Election questions: Ben Stevenson, Communist

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.

Over the course of the next two weeks, we hope that you will give all of these posts a read and compare the candidates’ answers on the issues that matter to you.

Ben Stevenson, the Communist party candidate

First up is the Communist party’s candidate, Ben Stevenson

What is your vision for Croydon?
A town that gets the investment it needs in jobs, manufacturing and green technologies.

We need to challenge the power of Tesco, Vodafone and the other transnational corporations, who have the resources to ride out the recession, and support local businesses, including cooperative enterprises. And we must support young people, many of whom currently face an awful choice between going on the dole or racking up huge debts by going to university.

Tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you grew up and went to school and university, your work and family.
I grew up in Handsworth – a vibrant, diverse and working class inner city area of Birmingham – I went to Heathfield Primary, King Edwards VI Aston schools and Cadbury College. Although I’d always been interested in politics and I joined the Young Communist League in 2001, I first become really active in politics through the anti-war movement in Birmingham helping to organise the massive school students walkouts in the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

I moved to Croydon in 2005 when I started working for the Communist party as National Secretary. I’m currently single and come from a big political family. One of my earliest political influences was my granddad who was a stalwart of the NUM and the Communist party. Most of my family – including my parents – are trade unionists and are either Communists or solidly on the left of the Labour party but I’ve always been encouraged from a young age to think for myself.

How did you become involved in politics?
Although I’d been interested in politics for a long time and had grown up in a political family (some of my earliest memories are going on demonstrations in support of the Miners Strike and campaigning in the 1987 general election with my Postman Pat bag) it was the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that really threw me into political activity.

What are your interests outside politics?

Stevenson, the national secretary of the Communist party, our canvassing in Croydon North

Cinema and music (I used to be avid clubber in my youth – but I’m getting a bit long in the teeth now!). I also like to relax over a pint of real ale and a good chinwag!

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

My granddad was probably the biggest influence early on in my life, although both of my parents and most of wider family are committed trade unionists and Communists.

It was travelling up to Barnsley to see him when I’d sit on his knee and he’d tell me about the miners’ strikes and the role that he played in it all. So it was definitely my family who helped to make me who I am, in all sorts of positive ways, and encouraged me to appreciate friends and community.

They introduced me to politics in the first place – and I then explored that through The Woodcraft Folk, the YCL and through the anti-war movement in Birmingham.

What is your favourite part of Croydon?
I enjoy the variety of cultural activities that are available in the borough, better than in many parts of London. Clearly, as well as building the local economy to provide real decent jobs for young people we need to extend and further develop Croydon as a cultural hub. In fact we really need more free, local and accessible leisure and sports facilities in the borough and less empty complexes full of luxury apartments.

Ruskin House – a well-loved and used facility which is run and owned by the local trade union movement – is a perfect example of the kind of hub of cultural, community, political and other events which could be a model for the rest of the borough.

What are you proudest achievements?
Devoting a substantial part of my life to peace and socialism. I’ve already achieved a fair amount in a decade of political activity but I look forwards to the challenges yet to come for my class and my community.

Why is your party relevant to the people of Croydon North ?
Capitalism is in crisis. Millions of people across the EU are facing destitution as they are made to pay for a crisis they didn’t cause, losing their jobs, facing wage freezes or cuts, and seeing pensions, benefits and public services slashed for no good reason other than a greedy elite seeking to hold on to their ill-gotten gains.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world still live in communist societies or vote for communist parties.

The Communist Party in Britain is steadily building its profile. We stand for a fair deal for the working class; the promotion of jobs, growth and a decent future for all; and the defence of the NHS and other public/local services

Do you support the incinerator?
No way! We’ve been campaigning against the incinerator for some time now, because of the health risks and the deliberate decision to site it in the poorest part of the borough where people are least likely to complain. We’ve been leafleting local residents and holding protests outside the Town Hall, and will continue to fight against these pernicious plans.

What would you do to secure the extension of the tram to Crystal Palace?
Tramlink is used by many local residents and is a real success story. The promotion of better public transport links for Croydon is a no brainer and I would do my utmost to lobby Transport for London and the Department for Transport and make the case for the extension to this important part of the area.

What do you think of the performance of the local council?
Shocking. The latest revelation about Jon Rouse, the borough’s supposedly neutral chief executive, providing a platform at a Croydon Council-organised event, funded with public money, for Iain Duncan-Smith, the works and pension minister, to promote the local Tory candidate for the Croydon North by-election speaks volumes about their abuse of democracy.

This is on top of a steady stream of stories about their incompetence; total lack of concern about local jobs, investment and regeneration; and clear indifference to protection of local services.

