Greenwich’s Green Party has defended its Greenwich & Woolwich candidate Abbey Akinoshun after he missed a series of election hustings in the constituency.
Akinoshun was absent for the final four hustings of the campaign, with the party supplying substitute speakers or not represented.
The 50-year-old’s absence had sparked rumours the party was unhappy with its candidate’s performance.
But local party press officer Simon Edge dismissed the claims, saying Akinoshun – who runs a Woolwich-based business which helps people going through employment tribunals – had been too busy with work to attend all the hustings.
Akinoshun’s selection has been the subject of a campaign from former party member Trevor Allman, who walked out of the Greens earlier this year branding the candidate an “opportunist”.
“We had never heard of him, as he had never attended a branch meeting or participated in any Green Party activity, thus what credentials did he have to represent the Green Party as a parliamentary candidate?”, Allman said.
Allman – now in Left Unity – has seized on Akinoshun’s absence, criticising him in a series of tweets, calling him “not exactly committed”.
A former Labour member who lives in Abbey Wood, Akinoshun sought selection for that party in Erith & Thamesmead in 2009, losing out to Teresa Pearce. He then ran as an independent candidate in that constituency, winning 1% of votes – beating the Green candidate Marek Powley.
He told me on Twitter that he ran against the Greens before he “[knew] they stand as a party that wants to build a society that works for the common good”.
Allman – who has stood for the Greens in council elections, attracting over 1,000 votes in Blackheath Westcombe in the past two polls – tried to run as a rival candidate. But he was blocked because it was discovered he was not actually a member of the main Green Party of England & Wales.
Absence from hustings
Akinoshun’s absence was first noted on Saturday, when he dropped out of a hustings in Charlton at short notice. The event attracted 120 voters.
“He was very stressed, largely because of this work commitment, and we agreed it was better to let it go and give him a chance to recharge his batteries,” Edge says.
Charlton Society organisers Andrew Donkin and Helen Jakeways declined the Greens’ offer to send a substitute, as they felt it would be unfair on the other candidates.
Akinoshun also did not appear at a hustings held by another residents group in Charlton on Monday, the National Union of Teachers on Tuesday, and the Greenwich Association of Disabled People on Wednesday. Substitutes represented the Greens at the other two, while Edge said the party wasn’t aware of the Charlton Central Residents Association hustings.
“He has a busy day job where he has to commit to his clients, and his work diary has to come first because it’s his own business and he has a family to support,” Edge added.
“We’re a party that has always had a collegiate leadership structure, so we hope it’s not inappropriate to have other people step forward to help.”
‘Charisma and passion’
He dismissed suggestions party members were unhappy with their candidate, praising his “charisma” when speaking to individual members of the public and “his passion, particularly in reaching out to the parts of the electorate who are often taken for granted by the Labour Party”.
Greenwich & Woolwich is certainly unusual in hosting nine hustings – just one has been held in neighbouring Eltham – and Edge conceded that volunteers had been overwhelmed by the level of interest.
In common with the Greens nationwide, the local party membership has exploded in the past year, and is now at about 250 members. But elections will remain hard work for a small band of volunteers, especially without the well-funded party machines that their larger rivals enjoy.
Edge added: “Great as it is that hustings seems to have become really fashionable, they can be all-consuming. I do think candidates need room to go out on the knocker as well as addressing meetings.”
Labour advantage at disability hustings
Meanwhile, the Labour party enjoyed an advantage at the Greenwich Association of Disabled People’s hustings last night – having two candidates to address the audience while rivals only had one.
Both Greenwich & Woolwich’s Matt Pennycook and Eltham’s Clive Efford spoke and answered questions at east Greenwich’s Forum for the early part of the evening, while the Tories, Lib Dems and Greens only had one representative each.
I’m told GAD invited all candidates standing in Greenwich borough – although if all 18 had turned up to an event attended by about 30 people, it could have resembled more of a speed-dating night than a hustings.
I didn’t stay for the whole hustings, but it wasn’t an edifying event, with the chair trying to block follow-up questions from the audience because of “election rules” (this isn’t the case). After Efford had left for his own local hustings, Pennycook tried to inject a bit of life into it himself by quizzing Green substitute Phil Connolly on the party’s citizen income policy.
At one point, Connolly found himself howled down by the chair for talking through a process of being assessed for benefits – “they know, they’re disabled!,” she shouted.
Meanwhile, a member of the public was allowed to get away with the dog-whistle question of asking candidates where they were born. He huffed loudly when Conservative Matt Hartley, who was raised in Macclesfield, explained where he came from.
Greenwich & Woolwich candidates: Ryan Acty (Ukip), Abbey Akinoshun (Green), Lynne Chamberlain (Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition), Matt Pennycook (Labour), Tom Holder (Liberal Democrats), Matt Hartley (Conservative).