Shneur Odze, the Orthodox Jewish candidate who wants to be Ukip's first Manchester mayor

Shneur Odze.

According to a 2015 YouGov poll, Ukip voters are more likely to agree with anti-Semitic statements than the Conservatives, Labour or Lib Dems. But from the close-fitting black skullcap perched atop his head to the full, free-flowing beard flecked with grey, Shneur Odze, Ukip's candidate for Manchester Mayor, wears his Orthodox Judaism with pride.

And he is no rank and file party member, but a close confidante of both former Ukip leader Nigel Farage and new leader Paul Nuttall.

Odze is running against the firm Labour favourite, Andy Burnham, for the Manchester metro mayor. And Ukip’s popularity is growing. 

Of 11 local election seats contested in May 2016, the party won the second highest vote-share in nine of them - and they were snapping at the heels of the top party in wards across the wider 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester.

Odze himself stood in Salford, coming second to Labour’s 1,580 ballots in Broughton with 368 votes. He admits he was unsure about joining Ukip, which he once perceived as "BNP in blazers". He said: “I thought it wasn’t going to be the party for me because they would be anti-Semitic [at the start]. I was convinced of it.”

Having previously served as a councillor in Hackney, north London back in the noughties – for the Conservatives – Odze lost his passion for the party and spent some years in the political wilderness.

On his return to politics, he found himself to the right of his original position. He ran to be the Ukip candidate in 2014’s London mayoral selection, but lost out to Peter Whittle.

Now he is settled in Salford with his wife and children, and the 33-year-old Lubavitcher – a strain of Orthodox Jews descended from a village in Belarus – is enjoying his return to the fray. Odze describes his interest in people and making a difference to real lives as the crux of his mayoral candidacy in a contest which heralds the devolution of England's regions from Westminster’s grip.


“I wasn’t surprised that Ukip were willing to take me as a member per se,” he says of his Damascene conversion from true blue to Kipper purple. “[But] I was very concerned that they were racists, or anti-Semitic, and that I was a bit of a fig leaf. It took a long time to get over that.”

Rather than immigration, his main political stamping ground is the NHS – Odze was a public governor of the University Hospital of South Manchester in Wythenshawe for six years until 13 months ago – transport, housing and employment across the region, as well as putting police back on the streets. He insists that Ukip have never pushed him forward, instead allowing him to take his own steps into the limelight.

But he has willingly basked in that fame, and seems to enjoy being a member of a party many wouldn't have associated with Orthodox Judaism. He says that occasionally "the average Joe Public would have at the start had a double take” at the the uniform of his faith, but he has never had an issue in Ukip. 

"In all parties, particularly in Ukip, anyone who stands out seems to do well," he says. “In the MEP selection we had Amjad Bashir, Steven Woolfe – we’re a colourful party. We attract people of character and charisma.”

Oh, yes – Steven Woolfe. The mixed-race Ukip MEP, once tipped as a leader, instead quit the party, describing it as “ungovernable” after a colleague punched him. As for Amjad Bashir, he defected to the Tories.

Indeed, June's Brexit vote was something of a high for Ukip in 2016. Since then, the party has been consumed with factional infighting, with Ukip leader Diane James quitting after just 18 days in the job, and later leaving the party altogether. Farage was forced to take the helm again, before Nuttall was elected to the post. Meanwhile, Theresa May's Tory government has hoovered up some of Ukip's most popular policies. Support for Ukip in the polls has hovered around 13 per cent. 

Odze – Chair of Ukip’s Friends of Israel grouping – dismisses Woolfe's criticisms. He quips that Ukip don’t mind how “far out you are” – meaning unusual – “just that you’re not far right”.

“It’s showbiz, it’s people who don’t fit into the straitjacket of the other mainstream parties," he says. “We’ve attracted a lot of other people at the time who had been deselected by other parties.”

As far as Ukip's future goes: “The number of times that people have said ’this is a disaster for Ukip, this is the end’, and it isn’t. I was concerned when we were at 1 or 2 per cent in the polls. Paul Nuttall said that we were going to overtake the Lib Dems and everybody laughed at him. Well, as they say, the rest is history. “

Odze insists that Ukip is the only party that can challenge Labour. "We’re attracting Labour voters. The question is how many more and to what extent," he says. “All Andy Burnham’s been going on and on about for months and months is migration and Brexit, because he knows we’re the only people who can beat him."

“Of course Andy’s the favourite. But look at Donald Trump. Look at Brexit.”

This article previously appeared on our sister site, the New Statesman.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

 
 
 
 

Mexico City’s new airport is an environmental disaster. But it could become a huge national park

Mexico City’s new Norman Foster-designed airport, seen here in a computer rendering, is visually striking but environmentally problematic. Image: Presidencia de la República Mexicana/creative commons.

Mexico City long ago outgrew the two-terminal Benito Juárez International Airport, which is notorious for delays, overcrowding and canceled flights. Construction is now underway on a striking new international airport east of this metropolis of 20m. When it opens in late 2020, the LEED-certified new airport – whose terminal building was designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster in collaboration with the well-known Mexican architect Fernando Romero – is expected to eventually serve 125m passengers. That’s more than Chicago O'Hare and Los Angeles’ LAX.

