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 are the answers from the Green Party candidate, Shasha Khan.
What is your vision for Croydon?
My vision for Croydon is one where everyone’s basic needs are met. A Croydon where public services are protected, not cut. A Croydon with an ambitious programme of building new schools and more affordable housing.
Investing in infrastructure is the best way to kick-start our flagging economy. I want to see more help for local shops and small businesses, and would encourage people to start their own social enterprises and co-operatives. I want to see a healthier Croydon, with clean air and good quality green spaces. All of these things are possible.
Tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you grew up and went to school and university, your work and family.
My family moved to Thornton Heath 30 years ago, and I’ve lived in the constituency ever since. I went to Winterbourne Boys and then Whitehorse Manor school. My secondary education years were spent at Woodcote, Purley Boys and Purley College.
I have a BA in Politics with Economics from the University of Wolverhampton. I work in the family business, managing a hotel. I live with my wife and our six-month-old daughter in Selhurst.
How did you become involved in politics?
I marched with 1.5 million other people against the war in Iraq in February 2003 and I was amazed that such a movement was unable to shift the opinion of the government.
The war was immoral, illegal and unjust.
It was the first energy war of the 21st Century. In order to prevent many more similar wars, we need to elect more principled politicians who understand the concept of people, planet and peace. It was that which led me to join the Green Party.
Labour, LibDems and Conservatives have failed the British people, dragging us into illegal foreign wars, selling off our public services, and running an economy build on dodgy credit and unsound economics. We really need to serve the interests of the mass of ordinary people, not the elite of bankers and multinational corporations, acting as a law unto themselves.
What are your interests outside politics?
I watch Croydon Athletic and support Crystal Palace. I love music and in a previous life I used to be a DJ. My friends and I ran a club night, that Time Out magazine said was one of the best nights out in London.
Who would you describe as the biggest influences on your life and your political outlook? My uncle.
What are you proudest achievements?
I’m proudest of polling over 1,000 votes in Bensham Manor ward in the 2010 local elections, and of being in the book Asians in the Millennium, a Who’s Who of Asian achievers in Britain.
Why is your party relevant to the people of Croydon North?
The Croydon Green Party is vital to the people of Croydon North. Whilst Croydon North has been a Labour constituency since 1997, this is mainly due to the huge popularity of the former MP Malcolm Wicks. From what I have heard on the doorstep, talking to residents, it appears that current Labour candidate Steve Reed enjoys no such popularity.
The Tory council, also, is incredibly unpopular in deprived areas such as South Norwood, as are their national coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats (I’ve not yet met a single Liberal Democrat voter while I’ve been out campaigning).
The Croydon Green Party are constantly helping local residents who don’t feel they can go to their elected representatives, as I did with small business owners in Thornton Heath. They wanted short-term free parking by their shops to help their business and I was able to arrange a meeting with the correct council officials to make that happen
More than that, however, we have been consistently committed to the Stop The Incinerator campaign, recently donating £2,000 to the campaign, which is presently hoping to launch a legal challenge to the proposed Beddington Incinerator. No other party has yet donated, though we would urge everyone who can to do so.
Do you support the incinerator? I am and have always been firmly opposed to the building of any incinerator, especially one built in a densely populated area, such as this one.
To my mind, this incinerator is being built not with the best interests of south London, the planet or future generations in mind, but merely for short-term profit and a quick fix.
The Welsh Assembly concluded, in their 2008 study into discarded materials, that up to 93.3 per cent of our discarded materials could be recycled or composted. In Croydon, the current recycling rate is less than half that figure. An incinerator will completely remove all incentives to increase the recycling rate or take any steps toward the zero waste economy. They are not going to sort the rubbish they burn, so if recyclables are put in the black bins (by mistake, or lack of awareness by householders) they will be incinerated, not recycled.
Recycling rates in Croydon are going up, so there won’t be enough rubbish to keep the incinerator going. They plan to import rubbish from other parts of London and the south-east. The proposed 25-year contract is inflexible and poor value for residents. A programme of waste reduction, re-use, recycling and composing would be a much better solution all round.
The effects on the health of Croydon residents could be catastrophic. The Stop The Incinerator campaign website features many studies which link incinerators to illnesses like asthma and heart disease, and to birth defects. The NHS in Croydon is already under great strain and must not be made to cope with the dangers of emissions from an incinerator, or increased pollution from the trucks bringing in waste from other areas.
