An eco-activist from London has become the first mainstream political candidate to accept bitcoin in the UK.
Gulnar Hasnain, who is standing as the Green Party’s candidate for the inner-city borough of Vauxhall, is crowdfunding support for her parliamentary campaign ahead of the UK’s general election next May.
Speaking to CoinDesk, Hasnain said she hopes to draw attention to the positive aspects of blockchain technology and its potential to “transform democracy worldwide”.
“Surprisingly, the Green Party is vocal on the same issues as the bitcoin movement – more decentralised power, smaller government, a need for a shift in the concentration of power in the banking system and a more inclusive society.”
The Greens have received mixed reactions from the country’s media for their policies on localism, sustainability and welfare reform. However, Hasnain’s party – now the fourth biggest in the UK – is growing rapidly, particularly in London, where one fifth of its near-50,000 members reside.
Hasnain will likely seek to tap into this newfound support to defeat Labour MP Kate Hoey, who has represented Vauxhall in the House of Commons since 1989.
Prior to campaigning, Hasnain cut her teeth as head of environment and sustainability strategy for London Mayor Boris Johnson’s Economic Development Agency, focusing on urban regeneration and clean technologies. More recently, she co-founded the bitcoin-focused Coinsummit conference series with partner Pamir Gelenbe.
Although there are “pockets of interest” in digital currency among the Greens, Hasnain’s decision to accept bitcoin was a result of her experience with the conference, she said, which connected investors and startups working in the space.
Technology for change
Startup culture is something Hasnain hopes to recreate in her future constituency, she said, citing the creativity and drive of its large youth population. “I can envisage many young digital currency entrepreneurs emerging from the area,” she added.
However, Vauxhall, which Hasnain described as one of the most “exciting, diverse, and vibrant” areas in the capital has it’s share of problems: “Famous landmarks such as the London Eye … sit side by side with some of the most deprived areas of London.”
According to Hasnain, bitcoin has the capacity to change this, by tackling banking exclusion and high fees as a more cost-effective way to store and transfer money.
The remittance applications of the technology make it highly attractive for the borough’s diverse communities too, she added.
Bitcoin in Westminster
Following George Osborne’s announcement that the government would seek to evaluate the potential of digital currency last August, a handful of UK MPs have come forward to comment publicly on the emerging technology.
While Treasury Select Committee member Steve Baker insists bitcoin doesn’t need new legislation, others, including Chi Onwurah, the UK’s shadow cabinet minister for digital government, say consumer protections in the space are currently inadequate.
On the topic of regulation, Hasnain says she is concerned that a heavy hand may stifle innovation, but agrees that the industry must do better to educate new users:
“I do think the industry has a responsibility to make consumers aware of the risks involved in using bitcoin and bitcoin exchanges. I think the sector and the Bitcoin Foundation have made a great start, but we now need to go further to raise awareness amongst the wider population.”