Committed to a more co-operative future

Greater London Assembly member Murad Qureshi is a man on a mission to make the capital more co-operative.

Labour’s spokesman on the environment in the city is a Co-op Party member and a champion of social housing. He says the Movement should put more effort in offering mutual solutions to people unable to afford a home.

Before becoming a GLA member in 2004, Murad worked in housing and regeneration for 15 years, establishing housing co-ops in the East End. He is a member of the Seymour Housing Co-operative and lives in a collectively owned flat in central London.

“Housing co-ops have been around longer than people realise and are becoming more widely supported, but there is still a desperate need for affordable housing in London

“My first job after I graduated was for a housing co-op and I am in a place where individual tenants are working collectively so I hope I live and work by mutual principles.

“I wish we had more housing co-ops. There should be more emphasis on giving this option to people and the Movement could help by acquiring more empty properties for rent. My flat is in an old property off the Marylebone Road, which we converted 15 years ago. I’m lucky to be there because otherwise I could not afford to live in central London.

Born in Stockport, Murad, 44, grew up in the north west of England and central London. He received his first degree from the University of East Anglia and an MSc in Environ-mental Economics from University College London.

Between 1998 and 2006 he was a member of the City of Westminster Council and he has also served as an Executive Committee member of Socialist Environment and Resources Association (SERA), campaigning on green issues.

These days, Murad is one of Boris Johnson’s most form-idable opponents. Deputy Chair of the GLA’s Environment Committee, he is also a member of the Budget, Standards and Transport Committees.

A long-time opponent of the plans for a third runway at Heathrow — “There should never have been an airport there in terms of noise pollution alone, and there is also spare capacity in other places” — Murad has also called on the Tories in the GLA to come clean about their aviation plans after a report for Johnson said his idea to build a new airport in the Thames could go ahead after the general election.

He is scathing about the London Mayor’s abilities as a politician. He says: “I enjoyed working with Ken Livingstone and he did a fantastic job but, unfortunately, he fell prey to the natural laws of political gravity that mean that after a certain time people just want a change.

“Basically, Boris is a mixture of charm, bluster and hot air. Talking to him is like talking to a chat-show host. I don’t think the key decisions are being made at the GLA that should be made. I don’t think Ken could have got away with what he has but then Boris has a lot of friends in the media.

“The truth is that the GLA isn’t delivering on housing, the environment and climate change.”

Murad is committed to the GLA but says he may at some point consider heading for Westminster: “I have thought about Parliament and I hope I have a track-record and a balance of experience that might make it an option in the future.”

With a general election imminent, Murad believes there is a chance of Labour doing better than expected in London

“If you look at the European election results this year we did better than we thought we would.

“There was also a by-election recently in my constituency and we increased our vote with 11 per cent swing to Labour.

“London hasn’t been racially divided in the way other places have been and there are grounds for optimism but I’m not in the prediction game.”

After the general election, Murad hopes Labour will get on with the task of choosing its mayoral candidate for 2012.

“I think it’s important to elect our mayoral candidate as soon as possible after the general election because people like to see an opposite number out there campaigning.”

Murad’s family hails from Bangladesh where he has an uncle who at 75 is a Minister.

“Politics was always part of our dinner-table conversations. My father was political and my sister is a Westminster coun-cillor. My father never thought of the family as just us but an extended one and that’s the concept I have.”

In the current economic climate, Murad believes the time is ripe for a return to the Co-op Movement’s founding principles.

“A manifesto to change the culture of our financial institut-ions is a must, and we can start by returning former building societies to the mutual sector,” he says.

“The principle of mutuality is applicable in other arenas. In housing it can mean mutual home ownership with housing co-ops and community land trusts holding and managing assets, while residents are both tenants and shareholders.

“In the energy markets we could have co-operative schemes, enabling communities to buy their energy collectively, saving them money and helping boost the take-up of green energy. Co-operation and mutuality may be seen by some as retro, but their time has definitely come again.”

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