Last night I formally launched my re-election campaign.
The event started with a video about my background:
There were presentations from:
- John Burton from Westfield;
- Jonny Rose from Croydon Tech City;
- Eliza Rebeiro from Lives Not Knives;
- Maureen Martin, the Executive Principal of the Quest Academy (and also Headteacher of Coloma), and Azhar Chaudry the Head Boy of Quest Academy; and
- Rosina St James from The Challenge who run the National Citizen Service in Croydon
about some of the amazing things that are happening in our town right now.
There was some great stand-up from Boris Johnson.
And at the end, I talked about the choice people face at the next Election. A copy of my speech is below:
Thank you Boris - not just for those kind words, but for everything you have done for our town.
And congratulations on being selected as the Conservative candidate for Uxbridge. It’ll be great to have you back in the House of Commons and hopefully playing a key role in the next Conservative Government.
But it is not just Boris I want to thank.
If I am seen as a good local MP, it is in large measure down to six incredible people who work for me – Sara, Eddy, Felicia and Sue in my constituency office in Shirley and Katrina and Mario in my Westminster office. They all live locally and share my passion for our town. I couldn’t ask for a better team.
And I also want to thank all of you for coming tonight. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to see so many people here.
We live in a time when lots of people have lost faith in politics. They think politicians are only in it for themselves – and given how some politicians behave, you can’t blame them.
But there are tens of thousands of people in this country involved in politics at a grassroots level, giving up their spare time to knock on doors or deliver leaflets with no prospect of any financial gain. They do what they do because they want a better future for their local community and their country - and, despite all its flaws, they believe politics is the way to build that better future. To see so many such people here this evening to support me is deeply humbling and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I want to talk to you tonight about the future of our town.
And that means starting with an honest appraisal of Croydon today.
As I said in the video, I’ve lived here since I was a few months old. I love this town. I can’t see myself ever wanting to live anywhere else.
I love the fact that we are part of one of the greatest cities in the world, but with the beautiful North Downs countryside on our doorstep.
I love the fact that we are not just another commuter suburb, but a city in our own right in all but name.
I love the amazing mix of people who have made our town their home.
But we mustn’t allow our passion for this town - nor the fact that we have a Conservative Government, a Conservative Mayor of London and until very recently a Conservative Council - to lead us to maintain everything is fine.
Because it’s not. I know it. You know it. And as your MP I have a duty to be honest about it.
Our town centre and a number of our district centres like New Addington and Portland Road are in desperate need of investment.
Our infrastructure struggles to cope with the number of people living here.
Parts of the borough suffer from high crime rates.
And worst of all, the town has a reputation problem that the 2011 riots made much worse.
But if it’s wrong to try to gloss over these problems, it’s equally wrong to despair. One of most depressing things about my job is occasionally meeting constituents who have given up on Croydon. They think it’s gone to the dogs and there’s nothing that can be done about it.
They’re wrong. Over the last few years, we’ve begun to turn things round.
The number of people in the borough claiming JobSeeker’s Allowance is down by 40% since this Government came to office.
As you’ve heard tonight, Westfield and Hammerson, two of the biggest retail developers in the country, are investing over £1 billion to transform our shopping centre and other investors are following in their footsteps.
The Council is in the middle of a £50 million programme to transform the public spaces in the town centre. The new crossing from Queen’s Gardens to these Halls and the new route from East Croydon station to Wellesley Road are the first stages of that transformation.
Our infrastructure is being improved. We’re getting record levels of funding from the Government to build new schools. Capacity on the rail service to London Bridge is being increased and a new northern entrance to East Croydon station was recently opened.
Crime is down by nearly 10% in the last year, with big falls in burglary and robbery.
And our schools, which used to be worse than the national average, are now better and improving more quickly.
My key message tonight is that Croydon’s best days are ahead of us, not behind. We can reverse the decline.
In fact, we can do better than that. We can make our town one of the best places in the country to live.
Part of the greatest city in the world, but far greener than most other parts of London.
An affordable place to live and work - at least by London standards - with amazing transport connections 24 hours a day to central London.