But after three years of construction and $1.3bn, costs are ballooning and corruption allegations have dogged both the funding and contracting process.

Environmentalists are also concerned. The new airport is located on a semi-dry lake bed that provides water for Mexico City and prevents flooding. It also hosts migrating flocks and is home to rare native species like the Mexican duck and Kentish plover.

According to the federal government’s environmental impact assessment, 12 threatened species and 1 endangered species live in the area.

The airport project is now so divisive that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the populist winner of the country’s 2018 presidential campaign, has suggested scrapping it entirely.

An environmental disaster

Mexico’s new airport sits in a federal reserve. Image: Yavidaxiu/The Conversation.

I’m an expert in landscape architecture who studies the ecological adaption of urban environments. I think there’s a way to save Mexico’s new airport and make it better in the process: create a nature reserve around it.

Five hundred years ago, lakes covered roughly 20 percent of the Valle de Mexico, a 3,500-square-mile valley in the country’s south-central region. Slowly, over centuries, local residents – first the Aztecs, then the Spanish colonisers and then the Mexican government – built cities, irrigation systems and plumbing systems that sucked the region dry.

By the mid-20th century, the lakes had been almost entirely drained. In 1971, President Luís Echeverría decreed the area a federal reserve, citing the region’s critical ecological role for Mexico City. The smattering of small lakes and reforested land there now catch and store runoff rainwater and prevent dust storms.

The new airport will occupy 17 square miles of the 46-square-mile former Lake Texcoco. To ensure effective water management for Mexico City, the airport master plan proposes creating new permanent water bodies to offset the lakes lost to the airport and cleaning up and restoring nine rivers east of the airport. It also proposes planting some 250,000 trees.

The government’s environmental assessment determined that the impacts of the new airport, while significant, are acceptable because Lake Texcoco is already “an altered ecosystem that lost the majority of its original environmental importance due to desiccation and urban expansion.” Today, the report continues, “it is now only a desolate and abandoned area.”

Environmentalists loudly disagree.

Make Mexico’s airport great again

I see this environmental controversy as an opportunity to give Mexico City something way more transformative than a shiny new airport.

Nobody can entirely turn back the clock on Lake Texcoco. But the 27 square miles of lake bed not occupied by the airport could be regenerated, its original habitat partially revitalised and environmental functions recovered in a process known as restoration ecology.

I envision a huge natural park consisting of sports fields, forests, green glades and a diverse array of water bodies – both permanent and seasonal – punctuated by bike paths, walking trails and access roads.

The airport will come equipped with new ground transportation to Mexico City, making the park easily accessible to residents. Extensions from the surrounding neighborhood streets and highways could connect people in poor neighbourhoods abutting the airport – dense concrete jungles like Ecatepec, Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl and Chimalhuacan – to green space for the first time.

The nine rivers that empty into Lake Texcoco from the east could be turned into greenways to connect people from further out in Mexico State to what would become the area’s largest public park.

Space could also be reserved for cultural attractions such as museums, open and accessible to passengers in transit.


New master plan

This idea is not as crazy as it sounds.

As early as 1998, Mexican architects Alberto Kalach and the late Teodoro González de León proposed rehabilitating the lakes of the Valley of Mexico. Their book, “The City and its Lakes,” even envisaged a revenue-generating island airport as part of this environmentally revitalized Lake Texcoco.

Under President Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s National Water Commission also proposed building an ecological park in Lake Texcoco, which was to include an island museum and restore long-degraded nearby agricultural land. But the project never gained traction.

Granted, turning a large, half-constructed airport into a national park would require an ambitious new master plan and a budget reallocation.

But in my opinion, evolution and change should be part of ambitious public designs. And this one is already expected to cost an additional $7.7bn to complete anyway.

Toronto’s Downsview Park – a 291-acre former air force base turned green space – has transformed so much since its conception in 1995 that its declared mission is now to “constantly develop, change and mature to reflect the surrounding community with each generation.”

Local communities neighboring Mexico City’s new airport were not adequately consulted about their needs, environmental concerns and their current stakes in the Lake Texcoco area. A revamped park plan could be truly inclusive, designed to provide recreation and urban infrastructure – and maybe even permanent jobs – for these underserved populations.

Presidential race

Three of the four candidates in Mexico’s July 1 presidential election wanted to finish Mexico City’s new international airport. But eventual winner López Obrador was not so sure.

Early in his campaign, he said he would cancel it if elected. Instead, López Obrador suggested, a former air force base could become the new international terminal. It would be connected to Benito Juárez airport, 22 miles south, by train.

López Obrador has since said he would support completing construction of the new international airport if the remaining financing came from the private sector, not the Mexican government. Currently, some two-thirds of the project is funded by future airport taxes.

The ConversationLópez Obrador’s promise to review and likely upend the airport plan could open the door to its wholesale transformation, putting people and nature are at the core of a plan ostensibly designed for the public good.

Gabriel Diaz Montemayor, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Texas at Austin

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.