Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Croydon Women Start on Local Manifesto

It was an honour to be invited to speak at the launch event of @CroydonLabour Women's Forum, at which over 40 local women, many of whom had not come to anything vaguely political before, turned up to share a sunny Saturday afternoon in a community centre with kids in tow discussing their vision and hopes for Croydon. As a London-wide Assembly candidate, I was keen to support the event which was successfully developing an innovative space in which women of all backgrounds, political or not, could share in a conversation about their collective local future. Now its not surprising that someone like me, passionate about creating inclusive conversation so as to change debate and outcomes, should be inspired by such an event. To open the event, Fiona Mactaggart spoke succinctly about how the Government's policies have disproportionately affected women - with women directly paying twice as much as men for deficit reduction. The research that Fiona is leading with many Labour women MPs in their constituencies is showing remarkably consistent patterns about how families are responding to the economic crisis - in the last year alone, spending less, saving less, borrowing more. It's not a good picture. Val Shawcross talked extremely powerfully about Boris's record on London - highlighting rise in bus fares (56%), rise in tube fares - both issues really affecting outer London families, and one new area - the emerging statistics of rising pedestrian accidents across London as Boris reduces traffic lights and switches road management in favour of faster cars. And what was hugely impressive is that the women who came along really did respond to the opportunity to take a lead in that space and speak up on what they wanted. Fierce opposition to the skyscraper with 50 storys to be built next to an established community with no thought for the infrastructure around it was a strong theme. The lack of proper - and dare I say it - "family planning" - will have a direct cost impact for community and council. A similar approach to planning has now seen another estate generate a multitude of casework - poor parking facilities causing problems, safety issues on the streets contributing to keeping children at home much more. We were almost back to basics - build in community space and think about families when you make local development plans. If the only guide is a developer's ROI, and indeed their calculation of it, the result could be problems that take generations to solve. The event ended with a great speech by local London Assembly candidate Cllr Louisa Woodley - the first time I've heard Louisa speak, and I'm sure it won't be the last. Three words to describe Louisa - driven, focussed and committed - and absolutely unstoppable in making the case to people for change and challenging the record of Conservatives in Croydon.
Through an afternoon of policy, cupcakes, self defence and speed networking, two things really came through for me. Firstly the potential and power of people to change their communities, and secondly the power of women to change political conversation at any level. As we have more events like this across London, opening the party to the community, it can only help make sure we get the analysis right and the solutions right in our London manifesto.