Perhaps it’s because she is one of the youngest candidates standing in Southwark that Resham Kotecha took a rebellious stance on one of her parent party’s most controversial policies – Right to Buy.
Described as a voting bribe by the opposition, a proposed extension of the Thatcher policy would see Housing Association tenants able to buy their homes at a discount as council tenants can now. With more than 10,000 people currently on the Southwark Council housing waiting list, the 27-year-old Economics Advisor conceded it was not the right time for Right to Buy in Southwark.
“I don’t think this policy is helpful to those people [on the waiting list]. There’s no point in doing it unless you’ve got the stock. The Heygate and Aylesbury Estates are two examples of where the council has gone fully against local residents’ wishes and sold off stock under the title of regeneration. What we need is thousands of new homes first,” she said stridently, adding that her remarks might get her into trouble with Conservative Party HQ.
“I will not apologise for saying what’s right and what will help people. I want to be the voice for the people here, not for Westminster.”
Despite her age, Miss Kotecha has already spent four years working in parliament as an advisor to the disgraced Conservative candidate for Braintree, Brooks Newmark. The married father-of-five was “never anything but professional”, according to Miss Kotecha, after he sent half-naked photographs of himself to an undercover reporter. Miss Kotecha concedes some may see her age as a drawback, but says there is a value in the “different viewpoint” she can offer.
“We need more diverse representation, we need more young people and we need more women. It’s people of my generation who will be paying for the decisions we make now. Everyone has a different viewpoint.” Though living in north London with her parents at the moment, Miss Kotecha’s time on the doorstep in Dulwich has told her that the main issues concerning residents are school places and rail travel disruptions. “We need schools where families want them,” she said, after the Conservative Free Schools policy was put to the test in Dulwich when parents opposed a Harris Federation primary for Nunhead on the former Dulwich Hospital site. A petition to block the school gained hundreds of signatures, after the Government’s Minister for Schools weighed in to support the proposal for a primary to be squeezed next to a secondary school and a health clinic. “It’s about listening to families,” she said, following the withdrawal of the Harris application last month in the face of overwhelming public opposition. To help keep frustrated commuters from going off the rails, Miss Kotecha is campaigning for any delays of over half an hour to be automatically compensated by automatic refunds.
“To pay for a service and then not get it and then not get compensated for it is ridiculous,” she said, after finding out that last year Network Rail paid out £14million to providers like Southeastern and Thameslink, with just £1.4million of that passed on to inconvenienced commuters. A hidden local issue of household debt came to light in the News last month showing Dulwich and West Norwood is in the top ten percent of constituencies making calls to National Debtline because of financial difficulty With £25billion of savings and cuts planned for the next parliament if the Conservatives are elected, on top of £21billion already cut over the last five years, Miss Kotecha says she stands by David Cameron on this one. “I don’t think any party wants to do austerity, but we inherited a very high deficit. “We’re making it so it never pays more to be out of work than in work.” But left-of-centre politicians have claimed austerity is a convenient way for the Conservative party to create a smaller state, rather than a necessity to keep the country afloat. “I believe in low taxes and low government intervention,” concedes Miss Kotecha.
“We waste money taxing and giving benefits, it’s better to do neither.” In Dulwich the cuts to the Met police have come at the same time as the loss of a police base in the area, with the nearest cop-shop in Camberwell. “We’ve had to make cuts but we wish we hadn’t had to. Overall crime is falling in Southwark, though, and we do a discredit to our police men and women not to recognise that.” Dulwich voters have elected Labour heavyweight Tessa Jowell for the last 23 years.
After she recently stood down, does Miss Kotecha think she has a realistic chance of turning the constituency blue? “I’m very realistic, but for too long we’ve had a dominant Labour party in this area. Tessa did some good things but I don’t feel she’s been very present here. Our Labour MP has never said anything bad about the Labour council and we need an MP who will say people deserve better.” Despite the odds, Miss Kotecha, who pledged to move to the constituency on May 8 if she were elected, said she would fight this election 100 percent because she is “keen to make a difference.”
“To be able to have a job where you can say ‘I’ve helped someone today’ or ‘I made someone’s life better’ – I want to do that.”