Not some dormitory suburb, but a place in its own right with a strong local economy, great public services and all the shops, restaurants, bars, clubs and cultural facilities you could wish for.
And home to the most amazing mix of people who live happily side by side, an example to the rest of the world that religion and skin colour need not divide us.
But this will only happen if we make the right choices.
That’s ultimately what next year’s Election is about.
It’s not a beauty contest – which is lucky for me, because I’d be in real trouble if it was.
It’s a battle of ideas, what policies we need to pursue to make Croydon the place we all want it to be.
Along with Chris Philp and Vidhi Mohan, our candidates for Croydon South and Croydon North, I’ve published a detailed vision for Croydon’s future. A summary was on your chair when you came in.
It’s full of ideas of how to change Croydon for the better – a university campus; a new A&E Department at Croydon University Hospital; a leisure centre in the town centre; investment in one of our major parks so that it compares with somewhere like Battersea Park.
Many of these ideas enjoy cross-party support. That’s a good thing. The more we can build consensus about what we need to do to turn Croydon around the better.
Our job between now and 7th May however is to explain the areas where our approach differs from Labour’s, the choice people face at the next Election.
Tonight I want to talk about seven key differences.
The most important is about how we build a strong economy.
We both agree that this is the most important issue facing Britain today. But we have very different ideas about how to do it.
When Labour left office, they were spending £150,000 million a year that they didn’t have – the biggest deficit in British peacetime history. It wasn’t entirely their fault – the global recession played a big part – but they weren’t blameless either.
We were clear that the country couldn’t keep on borrowing at that rate – that slowly but surely we had to get the deficit down and then start reducing our total debt.
They said that if we tried to cut government spending it would put another million people on the dole queue.
Four years later, they have been proved comprehensively wrong. We’ve cut the deficit, unemployment is falling faster than at any time since records began and our economy is growing faster than any other advanced economy.
Things aren’t perfect - the deficit is down but it hasn’t been eliminated and many families have yet to see any improvement in their living standards. But we’re clearly moving in the right direction.
My Labour opponent thinks this is the moment to put Ed Miliband and Ed Balls in charge.
The two Eds were at Gordon Brown’s side when he got us into this mess, they’ve been proved wrong about how to sort it out and remarkably they are still arguing for more government spending paid for by more debt. I can’t think of two people less qualified to run our economy.
What we need to do is stick with this Government’s long-term economic plan that is working. If we do that, we have a chance of achieving the dream of full employment – a job for everyone who wants one.
And I want those jobs to be good well-paid jobs. Ed Miliband is right to talk about increasing the minimum wage, but it is this Government that has delivered the first above-inflation increase for years. I want to see it increase further. It’s very hard to live in Croydon on the current rate of £6.31 an hour – and it’s not fair that we end up subsidising employers who pay rock bottom wages, topping up their employees’ salaries through the tax credit and benefit systems.
The second big difference is about standards in our schools. On the face of it, standards improved under the last Labour Government. More pupils got good grades.
But much of this apparent improvement was the combination of it becoming easier to get good grades and the Government treating poor quality vocational qualifications as equivalent to GCSEs. Standards relative to those in other countries actually declined.
It’s not children from affluent backgrounds who suffer when standards slip. They tend to go to the best state schools or to private schools. It’s children from less affluent backgrounds – those who most need help – who get a raw deal.
This is something I feel very passionately about.
I believe very strongly in everyone having an equal chance. I want to live in a Croydon where who your parents are doesn’t determine your prospects in life, where bright children who are born on the wrong side of the tracks can get to a top university and rise to the top of our professions.
During my time as an MP, I’ve given work experience to almost two hundred local young people. If I am re-elected, I want to go further, setting up a mentoring scheme to help bright children from families where no-one has gone to university before to achieve their potential.
But there’s only so much mentoring schemes can achieve. The key to social mobility is ensuring all children get a good education.
And both nationally and locally, we’ve taken decisive action to raise standards.
We’ve made the curriculum and exam system more rigorous so that they compare with the best around the world.
