Croydon North election debate candidates clash over issues
THE candidates' policies were scrutinised on Tuesday at the Advertiser's hustings for the Croydon North seat, as Gareth Davies reports
RESPECT candidate Lee Jasper and Labour's Steve Reed clashed during a lively public debate organised by the Advertiser but it was arguably the "Green Knight" who impressed the most.
Shasha Khan, who earned the nickname for his campaigning on environmental issues, led the way on a number of topics including plans for an incinerator on the Croydon/Sutton border.
His rivals nodded approvingly at many of his points and, at times, "I agree with Shasha" became the unofficial slogan of Croydon North Decides, our debate ahead of the by-election on November 29.
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Mr Khan appealed to the audience to "maximise" their vote when they head to the polls on Thursday.
He said: "You have the chance to do something different. We already have a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, you're not going to change that. If you vote Labour you're not going to return a Labour government. Why not choose me?"
Each of the six candidates involved in the debate had their strong moments.
You re-read the live coverage of the Croydon Advertiser debate here
Conservative Andy Stranack came across as genuine and Mr Reed spoke forcefully about unemployment and evoked Malcolm Wicks, whose death in October has led to the by-election, as he attacked Respect for saying it would target black and Muslim voters.
He said: "One of the really powerful things about Malcolm was the way he really valued the diversity of this community. He saw that as our greatest asset, as I do.
"Unlike some parties which want to divide us on race grounds, he understood the community is at its strongest when we are at our most together."
But Mr Jasper said there was a lack of political engagement with Croydon North's ethnic groups.
He added: "I'm not going to take lightly any accusation of seeking to divide communities. I think that disenfranchised communities who are discriminated on the base of their ethnicity or any other characteristics should be supported.
"When you look at the lack of engagement of black or ethnic minority communities, it is right to focus on them because they are not fully represented by the democratic institutions."
Questions were submitted to the panel by Advertiser readers before the debate, at Gonville Academy, Thornton Heath, on Tuesday night.
Eileen Gale, of Silverleigh Road, Thornton Heath asked the candidates for their views on the proposed incinerator in Beddington Lane, Sutton.
Mr Khan, who founded the Stop the Incinerator group, said: "Since I have been involved in the campaign I have learned about the hypocrisy of the main parties on this issue. There are Lib Dem campaigns to try and stop incinerators while Sutton Council supports this plan.
"Equally, Steve Reed says there's no need for this incinerator but a Labour council, just a couple of miles away, is in favour of it. The Conservatives across the border in Sutton are opposing it, yet it is backed by our Tory council."
UKIP's Winston McKenzie said Mr Khan had "obviously really studied the issue – he's the Green man. At the end of the day, I'd go with the green man. He's got the right idea".
Mr Stranack said: "There's always going to be some rubbish we can recycle so it seems sensible that we look at all kinds of solutions.
"I'm not opposed to an incinerator per se but I will listen to what the scientists say.
"We need a public meeting on this to discuss the issues but at the moment I'm not going to oppose it because we have Lanfranc School which was built on a landfill site. We can't go on like that."
Ryan Earl, 16, asked the panel what they would do to tackle youth unemployment.
Mr Jasper said it was "clearly a critical issue with profound social consequences" and that every contract awarded by Croydon Council should have a local labour clause.
His Labour rival said he would set up a jobs summit, while Mr Stranack said he plans to expand the job club he runs for more tailored support.
Ryan, of Hythe Road, Thornton Heath, replied: "Something we find particularly hard to go by is that big firms won't give us jobs because we don't have experience. But how can we get experience if we don't have a job in the first place?
"A lot of young people are going to backstreet businesses to get some money and they are being paid less than the minimum wage. It's definitely an issue and something needs to be done."
The Advertiser would like to thank Gonville Academy and its staff for hosting Croydon North Decides.
Amid debate over policies and politics the candidates did their best to provide some comic relief, sometimes unintentionally.
During his opening pitch Respect’s Lee Jasper tried to criticise the Advertiser’s decision to restrict the panel to six of the 12 candidates, only for his point to backfire.
He declared: "I think the Green Party should be on this platform. I don’t see why..."
But he was cut off with a shake of the head from Shasha Khan, the Green Party candidate, who was sitting at the opposite end of the panel.
"Ah, Shasha, there you are. Well the Communist Party should be on this platform," replied Jasper to the sound of laughter from the audience.
A few minutes later Mr Khan told the crowd: "If I lose my thread during my opening remarks it’s because Winston’s brought a Daily Express in and it’s putting me off."
When the UKIP candidate, who arrived five minutes late, first picked up the microphone he shouted: "It’s great to be here, seeing all these smiling faces.
"It seems like the only time you smile is when you’re here. When you are on the street you are really upset. I know why you are upset, you’re spending £53m a day to the European Union and once more you don’t know.
"But hey, if you don’t believe me look at the front of the Daily Express," prompting the audience to erupt into laughter.
After Winston interrupted editor Glenn Ebrey to ask whether he had been missed out on a question, the chairman replied: "How can I forget you, Winston?"
