London Assembly Member Steve O’Connell last night launched an unexpected attack on his own party’s housing policies. “If you earn around £35,000, you’re basically stuffed,” O’Connell said dismissively of the impact of Conservative policy when speaking to a small, supportive audience at the Purley and Coulsdon Debating Society.After eight years as the Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton, O’Connell appeared to be distancing himself, somewhat belatedly, from Conservative policies on this key issue, just a week before he is seeking election at the polls.
With #BackZacAndCrack Goldsmith, the Tory candidate, trailing badly in the opinion polls to become the next Mayor of London, O’Connell appears to be preparing for some election defeat next week, as he repeatedly referred to having to deal with Labour’s Sadiq Khan at City Hall.
Last night’s event was the only set-piece discussion staged between the two leading contenders to be Croydon and Sutton’s London Assembly Member for the next four years, as O’Connell was debating a motion put forward by Marina Ahmad that called for a Labour Mayor after eight years of Boris Johnson at City Hall.
Kenley councillor O’Connell’s nondescript spell as an Assembly Member has coincided with Johnson’s Mayoralty.
He spent much time last night explaining to the audience at the Old Coulsdon Centre for the Retired about what it is that the London Assembly does – although he was less readily able to explain just what he had himself managed to achieve for Croydon since 2008, beyond being described by the Daily Mail, no less, as Britain’s most overpaid councillor, since at one point he managed to trouser £118,000 a year in “allowances” from various public bodies.
The Tory Government’s housing policy has been described by its opponents as “a full-throttle attack on social tenants everywhere”, as “Dodgy Dave” Cameron and the Conservatives look to flog off housing association property.
But last night, it was a senior Croydon Conservative who sought to distance himself from the Tory housing policy.In the presence of half a dozen past or present Conservative councillors, O’Connell admitted that, “I have some concerns about extending right-to-buy to housing associations.”
In typical O’Connell style, he failed to elaborate by stating what he intended to do about it. Probably because O’Connell’s usual course of action is inaction.
The Tories’ aim of “turning generation rent into generation buy” is in reality nothing more than a final assault on what remains of social housing provision in this country. Under various schemes, it sees them offer thousands of “starter homes” which are mostly unaffordable to ordinary working people, while the Tories want to force housing associations to sell their homes to their tenants, and they want to introduce a policy of “pay to stay” whereby those living in council houses in London where the household income is more than £40,000 a year will be presented with a choice: either move out, or be charged rents “at market or near market levels”.
Or, as O’Connell put it, “you’re stuffed”.
Since the London Assembly was formed in 2000, Croydon and Sutton has only ever elected Conservative members to City Hall. But O’Connell has been briefing Tory activists that he may only have a 1,000-vote majority, and with a UKIP candidate on the ballot this time round – something which was missing in 2012 – the Conservative vote could feel the squeeze on May 5. Labour’s Marina Ahmad – one of two women with the same surname on the ballot paper – needs a 3 per cent swing to overcome O’Connell.
Ahmad has chosen one local policy issue which straddles Sutton and Croydon – the Beddington Lane incinerator – to try to win more votes, and last night she raised O’Connell’s voting record on the issue: in 2010, O’Connell was on the Tory-run Croydon Council which voted to back the incinerator.
O’Connell’s response to this challenge was, “I deferred to the experts”, which, again, is hardly a ringing endorsement, nor an acceptance of his responsibility.
Having fought three elections in which he and Boris Johnson promised to build a tram extension to Crystal Palace which has never been delivered, O’Connell is this time offering an extension of the tram network for Sutton. Not that anyone at last night’s meeting appeared to be overly excited at the prospect of O’Connell delivering on this latest paper-thin promise.
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