We’ve given schools with pupils from less well-off backgrounds extra money to allow them to recruit the best teachers and provide additional support to help those pupils get just as good results as pupils from affluent backgrounds.
We’ve closed low performing schools and replaced them with new academies – with the support of the previous Labour Government but in the face of opposition from Labour councillors here in Croydon.
You’ve heard tonight about the difference that has made at the Quest Academy. Another example is Oasis Academy Shirley Park, which replaced Ashburton. In its last year, just 26% of Ashburton students got 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and Maths. Five years later that figure has nearly trebled to 69%. The school was recently inspected by Ofsted and found to be outstanding in every regard. And when I wrote to the principal, Glen Denham, to congratulate him, he replied:
“It’s still not good enough ... we must compete with the Trinitys, Whigifts and Croydon Highs of the world ... we celebrate the 69% of students that got 5A*-C with English and Maths, but we have the 31% that didn't get it in the forefront of our minds”.
We need more people like Glen Denham and Maureen Martin running our state schools.
The new academies – together with the Government’s policy of allowing educational charities to set up new state schools called free schools in areas without enough good school places - have given parents more choice. I want that process to continue. In particular, wouldn’t it be great to see one of the grammar schools in neighbouring Bromley or Sutton open a satellite school here in Croydon?
The third key difference between us and Labour is our attitude to crime. This is a big issue for Croydon. Parts of the borough suffer from high crime rates, but the perception is even worse than the reality and is one of the main factors behind Croydon’s bad reputation.
It’s really important that politicians take a zero tolerance approach to this problem. I was therefore very disappointed at my Labour opponent’s response to the illegal rave that took place at the empty Royal Mail building next to East Croydon station in June.
Not only did this incident do further damage to the town’s reputation, a significant amount of criminal damage was done to the building; the lives of those living in the area were disrupted; taxis, trams and buses were unable to access East Croydon station for nearly 24 hours; a number of people were seriously injured; and one young man tragically died.
I put out a statement calling for those responsible to face “the full force of the law”.
My Labour opponent responded by accusing me of being "too macho" and said "youth is about exploration, pushing boundaries, seeking out fun and moulding your personality". To be fair to her, she didn’t know when she issued the statement that someone had died, but it was public knowledge that several people were seriously ill in hospital and that significant criminal damage had been done to the building.
I find it frankly bizarre that someone who aspires to represent our town in Parliament could take this view. When people break into private property, damage it, disrupt the lives of those living nearby and endanger the lives of our young people, they should pay a price for doing so. That’s not a macho viewpoint; it’s common sense.
The fourth difference between us and Labour is our approach to immigration.
We agree that allowing hard-working people with the skills we need to settle here is good for our country. They are likely to be net contributors to our society, paying more in taxes than they use in services, and they contribute to society in other ways too, enriching our culture and making this a more vibrant, cosmopolitan place to live. My life would be immeasurably poorer if the far right had won the argument and stopped all immigration.
But Labour were wrong to allow so many people to come here – nearly 4 million people in 13 years. We’re a small, already densely populated island so numbers have to be controlled.
This Government has reduced immigration by a quarter. However, this headline figure disguises the fact that while immigration from outside the EU is down significantly, immigration from inside the EU has increased.
We need to reform the EU’s freedom of movement rules so that we can reduce these numbers. That’s why the Prime Minister wants to renegotiate our relationship with the EU. And only the Conservatives will give you a say on that relationship via a binding referendum.
We also need to limit access to parts of the welfare state until people have been here for a while and contributed to the system.
Let me give you an example. At the moment, you only have to have lived in the borough for a year to get on the waiting list for council housing. That’s not long enough and I hope the Council will look at increasing it.
As a result of immigration, Croydon is now one of the most diverse parts of the country.
That can be a real strength – but only if we have a strong sense of community between people of different backgrounds and faiths. And we will only have that if people feel they’re being treated fairly.
That means tackling prejudice, whether it be the discrimination that people with non-traditional names still experience in the labour market, changing the way the police use stop and search or not stigmatising the entire Muslim community because of the actions of a tiny minority.