Shasha Khan chimed in: "Winston you must be the only UKIP candidate whose not called Nigel, Derrick or, well, I can’t remember the other name."
Lee Jasper got in on the gags, albeit by accident, when he announced: "When I’m elected mayor..."
But perhaps the biggest giggle of the evening came when Marisha Ray answered the question on addressing the shortage of school places in Croydon.
"Education is a personal priority of mine and also a priority of the Liberal Democrats," she said, without any hint of irony.
A teacher challenged Lee Jasper on his view that black pupils should be taught by 'people who look like them'.
Lee Hardy, 29, stood up during the debate and read out a quote from 2008 which showed the Respect party candidate thought the black community should run their own schools.
"I received an amazing education from Asian teachers, from white teachers, from black teachers – all of whom inspired me," said Mr Hardy who teaches in Fulham but lives in Thornton Heath.
"In 2008 you said there should be a move towards the black community having their own schools run by people who look like their students and they should be taught by people who look like them. I have taught black and Asian students and I would like to think I inspired them in the same way black and Asian teachers have inspired me.
"You said schools should be run by people with black ethics. I’d like to know what the difference is between a white man, an Asian man and a black man’s ethics are? How would you hire teachers if they are supposed to look like their students? Would you exclude me from teaching these young people? Should every community group have their own school?"
Pointing out the low percentage of Afro Caribbean teachers in London, Mr Jasper replied: "We need to have schools that focus on young black boys because that’s what I’m about.
"There’s a crisis in our community and we as parents have to take responsibility for it. We want a school that meets the pedagogic needs of black boys who have specific issues in the mainstream education system.
"What I say is this. The Afro Caribbean community should have the right to work with its own children in order to develop then in order they can be a success. It doesn’t mean that Asians can’t be taught in such a school, nor white.
"But when I have young black boys in my community running around murdering, and no intervention from the state, we reserve the right to come up with solutions."
Audience members were asked to fill out an anonymous questionnaire to gauge how each of the candidates performed.
There was a lot of praise for the Green Party’s Shasha Khan and Respect’s Lee Jasper among the forty or so replies.
A number of responses had one or the other, and sometimes both, as the winners on the night with one audience member even suggesting the two parties should work together.
Another respondent said Mr Khan and Conservative Andy Stranack had 'a strong grip and knowledge of local issues' and that Mr Jasper was 'articulate and experienced with people'.
Labour’s Steve Reed was described as a 'professional' by one voter though another was less complimentary.
"The Labour candidate is much too smug, clichéd and focused on saying the right things," the undecided voter wrote.
"He will probably win but he does not deserve it."
UKIP’s Winston McKenzie was described as 'passionate' on the one hand and 'incoherent' on the other. Unfortunately, none of the respondents praised Liberal Democrat Marisha Ray.
The overall response was encouraging to the debate itself was encouraging, with many stating they had left with a better understanding of who they would vote for.
One Labour voter said: "I feel that I now have a more informed view of the political spectrum facing Croydon North."
Lee Jasper, Respect
Quote of the debate: to Steve Reed – "We're 'real' Labour, you’re 'fake' Labour"
High: Spoke with passion about giving 16-year-olds the vote
Low: Hogged the microphone and reacted poorly to people talking over him
You said: "Respect had a lot of good ideas and raised a lot of flaws in regards to the current government"
Andy Stranack, Conservative
Quote of the debate: "This by-election isn’t going to change the government. It’s about finding the best replacement we can for Malcolm Wicks."
High: Put across strong record of local activism and came across as genuine
Low: Drowned out by some of the louder, more forceful candidates. Too polite at times
You said: "Impressed as local MP material with specific experience in Croydon"
Steve Reed, Labour
Quote of the debate: [about Malcolm Wicks] "Unlike some parties which want to divide us on race grounds, he understood the community is at its strongest when we are at our most together"
High: Plans for a job summit shows he can do more than just criticise the Tories if he tries to
Low: Complaining about finding fly-tipping but refusing to answer whether he had reported it to the council
You said: "Steve Reed is nothing like Malcolm Wicks"
Marisha Ray, Liberal Democrat
Quote of the debate: "Education is a personal priority of mine and also a priority of the Liberal Democrats."
High: Showed she had been working on her local knowledge over the past fortnight
Low: Spoke in a condescending tone at times, oblivious to dissatisfaction with her own party
You said: Of the 40 questionnaires filled in the only comment about Marisha was 'Wooden'
Shasha Khan, Green
Quote of the debate: "There’s a racket going on in education at the moment."
High: Highlighting other parties 'hypocrisy' on the incinerator issue. Well-researched answers
Low: Weak on tackling crime. Talked of 'designing it out' but no detail
You said: "Shasha made sold points grounded in truth and a lot of other candidates agreed with him on numerous issues"
Winston McKenzie, UKIP
Quote of the debate: "If you don’t believe me, look at the front of the the Daily Express"
High: Idea for scheme to teach young people required skills to build new homes
Low: Coming in late. Moaning about Europe. Nonsensical points
You said: "Winston was the most passionate candidate"