finally, who is your political hero?

I always liked what I heard from David Owen when I’ve been watching different videos on the internet. In terms of people that I like at the moment, Claire Fox in the House of Lords I think is excellent, so if you’re on Twitter or whatever, do give her a follow. I think she’s really very good at fighting for what is right and for what is good.

For more of our general election coverage, read our interview with Tony Glover, Reform UK candidate for Poplar and Limehouse.

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2 thoughts on “Jonathon Mabbutt on Israel-Gaza, migration and family values

  • A vote for them is wasted. The SDP should of stood aside in Bethnal Green and Stepney. Vote Reform

  • His political hero is Clare Fox – the apologist for Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Hardly family-friendly.


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