Croydon questions: Louisa Woodley, Labour

Inside Croydon has put a set of questions, mostly on policy, to all the candidates to become Sutton and Croydon’s GLA member.

Here we have the final candidate’s responses on the record, publishing their responses in full, unedited, and without the artifice, interruptions and grandstanding of the usual hustings.

Louisa Woodley, Labour's GLA candidate for Croydon and Sutton

Louisa Woodley, Labour

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you grew up and went to school and university, your work and family?

I am originally a Kittian from St Kitts in the Caribbean. People from St Kitts, which has a small population of just 38,000, regarded themselves as being very British when I came to England as student. St Kitts was the home of the first British colony in the Caribbean and we were amongst the last to leave the empire, in 1983.

I grew up with my grandparents, who were business people. I decided to study in Britain as my parents were settled here. I studied modern languages at Birmingham University. It was actually quite tough for me, too, as I was a very early example of a British student paying fees as I was treated as an overseas student despite my British links.

It was a real struggle to secure employment status here, even though I had an honours degree and there was a shortage of highly qualified teachers. I overcame the bureaucracy in the end. What does not kill you makes you stronger, they say.

I went on to be head of modern languages at a Croydon school and now teach at the fantastic Church of England St Martins in the Fields High School for Girls three days a week, spending the other four days on my local council ward Thornton Heath.

Speaking languages has proved quite useful on the campaign doorstep with Croydon and Sutton’s very diverse communities, speaking French in Kenley and Spanish in Upper Norwood and even a little bit of rather second-rate Portuguese here and there.

How did you become so involved in politics?

I have always enjoyed representing people and came to politics through my activities in the National Union of Teachers. I was a teacher at Sylvan School in Upper Norwood and I was quite unhappy at the way one of the first City Technology Colleges was foisted on the school without proper care to the students who were in the school at the time, who found their studies badly disrupted by the way the local Conservatives handled the scheme.

This brought me into electoral politics. I enjoy talking to people and helping residents with their problems.

What are your interests outside politics?

I am a keen football fan, I like travelling to all parts of the world, going to concerts and the theatre as well as reading a range of literature.

Who would you describe as the biggest influences on your life and your political outlook?

Obviously my grandparents who knew that education was the way to improve yourself, your own prospects and society as a whole. I feel passionately that education can liberate people into life changing opportunities if society will allow it.

Also, I was influenced by those who stood by me when I was struggling to establish myself here, in what I regard as my own country. Knowing that we cannot stand alone as individuals but must define ourselves also by our relationships with others came from that experience and underlines my faith in politics as a means of people working together successfully to protect the vulnerable and to help each other to achieve more as part of a community.

Ed Miliband or Ed Balls?

Yes, they’re just great.

Economic growth is the only way out of the global banking crisis that dragged down the last Labour government and Ed Balls is the right man to do this by a sensible, judicious and careful approach to reducing government spending. Compare that with the omnishambles of the last Osborne Budget, with its Granny Tax, Pasty Tax and even managing to hit hard-pressed charities while cutting income tax for the very best paid.

Ed Miliband is in touch with the people and has come to Croydon personally to support my campaign. Compare that with the Bullingdon boys who have no regard for Croydon and the local MP who thought a loaf of bread costs 45 pence. Out of touch or what?

What is your favourite part of Croydon?

I just love my neighbours where I live in Thornton Heath.

How would you categorise the differences between Sutton and Croydon?

Croydon has a pretty ugly, big-town politics feel about it.

I just wish that we could have a less partisan atmosphere and that politicians could work together to help the town.

The more consensual approach of Sutton politics is to be admired.

I am just shocked at the way that the current Assembly Member, who is Croydon-based, has brought that Croydon partisanship to Sutton by refusing to work with Sutton Council on bids for Greater London Authority money, to the detriment of Sutton people.

Both boroughs face the same housing, crime and demographic change challenges. Perhaps Croydon has taken more of the brunt of social need worries so far, but Sutton will face more of this.