But it also means ensuring that people feel they can raise issues they are concerned about without being accused of being racist.
Another area where there are clear differences between us and Labour is housing.
We agree that Croydon – like the rest of London – is facing a housing crisis. We agree that the answer is to build more homes. But we disagree both about what to build and where to build it.
The Labour Council that was elected in May recently announced that 30% of all future housing must be affordable. On the face of it, that sounds eminently reasonable. But when they talk about “affordable housing” what they mean is council and housing association homes, not homes that people can afford to buy.
This is a mistake for three reasons.
First, most people want to own their own home, not rent from the Council.
Second, this policy is going to make housing even less affordable. If a developer has to build six council homes for every 14 homes they build to sell, they have no choice but to pass the cost of building those six homes on to the people who buy the 14 homes.
And third, whilst we clearly need some council and housing association housing, if we build more than other boroughs we will end up housing poorer people from other parts of London, making it harder to turn around Croydon’s economic decline.
What we should be doing is building more housing for people to buy so that prices don’t rocket. I want to spread ownership of property as widely as possible, not go back to a time when it was the preserve of a privileged few.
And our Labour Council has come up with another silly idea that will make housing more expensive.
They want to introduce a 'Selective Licensing' scheme for private rented accommodation. Despite the title, there’s nothing selective about it. Every private landlord in the borough would have to pay £200 a year to the Council for each property they rent out. If they don’t, they could be liable to a fine of up to £20,000.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out what will happen if this scheme goes ahead - landlords who make the payment will simply pass the cost on to their tenants. Indeed, the Council itself admits this is likely to happen.
They say they’re doing this to tackle slum landlords, but they already have the powers to do that. The truth is it’s a classic Labour stealth tax. The Council is hoping that landlords, not it, will get the blame for higher rent bills. They’ve been found out and it’s time they ditched the idea.
But we also disagree about where to build the extra homes we need. My Labour opponent told a public meeting the other night that:
“We need to be brave and build in places people might not want us to”.
As Conservatives, we don’t want to see our precious green spaces, like the fields at the bottom of the Gravel Hill, built over - or the character of our suburbs changed by backland development.
The right answer is to concentrate development in Croydon town centre. Having people living there will change it for the better in the evenings.
And concentrating the additional homes in a particular area, rather than spreading them across the whole borough, makes it much easier to convince the Government that additional infrastructure is required.
More GP surgeries. More schools. Longer or more frequent trains and trams. Without these improvements, building more housing makes life worse for the rest of us.
The final difference between us and Labour is over welfare.
We both believe in a safety net for those who fall on hard times. We have a moral duty to make sure that everyone has a roof over their heads and food on their table.
But under the last Government, some out-of-work families were getting more than £50,000 a year in benefits, more than twice what the average family earns after tax.
As Conservatives, we believe this is doubly wrong. It sends the wrong message – that you’re better off on benefits than in work – and it is unfair to working people who have to pay for these benefits through their taxes.
That’s why this Government introduced a benefit cap of £26,000 a year for out-of-work families.
My Labour opponent wants to raise this cap. She wants to go back to the bad old days when you could work all day only to find yourself much worse off than your next door neighbour who was on benefits.
So there you have it: seven clear differences.
Reducing the deficit so that we have a strong economy and everyone has a good job.
Raising standards in our schools so that children from less well-off backgrounds get an equal chance in life.
A zero tolerance approach to crime so that people feel safe coming to our town.
Reducing immigration and tackling prejudice so that we are a strong community.
Building more homes for people to buy so that prices don’t rocket and we can spread ownership as widely as possible.
Building those homes in the right places, not on our precious green spaces.
And ensuring that it always pay to work.
These are the messages we need to take to the people of Croydon Central.
And not just to traditional Conservative supporters. We need to reach out to people who agree with us on these issues, but don’t think of themselves as Conservatives. Convince them of our passion to build a fairer Croydon.
Because if we win this battle of ideas, we can transform Croydon into a place that is the envy of people across the country, not the butt of comedians’ jokes.
Let’s make it happen.