Mayor Boris Johnson has said he is required to consider the level of opposition to the proposed incinerator. As the individual who first alerted the local press to the planned incinerator and the founder of the Stop The Incinerator campaign, a high Green vote in Croydon North would send a strong signal to Mayor Johnson about the level of opposition to the incinerator.
What would you do to secure the extension of the tram to Crystal Palace?
The Green Party wholeheartedly supports this Tramlink extension. However, we cannot trust the two main parties to deliver this. The extension was promised when Boris was first elected in 2008 and then dropped. Bringing the Tramlink extension to Crystal Palace to increase employment and business opportunities is a key Croydon Green Party pledge.
We will campaign to hold the Mayor to his promise by working with the two Green Party London Assembly members to highlight the benefits the tram extension will bring to businesses, commuters and families. We also support the initiative by Croydon young people to bring the tram to Crystal Palace and would encourage everyone to sign their online petition.
What do you think of the performance of the local council?
On the whole, I think that the council has been a disaster for Croydon.
Policies which they have suggested, such as fining people who for failing to recycle, and their support for the Beddington Incinerator can do nothing but harm to Croydon.
The arrogance of Croydon’s councillors is astounding and inexcusable. When over 100 ordinary residents and supporters of Stop The Incinerator Campaign marched through Croydon Town Centre, accompanied by both the Green Party and Labour Party, Councillor Phil Thomas could have opted to open dialogue with the protesters. Instead, he dismissed everyone on the march as “those who like to go on a march” and “interested in scaremongering”.
The Conservative council’s move to slash funding for Upper Norwood Library and supplementary schools is appalling. These measures ultimately reduce social mobility.
Another example of the Council’s contempt for Croydon’s residents occurred when they cut the budget for travel to school by children with serious special needs. This scrapping of school buses was dressed up as offering parents more “choice” as to how to get their kids to school and back every day. Despite am overwhelming rejection by parents, worried about how they would cope with taking their kids to school by themselves every day, and hold on to their jobs, this disastrous policy was rammed through by Councillor Pollard.
Both Labour and Conservative administrations have run the council badly, unfairly favouring certain areas of the town over others – the marginal wards, in a cynical ploy to win and keep votes. The council should be run for the benefit of all the residents, no matter what part of town they live in.
Councillors don’t vote according to what would be best for their constituents, but follow party lines – so Waddon’s councillors might have preferred not to have an incinerator near Waddon (as they promised to vote against it before the election) but then voted for it anyway.
What could you do to deal with the huge shortage of school places in north Croydon?
I understand there are plans to build a new school on the site of the old Croydon General Hospital on London Road. This is a good idea, but the local authority should run it, not by an unaccountable private concern, as many of Croydon’s schools are these days.
We also need to come up with many more infant and junior school places to deal with the current baby boom. Existing schools could be expanded and suitable vacant buildings could be brought back into use.
Is it a criticism of the Conservatives that London Road traders lack their Riot Act compensation?
It is disgraceful that this situation has been allowed to happen.
The riots in Croydon were an act of blatant criminality, born of disaffection and lack of involvement with young people – the hallmarks of unequal society. Riots such as the one we experienced do not happen in countries like Sweden and Japan where the divide between the rich and poor is not as wide.
They put many local small business owners at great risk of both property and life. It is a true indictment of the lack of empathy which has blighted Conservatives in recent years, that the victims of this crime have not yet received the compensation due to them.
What would you do to save the Croydon Supplementary Education Project?
It is important that we fund community and educational organisations like CSEP that help empower individuals and build stronger communities. The pupils that attend these schools need extra tuition and mentoring to reach their potential. I would work with the Council, trade unions, charities and other community groups to secure funding.
Do ethnic minorities and faith groups face discrimination in Croydon?
Discrimination in all its forms exists throughout society, not just in Croydon.
It is important to elect an MP who is committed to tackling discrimination and bigotry.
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?
Treatment of minor injuries and ailments do not need to be dealt with in an A&E, they should be treated locally at a doctor’s surgery or local health centre. Currently minor injuries are “clogging up” A&E departments, that should be focusing on more serious injuries.
With A&E units freed up to just deal with serious injuries, there are arguments for fewer but bigger specialised A&E units in south London.
Any decision on the future of A&E provision would depend on what services the A&E units are expected to provide.
