The Croydon North by-election is on November 29, and Inside Croydon has put to candidates a set of questions. We will be putting the responses on the record, published without the artifice, interruptions and grandstanding of the usual hustings.
We hope that you will give all of these posts a read and compare the candidates’ answers on the issues that matter to you.
Here, Liberal Democrat candidate Marisha Ray answers our questions.
What is your vision for Croydon?
I want to make Croydon a safer, even more pleasant place to live.
Key to that is improving transport links to the north of the borough in order to encourage commuters and larger businesses to settle here and give residents access to a wider range of jobs.
I feel that the problems Croydon North has with transport links have been shamefully ignored by both the Conservative-run council and by the Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson. This has left our roads, including the major red routes, riddled with potholes which are particularly dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians as they cause cars to swerve and increase the likelihood of accidents.
If elected I would campaign for better public transport links and better-maintained highways. I would also work to secure investment in London Road where the majority of the constituency’s businesses are based, to help give a renewed sense of pride in the community.
I also recognise the many challenges Croydon North faces when it comes to the lack of affordable places for young people to get together. When I was a councillor I launched a ground-breaking gang-prevention strategy aimed at discouraging young people from committing crimes. This scheme brought together young people, schools, community organisations and the police to give young people options for personal improvement outside of crime.
Tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you grew up and went to school and university, your work and family.
I take pleasure in my family – my grandfather was the one of the first Indian doctors in the UK and, following her return to the UK from lecturing in a university in Calcutta in 1960, my mother worked as a lawyer in the UK civil service.
At the time, while there were many practising female barristers in India, there were few of Indian descent in the UK and she faced a highly sexist environment.
I grew up and went to school in London. I studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge and then completed further studies in Paris. My working life has been spent in IT and I have also been a local councillor.
Neil, my husband and I, have been married since 1993, and we have one eight-year-old son.
How did you become involved in politics?
The Liberal Democrats first captured my attention with their policy to reduce class sizes to 20 pupils as I have had first-hand experience of the difference which class size makes to your education. I also liked the way in which the Liberal Democrats emphasise community politics and how their councillors really care about the area which they represent. I decided I wanted to be a part of making my area better.
What are your interests outside politics?
I am interested in music and I have been learning the violin with my son. I enjoy travelling, cooking for my family, yoga and spending time with my friends from outside politics!
Who would you describe as the biggest influences on your life and your political outlook?
My grandparents and parents have been a big influence as well as my husband, Neil. I am particularly proud of how my grandfather persevered in the face of adversity, having settled in the UK after the Indian partition as one of the first Asian GPs to practise in the UK.
My uncle and aunt were both politicians in India, so I suppose I am following in their footsteps!
What is your favourite part of Croydon?
The view from Upper Norwood which looks across Croydon, it is especially lovely at sunset.
What are you proudest achievements?
The gang-prevention strategy which I implemented. It had a real impact on a number of young people who would have been drawn into crime.
Why is your party relevant to the people of Croydon North?
The Liberal Democrats are making a real impact in government. Many policies which will benefit thousands of people in Croydon North such as the raising of the income tax threshold and the triple lock on pensions have only come about because of the Liberal Democrats.
Labour and Conservative politicians in Croydon are not listening to local people and have neglected this area. I am keen to consult and make sure people have their voices heard – and I have a track record of doing this.
Do you support the incinerator? I support local generation of electricity in a clean and safe fashion. Having lived in France I have seen how they are many years ahead of us in using combined heat and power in many of the cities and towns thereby cutting their carbon footprint.
What would you do to secure the extension of the tram to Crystal Palace?
I would work with Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the GLA and chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee to keep up pressure on Transport for London and the Mayor of London to deliver this. I will work with local people and businesses to petition the Mayor.
What do you think of the performance of the local council?
I think that the area of the borough covered by Croydon North constituency has been badly neglected by the Conservative administration. Local residents have mentioned to me time and time again how disappointed they are that the Conservative-run council seems to prioritise building themselves luxurious new offices in the south of the borough while residents experience cuts to street cleaning, pot-holed roads and neglect of well-loved local services and facilities like Upper Norwood Library.
What could you do to deal with the huge shortage of school places in north Croydon?
Firstly I think that it is appalling that both Labour in government and the Conservatives at Croydon Town Hall have let the school place crisis get to the stage it has where we now have almost 300 children still looking for a school place. London is at the sharp end of the school place crisis and Croydon is one of the worst-affected areas.
Labour let down our children by ignoring the rising birth rate time bomb for the 13 years they were in power and although the Conservative-run council is finally taking some action, they should have been focusing on this as a priority years ago.
I would make increasing the number of school places in Croydon North a priority and work with my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Department of Education to secure the funding necessary to do this.
I would look favourably upon those who have a track record of delivering education within the borough who are attempting to provide more outstanding schools within Croydon borough.
