Interview with SDP candidate for Ealing Central & Acton Stephan Balogh

Stephan Balogh, Social Democratic candidate for Ealing Central and Acton, says he is particularly concerned about the ‘fraying of the fabric of society’ and growing ‘radical Islamism’, and he longs for a lost sense of national unity

By Edie Oborne

There are eight candidates standing for election in the Ealing Central and Acton constituency. I talked to Stephan Balogh, candidate for the Social Democratic Party.

“A long story short, I perceive that the fabric of community is fraying. Actually, it’s stretched almost to breaking point in several ways. I looked for a political home. I found the SDP.”

BeforeI met with the Social Democratic Party candidate for Central Ealing and Acton, I had never heard of his rather forgotten political party which had reached its eminence in the 1980s and has recently tried to return to the spotlight. Stephan Balogh, standing as candidate, explained why he decided to run for this particular party.

“I had never even been a member of political party until last summer. I’ve always been interested in politics. I’ve voted in many different ways from Green Party to Conservative. Once as a joke for the Revolutionary Communist Party, …

“But, last summer I came to various conclusions. I’d been on a philosophical journey, having had a business career, stepping back from that business career about four years ago, in order to devote my time to non-profits and to charity work, anything to do with community building.

“There’s a particular reason for that, inasmuch as I’m widowed and remarried. So, 15 years ago, my late wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and there was a sort of ‘life’s too short moment’ at that point. She gave us another three years with splendid treatment from the Royal Marsden and so on, but it eventually defeated her.

“At that moment, I decided that I didn’t want to just follow a conventional route. So, I always had it in my mind eventually to do something like this.’

“In a nutshell, from nothing to standing for Parliament was the inside of a year. And my final decision was only about three months ago.”

Stephan described the re-emergence of the Social Democratic Party and how it has kept its core values on ‘family, community and nation’, describing itself as ‘a patriotic, economically left-leaning and culturally traditional party’.

“Eight years ago the leadership was taken over when David Go and finally retired by William Thurston. And it is really roaring back into life on a 10 to 20 year plan… And it stayed true to its social democratic foundations, which is to say that it believes very strongly in the participation of individual citizens.

“But also, a state that does the things a state should. As examples, it makes sure the basic infrastructure is in place, making sure there’s enough housing, making sure that the water is serving customers rather than profit, the utilities, generally the railways and so on.

“So, a fairly strong guiding hand, but enabling citizens to flourish. And that’s, I suppose, one way of expressing social democracy.”

When asked what he meant be this ‘fraying fabric of community,’ he replied that he was particularly concerned with ‘radical Islamism.’

“I worry that this insistence on loyalty to certain propositions is creating binary divisions. You’re either for us or you’re against us, and there isn’t a way of reaching across.

“The thing that I’m particularly concerned about, I think, is ‘radical Islamism.’ As completely contrasting to Islam as a religion, as a code for life, a sort of ‘radical Islamism’ that would use heavy influence, coercion, even force to bring about change.

And I don’t think that’s good for the flourishing of society. Anything to do with the imposition of a particular way of thinking rather than through debate and refinement, through discussion and a settlement that is good for all.’

When asked about specific examples of this ‘radical Islamism,’ he mentioned the previous hustings which had centered on Gaza.

“So, at the hustings yesterday evening, there were extremely strongly expressed objections from the floor to one particular candidate’s stance. And it was expressed really strongly. I would say not far short of an intimidating manner. It wasn’t directed towards me.

“Because the SDP is a noninterventionist party. It doesn’t believe in adventurism, which is one way of describing ‘let’s go out and change the world with Western democracy, Western values.’

“We strongly believe in [these values]. But we don’t believe that they should be imposed on others. So, we’re noninterventionist. And because we are about the whole community of everyone in the United Kingdom, we are not, coming down on one side or the other. So, I gave that response.

“It was received in silence. I suppose, I want to say respectful silence… But, I can’t describe it as anything other than anger was directed at another candidate. But it was, very, very forcefully expressed, physically forcefully, expressed.”

Stephan wants to re-build a sense of community, feeling that a sense of national unity has declined in recent years.

“What people have in common in this country is becoming harder to identify with. When I was growing up. So, one example is the silver Jubilee, which is lost in the mists of time. But in 1977, everyone came together in the pouring rain for street parties. I remember it well. People rubbed along well together. They came together.

“There was a sort of idea of national celebration, and I think that’s much harder to think about things which really do unite. It was very striking with the Queen’s death and funeral. I think that that was a moment, maybe already from the past, that brought people together, But I can’t see so many of those in the future.’

I asked why he had not chosen to join the Reform party instead. He said:

“I like a number of the people in Reform, but in the end, they are a protest movement. The SDP is a political party. It has a philosophy. It has a reason for existence. More, I think, than Reform does. Reform is acting in reaction to things it doesn’t like. Rather than painting a picture, this is what we do like. So, I think the SDP is positive, whereas reform largely paints a negative picture.”

I asked Stephan about the rise in immigration. He responded saying the government were not providing enough infrastructure to match the rising numbers. He added on a personal note about his own backstory, as his family moved here as refugees. He held the fear that the nation is losing what it has in common.

“The more important point is when my parents came as refugees from Hungary… And when my late wife came from India, they bought into what is sometimes called a ‘social contract’, which is to assimilate, to take on a certain common life. So, in return for being welcomed in, for giving back.

“The number of conversations I’ve had, especially in Acton, strangely enough, where people say, ‘I’ve arrived 45 years ago, I’ve paid my stamps. That means paying tax every year. I’ve got my pension. It needs to be fair.’ And I think that’s one of the ways in which things are being stretched and stressed these days.

“But the nature of, commonly held sense of Britishness, of a nation, is being, stretched. Does that mean that the country can really stay coherent as a country? Does it have a sense of its identity? Do people feel comfortable with this idea that you don’t need to know everyone to know if you if you if they’re going to play by roughly the same rules in terms of safety and security and personal manners? In terms of fairly broad outlook.

“I want to say, this is not about homogeneity of culture. By no means. So, my late wife’s family, I’m still close to them. They are very Indian. They celebrate their Indianess, but they are absolutely rooted in the British identity. And I think that has somewhat got lost.”

These views were expressed in the context of the policies he outlined, which ranged from reducing net migration to 50,000, with 20,000 further spaces for refugees; focus on education and training; sharing of the income tax allowance; improved social housing with priority for married families; support for unpartnered mothers.

‘We have very strong policies towards family sharing of the income tax allowance. So, for a couple raising children, no income tax could be paid until up to £25,000. That makes it more likely that a single earner could be earning but not pushing towards it. But it gives more choice between a couple, it might be possible for single earner.’

He spoke movingly of his adopted children and how glad he is that their mothers decided to go through with their pregnancies so that he and his wife could bring them up.

‘We really feel strongly that not enough emphasis is placed on supporting everyone in the community. However, they find themselves. So, I feel passionately about this family side of things.’

All candidates standing in the Ealing Central and Acton constituency were approached for interview, but we did not get a response from Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats, Workers Party of Britain or Reform.

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