The Green Party obviously wants to keep healthcare local as much as possible. We do also need to increase the availability of out of hours care.
What would you do to protect public services?
The Green Party is committed to protecting our public services from privatisation.
As Croydon North’s MP I would work with Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas to ensure the government stops the needless cuts and privatisations which are hurting so many vulnerable people.
The Green Party is committed to a publicly funded and managed NHS and education system, direct government investment in the economy, and the re-nationalisation of the railways.
We would bring the water, gas and electricity distribution systems back into public ownership.
We believe these should be run as public services, not as for-profit private companies.
Ed Miliband has spoken out for decent NHS care for mental health. Do you back such an aim?
Absolutely and wholeheartedly. There is a saying, which goes “the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable”.
People who suffer from mental health issues face discrimination on a daily basis. Improving mental health services, and increasing public awareness about mental health are Green Party policy.
Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader, and Caroline Lucas MP have both regularly called for improvements to mental health care as well as for actions to reduce stress and stress-related illness in the UK.
What is the solution to Croydon’s housing crisis?
There are more than 3,000 empty homes in Croydon, just standing empty waiting to be used (most are privately owned properties). The council should buy or lease these properties and bring them back into use. It a scandal that we have 3,000 empty homes in Croydon, while there are families desperate for somewhere decent to live.
We need the Council, housing associations, housing co-operatives and self-build projects to provide affordable housing for Croydon. The Green Party want to issue housing bonds, as a way to raise money for new housing construction.
Privately rented accommodation should be more carefully regulated, to protect tenants.
Should the term for abortion be shorter than 24 weeks?
I would follow the recommendations of the British Medical Association, that the current time limit of 24 weeks remain, as there is no scientific justification that is should be reduced.
Abortion, contraception and pregnancy support services should be freely available on the NHS, and properly funded.
Should we have a referendum on our membership of the EU?
I’m committed to Britain staying in the EU, but I want to see major reforms to the way it is run, and a shift in its focus. The EU has the potential to spread peace and make our economies more sustainable, and to promote democracy and human rights, but it must urgently change direction, away from an obsessive focus on competition and free trade and towards placing genuine co-operation and environmental sustainability at its heart.
Why did you refuse to work with the Labour party in opposition to the incinerator when it was first being proposed?
I am always happy to work with other parties to combat dangers to people, health and the environment. This is a key part of Green Party thinking, and one which I stand by.
We have been working with Labour in opposition to the incinerator. There are both Green Party and Labour members working together in the Stop the Incinerator Campaign.
From the outset, the public consultation was not open about what was being planned and where it was to be built. The Green Party used its best judgments to gauge the intention of authorities and waste contractors. The imperative has always been not to be accused of scaremongering and show our convictions were based on sincere research and principled foundations.
However, it appeared that Labour sought to seek political mileage on this issue by implying that the incinerator was to be built in Factory Lane in the 2009 Waddon ward council by-election.
In a recent YouGov poll, 62 per cent of respondents said “politicians tell lies all the time – you can’t believe a word they say”. It is vitally important for a healthy democracy for the electorate to be engaged with what politicians are saying.
Moreover, the South London Waste Partnership which has produced the South London Waste Plan that allows incineration commenced in April 2006 when Labour controlled Croydon Council.
It is regrettable that Labour didn’t take a more active role earlier in the campaign, possibly due to Labour in Merton favouring the scheme.
Do you feel that the Greens are being squeezed by other radical parties?
The Green Party is unique in being a party dedicated to progressive social issues, sustainable economics, peace and the environment. This sets us apart from the other radical parties who tend to have a narrower appeal. Our support is growing!
Who do you think will come second? And third?
We came third in Croydon North in the GLA and Mayoral elections in May.
While I’d love to see the Greens win this election, I accept that’s a steep hill to climb and that I have a slim chance of being Croydon North’s next MP. Having said that, I don’t think there’s any other candidate who has done as much for the residents of Croydon North, sticking up for them and championing their causes.
I can definitely see the Green Party in the top three in this by-election, but obviously that all rests with the voters.
We’ll be posting questionnaires from other candidates over the coming days.
- Click here for Ben Stevenson, Communist party
- Click here for Marisha Ray, Liberal Democrats
- Click here for John Loony, OMRLP
- Click here for Andy Stranack, Conservative
- Click here for Steve Reed, Labour
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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