Is it a criticism of the Conservatives that London Road traders lack their Riot Act compensation?
Absolutely. The compensation is being administered by local councils via the Conservative Mayor of London’s office. It is completely unacceptable that shopkeepers are still waiting for their compensation; we need these businesses to thrive to help rebuild the London Road area.
What would you do to save the Croydon Supplementary Education Project?
I know the value of targeted high-quality support for children who are struggling at school. This is why the Liberal Democrats in Government have put in place the pupil premium which gives schools extra money that they can use to raise the attainment levels of their disadvantaged pupils.
Croydon’s schools will be receiving over £10.4 million pounds in pupil premium money next year. Schools will then be able to use this money to pay for extra support for struggling students. This could include funding students to attend the Croydon Supplementary Education Project.
Do ethnic minorities and faith groups face discrimination in Croydon?
I believe there is under-representation amongst those in power of certain minorities and faith groups in Croydon, particularly of women from these groups.
I am also concerned that the mainly BME London Road traders seem to have a particularly raw deal – with many of them unable to get insurance for their businesses, and some even unable to get a reliable electricity supply; problems which I’m sure are alien to the high-rise office blocks half a mile down the road. Some have expressed their concerns to me that their businesses face pernicious discrimination because of the ethnicity of the proprietors.
Do you agree with the Croydon Central MP that one hospital A&E should be removed from South London, namely St Helier’s A&E unit?
No, I fully support the efforts of my colleagues Tom Brake MP and Paul Burstow MP in their campaign to keep St Helier’s A&E unit open. With a growing population, and the problems with traffic across South London, it seems ludicrous to me to be closing A&E units.
London’s ethnic minority communities suffer poorer health than other sections of the community and this move to reduce hospital services in the region will do particular damage to these communities.
What would you do to protect public services?
I would concentrate on protecting the front line; there are always efficiencies that public service providers can make by removing bureaucracy. For example, no Liberal Democrat-run council in London has closed a single library – they’ve dealt with the cuts by making backroom savings.
Ed Miliband has spoken out for decent NHS care for mental health. Do you back such an aim?
This is something that the Liberal Democrats have been fighting for within Government. Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health minister, has announced that under the new NHS mandate patients should wait no longer for mental health therapies than they do for treatments for their physical conditions, and the public often tell me that they wish the wait for any medical treatment was shorter.
The previous Labour administrations prioritised physical over mental health with the tariff for patients with physical illnesses set at a fixed price, the so-called national tariff, which was higher than its costs, whereas for people with mental illnesses they had to find the cheapest therapies. Currently mental illness causes 23 per cent of the total burden of illness, but accounts for only 13 per cent of NHS spending.
I also feel that mental and physical health problems are often interlinked, and a greater focus on tackling mental health will have an added benefit of reducing some patients’ physical health problems.
Liberal Democrats in Government are determined to end this institutional bias that exists in the health service and I fully support them in this aim.
What is the solution to Croydon’s housing crisis?
We need a programme of house building to build more 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom homes, preferably on brownfield sites. We also need to invest money in bringing empty homes back into use and we need to have a serious look at putting in place disincentives to leaving habitable homes empty.
Should the term for abortion be shorter than 24 weeks? No, but I’m open to debate on the issue.
Should we have a referendum on our membership of the EU?
I am in favour of a referendum in the event of a further significant transfer of power from the UK to Brussels.
Why have the Liberal Democrats made such little impact on Croydon politics?
I have been finding a lot of support for the Liberal Democrats on the doorsteps of Croydon North. When there was last a parliamentary by-election in this area, the Liberal Party took a famous win in Croydon North West, and the constituency borders the Liberal Democrat seat of Carshalton and Wallington, as well as strong Liberal Democrat wards in Lambeth, Southwark, and Bromley.
Our message that the Liberal Democrats in government have delivered a tax cut for millions of ordinary workers, guaranteed decent future rises in the state pension, and are clamping down on tax avoidance from the rich, is going down tremendously well on the doorsteps of Croydon North.
The Liberal Democrats work for a fairer future for the whole community while the Labour and Conservative parties only look out for particular sections of society. We believe that fairness for all delivers a better place for us all.
Do you think that you can stay in third place as in 2010?
Time and again, voters have been telling me that they are fed up of Labour and Conservative politicians neglecting this area. There is no guarantee that people will vote the same way they did in 2010 and no politician should ever take the electorate’s votes for granted.
I’m very confident that by taking the time to listen to the concerns of local residents and act on them, voters in Croydon North will turn to the Liberal Democrats to best represent them.
We’ll be posting questionnaires from other candidates on a daily basis over the coming days. Tomorrow: The Official Monster Raving Loony Party candidate
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- Marisha Ray selected for Lib Dems in Croydon North (libdemvoice.org)
- Date set for three by-elections (bbc.co.uk)