The Labour Party have sent a clear message they intend to win the Crawley seat at the next election, by holding their South East Regional Conference in the town.
Deputy leader Harriet Harman MP is among the MPs, councillors and party members to have descended on the Arora Hotel, in Southgate Avenue, for the weekend (March 15/16).
Speaking to the Observer this morning, Ms Harman discussed the bedroom tax, Free Schools, child care, funding cuts and her party’s hopes for next year’s General Election.
When asked if a Labour Government would reverse the bedroom tax, she said: “Definitely, for a whole load of reasons.
“There’s not necessarily the smaller homes for people to downsize into .
“Also, it’s breaking up families, making people move when actually people depend on their local community, their neighbours.
“So I think it’s very unfair.”
She added: “I think incentives to people to encourage them to downsize is a good idea but not actually making them pay, especially if there’s nowhere for them to downsize to.”
Regarding Free Schools – such as the Discovery New School, in Broadfield, which is to close in April – Ms Harman branded them “a law unto themselves” and accused education secretary Michael Gove MP of using the whole project as “an advertising billboard for his leadership ambitions”.
She said: “If something goes wrong, the children suffer and there’s nobody at a local level who they are accountable to.”
Ms Harman did not say whether a Labour Government would actually scrap the Free Schools project but added: “I think that what we want is to make sure that in every area there’s a good school for every child to go to and to not have Michael Gove having it as his advertising bill board for his leadership ambitions.
“I think he should be focussing on good prospects for every child.”
With central government blaming the ‘financial mismanagement’ of the previous Labour Government for the ongoing tidal wave of budget cuts, Ms Harman was asked why the people of Crawley should risk voting for her party again.
She said: “I think what the central government have done, has cut too far, too fast into council services and I think that’s going to make a lot of difficulties for the future.
“I think if people want well-planned, good public services, then Labour’s the party who believes in that and understands the importance of council services, whether it’s education, whether it’s care of the elderly, whether it’s Sure Start children’s centres.
“I think it’s very sad to see those threatened and that’s one of the reasons why we want to get back, not only with more councillors but also to get back into government next time in order to protect those services for the future.”
Showing her support for Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Crawley, Cllr Chris Oxlade, Ms Harman said: “I think what he’ll do is he’ll be listening to people’s concerns, he won’t be telling them they’ve never had it so good.
“He’ll be understanding the fact that they are facing a squeeze on the cost of living and he will be prepared to speak up for them, not to tell them night is day.
“I think people are fed up with the idea that they are being told all problems have now been solved and everything’s fine.”
Cllr Oxlade described the concerns of some residents when it came to the cost of child care in Crawley, highlighting it as an issue that needed addressing.
Explaining Labour’s pledge to give 25 hours of free childcare to working parents with children aged 3 and 4, he said: “We know the cost of living is having a huge affect. Child care is a massive issue in Crawley.
“There are so many mums that are desperate to get back to work and dads that are desperate to get back to work but it’s not worth it.
“Some of them are working part time, three days a week, and are going to have to go full time just to pay for child care.”
But town MP Henry Smith said: “All I can see Labour offering are the same policies that got us into the worst recession this country has ever seen.”
Describing Crawley’s economy as “recovering really well”, he added: “Nationally, we’ve brought down the deficit to protect our children’s future.”
What do you think? Would you trust Labour to run the country again? Do you agree the bedroom tax should be scrapped? Do you think working parents should be given more free childcare?
Leave your comments below, contact the newsdesk or write to the Crawley Observer, 4 The Boulevard, Crawley, West Sussex RH10 1XX.