Any jokes about the Liberal Democrats in Croydon being an endangered species were only reinforced late last night with the announcement of a candidate for the forthcoming parliamentary by-election, as they named Marisha Ray, a former councillor in Islington, north London, whose campaign appears to be based from an office in Brixton Hill, five miles up the A23 outside the Croydon North constituency.
The by-election is expected to be held on November 15, together with by-elections in Cardiff, Corby and possibly Middlesbrough, as well as local police commissioner elections outside London.
The by-election in Croydon North has been caused by the death last month of Malcolm Wicks.
The LibDems, who were third in Croydon North at the 2010 General Election when Gerry Jerome was their candidate, are the first of the three leading parties to name a candidate; the Conservatives and Labour appear to be observing due propriety, waiting until after Friday’s memorial service for Wicks, who had served as Croydon’s MP for 20 years until his death last month after a brief illness.
The BNP has already begun campaigning in Croydon North, while candidates are also expected from the Greens (fourth in 2010), the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, the Christian People’s Alliance and UKIP.
Based on recent opinion poll results, with the LibDems having disillusioned many of those who voted for them in 2010 for the manner in which Nick Clegg, their party leader, has supported unpopular policies as part of the ConDem coalition government, Ray could face a struggle to keep her deposit.
Of Bengali heritage – a factor undoubtedly calculated by the LibDems to play well with the large Asian population in the north of the borough – Ray has no strong connection with Croydon. The best her own election profile can offer is a somewhat feeble: “She spent much of her childhood with close family friends in Croydon”.
A party spokesman explained to Inside Croydon that the selection was made at a meeting of local party members held in Thornton Heath on Wednesday night and the announcement made immediately after. “We can’t speak for other parties’ timetables,” Simon Drage said, “but we felt it would be inappropriate to do anything until after Malcolm Wicks’ funeral, which was a week ago.
“The selection was made last night, and Croydon North is a large constituency and it’s likely to be a very short campaign, so we wanted to get a candidate in place.”
Drage assured that Ray intends to move home to Croydon North in the event that she were to win the by-election. “Of course she would,” he said.
Born in Stamford Brook, Ray grew up in Haringey. Six months ago, when she was on the LibDems’ London-wide list for the GLA elections, Croydon was one of the few parts of the capital that did not get a mention in Ray’s online literature.
The married mother of one served on Islington Council from 2002 until 2010, when she lost her seat for Clerkenwell ward to Labour.
Cambridge educated, Ray has worked in industrial research, in IT and as a business analyst for Marks and Spencer. More recently, she has been a specialist adviser to the NHS Trust board of a London hospital.
As a candidate parachuted into Croydon for the by-election, Ray is likely to have a lot of work to establish any local credibility in the next month.
“I’m really looking forward to meeting more people in Croydon North over the coming weeks,” she said in announcing her candidacy.
“I want to talk to them about the real issues that matter, like cutting crime, fairer taxes and creating jobs.” For her sake, she may wish to avoid meeting too many students who have been lumbered with £9,000 annual tuition fees following her party leader’s broken election pledge.
“I’m worried that the proposed changes to health care services in south London could put even more pressure on the hard working staff at Mayday. As a councillor in Islington I worked to hold NHS bosses to account, so I know how to stand up for residents to protect valuable services.”
That is an interesting position to take, since when Sutton LibDem Paul Burstow had a modest amount of power, holding a junior ministerial position at the health department, he was impotent to prevent proposals to close the A&E and maternity departments at St Helier Hospital.
“My team and I have already hit the ground running,” Ray claims, unconcerned about jumping the electoral gun and not waiting until the writ for the by-election has been formally moved or that the Wicks memorial service has been held.
She says that she has been “talking to residents across the constituency, giving us a clear idea of the things people want us to fight for locally. I want to use this election to set out the good things that Liberal Democrats in the coalition government are doing for people locally”.
Now that could be a very short list.
“Liberal Democrat influence has made this a far better government for local people than if the Tories were governing alone, and as MP I would make sure we deliver even more tax cuts for ordinary workers and not for millionaires,” says a woman whose party when in government has passed massive tax cuts for millionaires while rubber-stamping funding cuts for the poorest and most vulnerable in society.
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- Malcolm Wicks (guardian.co.uk)