Both boroughs face a threat to their hospital’s existence. I am just appalled that Steve O’Connell’s Croydon Council is wasting public money by going to court over the process with the intention of trying to get St Helier closed.

The transport problems are bad. The Crystal Palace tram extension axed by Mayor Johnson will come first under Ken. I support an extension to Sutton of the tram and the East London Line as well.

Both Boroughs have many different and special villages, towns and districts. These local environments need protecting despite Conservative-LibDem legislation to weaken planning rules.

Many local people speak longingly of the old councils like Coulsdon and Purley Urban District Council, the Municipal Borough of Sutton and Cheam, the Municipal Borough of Beddington and Wallington and the Carshalton Urban District Council. You can still see some of the differences from these old boundaries. I think we need some powers devolved back to these communities to empower local residents in their local environment.

Both boroughs have a divide between the super-rich, the relatively prosperous, genteel poverty and outright social exclusion. This is just not sustainable. In Croydon this divide is really bad and I want to help to bridge that divide.

Louisa Woodley, out campaigning in New Addington with Ken Livingstone and Chuka Umanna, MP for Streatham

Both boroughs are going to suffer from the awful decision of the LibDem Sutton Council and the Conservative Croydon Council to agree to an incinerator, with its life-threatening emissions, to be built on their border.

What are you proudest achievements?

As the councillor responsible for education taking all Croydon schools out of “special measures” and into performing up to scratch. This led me on to leading a London-wide commission which improved achievement in schools across the capital through its work.

Do you think that Ken Livingstone has proven to be a liability for the Labour campaign?

Now that the campaign is focusing on issues rather than Tory smears, Ken is winning through.

His “7 per cent fare cut by October or I resign” promise is good for Croydon and Sutton residents and good for the extra money it will free up into the local economy.

Ken actually made the job of London Mayor and delivered. Boris merely sat in the job implementing Ken’s projects whilst writing his £250,000-a-year column for the Daily Telegraph. Then the cuts came to services, especially the police.

Ken is a serious politician. He was here with me in Croydon the morning after the riots on the London Road while Boris was still thinking about whether to come back from his holiday.

The Labour leadership has been out campaigning in Croydon and Sutton for Ken Livingstone, centre, and Louisa Woodley. Here, AM Val Shawcross and Labour leader Ed Miliband listen to the Mayoral candidate explain his Fair Fares policy

Is there any realistic alternative to the introduction of an incinerator in Beddington Lane?

Yes, of course there is.

My Conservative opponent turned down the chance to burn at an underused incinerator in Kent in his role on the Croydon Council cabinet.

We need to re-cycle, not burn and send toxic nano-particles into the air we breathe and then into our lungs and the lungs of our children.

The incinerator is just a big bonfire with a chimney in the middle of our towns.

Rents seem to go ever upwards. What would be your solution to London’s housing problems?

You know there are problems with housing when Croydon is trying to “export” people to Hull!

But the housing crisis is hitting well-salaried people as well.

  • We’ll have a London-wide non-profit lettings agency to promote fairer rents and good practice. We’ll work constructively with councils, landlords and tenants to do this.
  • We’ll help on energy efficiency to reduce heating bills.
  • We’ll establish a London Living Rent.

What lessons should Croydon learn from the 8/8 riots?

I condemn the sheer lawlessness of the perpetrators of the violence and the mayhem on the nights of August 7 and 8.

Labour candidate for the London Assembly Louisa Woodley: one political job is enough for her

Politicians should be very careful not to try to make cynical political capital out of the disaster for our town.

Clearly there are problems with the police’s relationship with many people and this needs working on responsibly, with improved policing and hunting down corrupt police officers who let down the vast majority of decent police officers. The problems with policing give no excuse whatsoever for the criminality seen on those two nights.

We need also to look at the exact role that the state is playing in family life. Is it truly supportive of parental discipline?

The bravery of the police officers in Croydon was heroic.

It’s a disgrace that police numbers in Central Croydon are being reduced to just 10 and that Conservative politicians just shift the blame on to the police.