What could you do to deal with the huge shortage of school places in north Croydon?
BME groups are in the majority in six out of eight wards in the constituency. The shortage of school places affects them particularly badly. Wealthy Tory councils are of course suffering least from the cuts given the way local government funds are allocated. A sure recipe for exclusion of the majority.

To solve these problems, what we need, in a nutshell, is well-funded, comprehensive education across the borough. I would work with local parents and community groups to campaign for this.

Is it a criticism of the Conservatives that London Road traders lack their Riot Act compensation?
Yes. The fault appears to lie with a combination of procrastination and buck-passing by the Met Police, who administer the compensation scheme, the local council and Boris Johnson. Action needs to be taken as a matter of urgency for people who are suffering quite unnecessary hardship.

Stevenson addressing lecturers and students at Croydon College, where access to further education and the student fees are high on the political agenda

What would you do to save the Croydon Supplementary Education Project?
The Supplementary Education Project is aimed at the more disadvantaged children. So it hits BME groups particularly badly. We need to fight to restore this. And we can only do this by fighting for jobs, investment and progressive taxation which will allow government to fund vitally needed projects of this type.

Do ethnic minorities and faith groups face discrimination in Croydon?
In common with many towns across Britain, discrimination based on race or faith is always a potential problem. And the Croydon riots and levels of unemployment among local BME youths suggest this is a real problem.

But the bigger issues are the lack of jobs, affordable housing and decent public services for all, regardless of race or faith.

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 way, we’re heavily involved in the campaign to defend the NHS in Croydon as well as the rest of south London. The Government is trying to fragment and sell-off the NHS by the back door. Closures will only add to the pressure on the remaining facilities.

People need to understand what they are about to lose: one of the jewels in the crown of the post-war welfare state – and fight for the protection of public services against private profit.

What would you do to protect public services?
I would fight vigorously against all cuts to local public services, both locally and nationally. These are totally unnecessary and part of the Tory-led Government’s dishonest attempt to use the recession as cover to roll back the welfare state and take us back to the 1930s.

Ed Miliband has spoken out for decent NHS care for mental health. Do you back such an aim?
Of course. Mental health treatment has long been the Cinderella of the health service. 1 in 4 people experience some sort of mental health problems in their lifetime – and we need to do something to remove the stigma that is attached to such problems and provide decent health care for people unfortunate to find themselves in this position.

What is the solution to Croydon’s housing crisis?
As part of an ambitious national council house-building programme, we should aim to provide decent homes for all local people in need.

This will not only solve the local housing crisis but act as a significant boost to the construction industry and help to create local jobs.

We can’t allow the Government to use the economic crisis as cover for what is, in effect, a form of social cleansing as poorer, disadvantaged people find themselves squeezed out of wealthier areas.

Should the term for abortion be shorter than 24 weeks?
No. This is part of a sustained attack being waged on a woman’s right to choose. We should instead be tackling patchy levels of access to pregnancy and abortion advice, the decline in sex education in schools and the rise in Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Should we have a referendum on our membership of the EU?

Definitely. The EU is a profoundly undemocratic organisation which represents the interests of monopoly capital and big business. Diktat from Brussels is imposing needless austerity policies and untold suffering on the ordinary people of countries such as Greece and Portugal and threatens to lock the whole of Europe into a permanent downward spiral as wages, pensions and public services are ruthlessly cut back.

We need to secure an orderly withdrawal from the EU and negotiate an independent relationship similar to that enjoyed by Norway and Switzerland.

Top Marx

Marx or Lenin? Interesting question! I’d have to say Marx, though they both made massive and lasting contributions to working class politics.

Lenin developed a practical application of Marxism that focused on the critical role played by a committed political vanguard in the revolutionary process, but it’s the sheer body of theoretical work produced by Marx, which continues to serve as a basis for our understanding of capitalist economics, and the role he played in assisting early British working class struggle, that give him the edge.

With government cuts now starting to bite do you think that you will win a better share of the vote than in 2010?
I wouldn’t want to leave any hostages to fortune! But the sheer scale of the cuts, the immense suffering these are going to cause and the evident dishonesty and cynicism of the ConDems can only benefit all progressive parties.

Of course we’re not just interested in getting elected, so whatever the result on November 29, Communists in Croydon – alongside others – will be stepping up the fightback against coalition cuts.

Do you feel that the Communists are being squeezed by other radical parties? No. We have a distinctive message, which is based on promotion of a real socialist alternative to a capitalist system based on oppression and exploitation. We’re a part of the political landscape in Croydon all-year round and so we don’t fall prey to some of the opportunist tactics and short-term electioneering you see from many others.

We’ll be posting questionnaires from other candidates on a daily basis over the coming days.

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About insidecroydon

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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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