Panny Antoniou a Candidate for Highgate ward, Camden Council

Panny Antoniou was born in London on 22 February 1994 into a British Cypriot family. The 28-year-old third generation Cypriot studied history and politics at Brunel University and is currently working in marketing. He has recently been selected to stand as a Labour candidate for the Highgate Ward for Camden council.
I had the pleasure of meeting up with Panny last week for an introductory interview to our community, where he speaks about his background and shares his thoughts on politics and what drives his passion for it.

It is almost a given when meeting another member of the Cypriot community to ask which part of Cyprus their families originate from, and do you still have ties there?
My father’s family is from Achna which is currently within the UN Green Line; you can see the abandoned village from the border and we have family in the refugee village Dasaki Achna which is located in the Dhekelia Base Area. My mother’s family are from Kapilio and Agios Theodoros which are both located in the mountains within the Limassol region and we have a number of relatives there too.

Having studied history and politics, did your interest in the political landscape of Cyprus drive you to analyse the historic events there, and if so, tell us what your thoughts are on the subject?
Being Cypriot with family who were refugees in recent history massively influenced my politics both in relation to international affairs and in terms of attitudes towards refugees fleeing conflict and insecurity. I think the Cyprus conflict – much like many other recent conflicts in the world, is a tragic example of what happens when nationalism trumps internationalism. The Greek Nationalism of EOKA B and the Turkish Nationalism of TMT trumped the internationalism of a United and multi-ethnic Cyprus. Not only this, but it has also informed my antiimperialist stance, with both the imperialism of the Greek junta in engineering the Sampson Coup and the Turkish military invading and occupying bearing responsibility for the political landscape today.

Do you foresee a solution and what role should the UK play on this issue as a guarantor power?
The UK can play an important and powerful role in the reunification of Cyprus, returning land which is not currently being used for military purposes and turning both Akrotiri and Dhekelia into multinational NATO bases which protect Cyprus – with as a demilitarised but strategically located NATO member – in similar vein to fellow island nation Iceland. The security guarantee from NATO would reassure all ethnic groups in Cyprus and the lack of separate Turkish and Greek Cypriot military forces would prevent a return to the pre-1974 ethnic divisions.

How did you first involve yourself in politics? Did a particular political figure influence you?
I have been politically active for a number of years but have only been party political since 2019 when I joined the Labour Party. My grandfather was an AKEL activist in the 1950s and I learned everything I know now sitting with him and talking about politics and the state of the world today while watching the news!

You are now an international/outreach officer of the Young Fabians – tell us what this organisation is all about and what kind of duties your role entails.
I help create links between the Young Fabians and various socialist and social democratic groups both within the UK and across the world. As part of this role I am also a Bureau Member for the Young European Socialists, working with likeminded friends from across Europe to achieve our common goals. This is even more important post Brexit with many UK-European links damaged.

You are also a founding member of Labour doorstep – a grass roots organisation, and a co-chair of Open Labour’s climate change working group, can you please tell us a little more about these two organisations?
Labour Doorstep are one of the biggest Labour campaigning organisations in the UK, we set up as a place for activists to organise and share ideas and we have run training, events, and created campaign collateral for over 100 Labour Groups across the UK. Through my role within Open Labour, I advocate for a Green New Deal and a Just Transition with Green Jobs and a better future for our children at its core.

These are impressive organisations; just how do you find time to balance all your commitments on top of working full time?
Lots of organisation! I am a big fan of making lists and planning my time so I can tackle my many commitments.

The Ukraine-Russia situation has been dominating the headlines for the past 3 months, what are your thoughts; are we looking at a crisis, is it as drastic as some might say, the brink of a third world war?
I think the situation in Ukraine is grave and we must stand by the Ukrainian people against Russian neo-colonialism and imperialism. I stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and passionately believe we should accept as many refugees as possible fleeing this dreadful conflict.

We are now coming to the end of the pandemic and slowly all restrictions implemented by the government have been lifted. We have witnessed in the press a lot of alleged wrong doings from senior government officials and from the Prime Minister himself – what is your take on their defence?
I did not spend Christmas with my grandparents this year as I usually do. As it turns out, Christmas 2020 was my grandfather’s last. I am not alone in this, everyone has a story of loss or isolation during the pandemic, meanwhile the people making the rules were partying in Downing Street and taking us for fools. I am angry and everyone else should be too, it’s one rule for the Tories and another rule for the rest of us.

Do you think that that the correct strategy was implemented both in regard to the pandemic and now as part of the endemic?
No, the government’s approach was dangerous and ineffective. Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme created hundreds of super spreader events across the country and 3 million people were excluded from furlough. And that’s just on the economic side! Their advice on restrictions was unclear and confusing, especially during the tiers stage, I mean what is a substantial meal in your opinion?

Labour have been accused by the opposition and by supporters that their policies are not clear, do you sympathise with that view or is it merely a ploy; do you see Labour as government in waiting?
Public perceptions towards Labour have finally changed to the point that many do now view us as a party of Government again. However, we have to articulate our vision for Britain far more, it’s not good enough to just not be the Tories. We have to offer people hope and change. We also have to tackle any internal issues of bigotry rapidly so minorities feel they can trust us. Far too often this has not been the case and our internal processes need to continue improving so that minorities trust us to deal with issues of bigotry justly and quickly. We have made lots of progress but we cannot rest and must continue on this journey so that we can overturn the huge Tory majority at the next General Election.

You were recently selected to stand as a Labour candidate for Highgate Ward – there has been somewhat of a shuffle recently, what part of Camden does that fall under? Have you started canvassing the area and if so, what is the general feeling of your constituents; are you optimistic?
Our ward has mostly remained the same, we have lost some properties in the south to the new Kentish Town North Ward but on the whole boundaries have not changed much. We are confident running on our record as Highgate Labour and are continuing to deliver on residents’ priorities on the environment and new homes.

Interview by Bambos Charalambous

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