The monies that have come to Croydon after the riots fall well short of what is needed to allow us to recover from the trauma we have been through. We have a pittance compared to what went into Brixton under Margaret Thatcher post those riots. There is just a sad complacency following the riots.

The Barnett Report was a whitewash that aimed to let the politicians off the hook.

The Brixton riots 30 years ago led to the very serious-minded and influential Scarman Report. We needed that kind of public inquiry here. Much of the £23 million coming to Croydon will go into public transport investments that were due anyway, or into wasteful PR initiatives before we have sorted out a vision for Croydon.

The money falls well short of what we were getting in the cancelled Labour grant of local regeneration funding, and the money that we would have had if Croydon was made into an Enterprise Zone, a scheme which was turned down by Croydon Council.

You have suggested that your Conservative opponent did not do his job properly on the Sunday and Monday of August 7-8 last year. What should he have done?

As our Metropolitan Police Authority liaison member, Steve O’Connell should have been lobbying for extra police as soon as he learned of the rioting on the night of August 7, the night before the main trouble took place in Croydon.

When the Council was told of their overnight troubles at the 9am Gold Meeting on the morning of August 8, O’Connell should have acted.

Instead he allowed police to be taken away from Croydon and left our town almost defenceless.

He waited until the town was burning before picking up the phone to a fellow London Assembly Member to raise the alarm.

It is at times of crisis that a politician’s mettle is tested. O’Connell palpably failed that test.

Why should people believe your promises to cut fares?

Transport for London’s farebox income remains very buoyant.

These surpluses should be returned to passengers in these tough times of austerity.

Ken’s administration will be about helping the people and the squeezed middle, not the privileged.

Ken will resign if he does not cut fares by October.

He will re-introduce the Zone 2-6 travelcard. Mayor Johnson’s removal of that Zone 2-6 travelcard costs Sutton and Croydon residents who do not travel into London Zone 1 huge money. So much for Boris being more than a Zone 1 Mayor.

The fare cut will save outer Londoners £1,700.

How can you afford to reverse Mayor Johnson’s reduction in police numbers?

Through efficiencies. The police service needs reforming.

Louisa Woodley promises to oppose any proposed closures to hospital units in Croydon or Sutton

Grace and favour apartments for senior officers and first-class air travel will be the first things to go.

Mayor Johnson has cut 1,700 police officers. These cuts will be reversed. This is very important in post-riot Croydon.

How will you use your second preference in the Mayoral election?

I don’t need to use a second preference. Ken’s in the two-horse race to win this close Mayoral contest.

St Helier or Croydon University Hospital?

Which one would you prefer to see keeping its A&E department in the context of the review of the NHS in South West London?

The Conservatives promised that these cuts would never happen. You can’t trust Conservative promises.

We need two local hospitals for local Sutton and local Croydon residents and I think that Steve O’Connell’s Conservative Council is wasting public money by going to court to try to get St Helier closed rather than Mayday.

Boris Johnson wants more oversight over London’s education. Is that a good idea?

Yes, I believe in strategic planning. Ken sees a school building programme as also being good for the economy.

I don’t trust Conservatives to get this right with the huge crisis with school place shortages in Croydon.

What would you do to help young Londoners get work?

By restoring the Education Maintenance Allowance and supporting affordable childcare to those on up to a £40,000 income.

By re-opening the offices shut by Mayor Johnson in China and India, to get investment from those booming countries into the London jobs market.

Would you take any employment outside City Hall, if elected?

No, the job pays enough to live on very comfortably.

My opponent seems to think otherwise and was once described by the Daily Mail as the highest paid councillor in the country on £ 118,000 a year.

His response L’Oreal style was “I’m worth it”. No one could deny he has a high sense of his own self-worth.

You have said that if elected to the GLA, you would stand down as a Croydon councillor “by 2014”. Why not immediately?

Because it saves money by not having a by-election.

Would you like to run for Parliament in the future?

Come on, one election at a time. I know that my opponent is already the Conservatives’ Parliamentary spokesman for Sutton. What a shame he can’t concentrate on the job in hand rather than using the Assembly as a stepping stone to try to reach Parliament.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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