Vicky Foxcroft, MP for Lewisham Deptford has talked to Ladywell-Live about violent crime, climate change, housing and spending cuts. In response to our questions, Vicky tells LL about how she got into politics; why she backs a public health approach to knife crime; the need for more social housing in Lewisham; and why she wants to see a second referendum with remain on the ballot paper. Read the full interview below.
LL – Many people have a low opinion of MPs and believe political parties left and right are out of touch with their concerns. What motivated you to get into politics and how do you think politicians and parliament can reconnect with voters at a time of deep divisions?
VF – When I was younger, politics was never something that I saw myself getting involved in. Growing up under Thatcher I spent my childhood moving between temporary homes and saw my mum struggling to get by as a single parent, but as a kid I didn’t realise that this was a result of political decisions. I didn’t do well in my GCSEs, but went on to college to do BTEC performing arts and after that to university to study drama and business.
The start of my involvement in politics came in 1996 when someone from the Labour Party knocked on my door during general election campaigning. I offered to help out to secure a Labour government and have been involved ever since. I was a local councillor in Brockley ward when the previous MP, Joan Ruddock, decided to step down and it was only with the support and encouragement of other people that I decided to put myself forward and was elected to represent Lewisham Deptford in 2015.
I try and spend as much time in the constituency as I can and make myself and my office available to local constituents with any assistance I can offer. I think that only by being open and accountable to voters can we begin to reconnect with people who have, understandably so, become disaffected over the past few years.
LL – A teenager was stabbed in Lewisham high street and four people have died recently in separate knife attacks in the capital. You have advocated a public health approach to tackling serious violence. Can you tell Ladywell residents what this means and what progress is being made?
VF – The public health approach to tackling knife crime advocates treating violence like a disease and puts the focus on early intervention, and above all prevention, to tackle the problem. It also sees violence not just as a police problem, but one that all relevant agencies including health, education and social care need to be involved in.
We’ve been doing a lot of work with the Youth Violence Commission (http://yvcommission.com/) trying to push the public health approach and Sadiq Khan is making real steps to implement a public health approach in London, particularly with the recent introduction of his Violence Reduction Unit. Locally I have also been working with councillor Joani Reid on the adoption of a public health approach by Lewisham Council.
While some government ministers have stated their support for the public health approach, in my mind this has not gone much further than rhetoric. I would like to see the government take real action on this as it’s clear that their current approach to tackling knife crime and serious violence is not working.
LL – Climate change has risen quickly up the political agenda. Politicians and public are becoming aware that we face a climate emergency. What steps do you think we should now take to tackle global warming? What would you urge your constituents to do to help tackle climate change and air pollution?
VF – I’m very glad that climate change has risen to the top of the political agenda over the past few months and that both Parliament and Lewisham Council have declared climate emergencies. However, tackling climate change needs to be about more than just talk. Labour’s plans for a Green New Deal and dedication to reducing the UK’s net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 are a good starting point and something which I hope we build on in the coming months and years, but we also need to keep the pressure on government to do more in the short term.
I know how passionate Lewisham Deptford residents are about tackling climate change and it’s been great to see so many constituents at demonstrations and rallies at Parliament, particularly all the young people who having been taking part in school strikes. I would urge constituents to continue making noise about government’s failings on the environment and putting pressure on MPs to keep this as our top priority.
LL – Years of austerity have left councils across the country struggling to maintain even basic services. Given the parlous state of our local authorities, what is the future for local democracy?
VF – As the MP I can see first-hand the devastating impact that years of austerity have had on local authorities and restoring proper funding to councils should be one of the first priorities of any Labour government.
Despite savage cuts, our amazing councillors and Mayor in Lewisham have done their best to continue to make great changes locally. This includes pledges to build 1,000 new council homes and set up a landlord licensing scheme, welcoming Syrian refugees and becoming a sanctuary borough and protecting Sure Start centres when so many others across the country have been forced to close. There is so much more that I could mention and it’s great to be able to work with the Council to make sure that, despite austerity, we are still delivering for local people in Lewisham.
LL – What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Lewisham at the moment? How should we tackle them?
VF – Probably the largest challenge facing Lewisham at the moment is the acute housing shortage in the borough. Housing-related enquiries are the largest amount of casework that my office gets including overcrowding, poor upkeep and exploitative landlords. We’re seeing more and more people living in overcrowded, unsuitable housing and being moved into temporary accommodation as far away as Kent and Berkshire.
In attempting to tackle this we need to make sure that we prioritise getting more decent social homes. This includes making sure that every new development in the borough contains a good proportion of housing for actual social rent and pushing developers to do more when these thresholds aren’t met. I’m proud to support Lewisham Labour’s current pledge to build 1,000 more social houses in the borough.
LL – Leaving the EU just seems like a bad idea. But the current Tory party leadership contenders are actively advocating a no-deal Brexit in certain circumstances. Labour meanwhile is divided and in some disarray. What should be done? Can we extricate ourselves from this mess?
VF – I campaigned passionately to remain in 2016 and broke the whip to vote against triggering article 50. Labour’s first priority should always be pushing for a general election and a Labour government to sort out the mess of Brexit. However, with a devastating no-deal Brexit becoming a real possibility, I do believe that the best thing for the country would be a second referendum with remain on the ballot paper.
LL – Congratulations on your recent appointment as Shadow Minister for Civil Society! Can you tell us a little bit more about your new role and your plans in this capacity? And how will this affect local community groups in Lewisham and South East London?
VF – I’ve only been in the post for a few weeks, but I’m very excited to get stuck in to the new role. My predecessor Steve Reed did a great job developing Labour’s civil society strategy and this is something that I’m looking forward to building on.
Due to the devastating cuts that government has made to local authorities, the third sector has really had to step in and plug gaps in Lewisham. I’ve been so impressed by the amazing work that the voluntary sector have done locally and knowledge of this is something that I’m looking to take into my new role.
LL – How can local residents get in touch with you? How often do you hold surgeries with constituents? And what sort of issues do you encourage them to bring up to your attention?
VF – The best way to get in touch with me, whether it be about casework or policy-related issues, is via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Constituents can also give my office a call between 10am-2pm Monday-Friday on 02084694638 or pop along to my office at 82 Tanner’s Hill between 10am-4pm, Monday-Friday.
I also hold regular drop-in advice surgeries for constituents on Friday afternoons, normally twice a month. These are held at venues around the constituency and are regularly updated on my website: https://www.vickyfoxcroft.org.uk/contact/
Both over email and at my surgeries I’m happy to chat to constituents about anything they need my help with. I try and be as transparent as possible about what I’m doing in Parliament and how I’m voting and would always encourage constituents to ask about that as well. I also regularly post updates on my website www.vickyfoxcroft.org.uk.