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Interview: Shirley Houghton, Conservative London Assembly candidate

The Tories came third in the first two London Assembly elections in Lambeth and Southwark, but this year's candidate - Tower Hamlets councillor Shirley Houghton - is hopeful of a 'Boris bounce'. We put some of your questions to her.

Shirley Houghton

On the role of the assembly

"The definition of an Assembly member is to scrutinise the Mayor. The Assembly member has no power whatsoever apart from once a year to vote on the budget.

"The Assembly member's role is to get into the communities, work with the local councils to lobby.

"Obviously if your party has the Mayoralty that's better than if you're in opposition.

"Your role is to get in there and work with the councils – not against them – to get what they need.

"[The London Assembly] is completely misunderstood. Most people haven't got a clue what it is. They don't understand what they're voting for and what the role of it is.

"I have to say that the role of an Assembly member is often misrepresented by candidates' literature going out. 'We guarantee this, we guarantee that...' Rubbish! You can't guarantee anything.

"Ultimately the only person with any policies that matter is the Mayor."

On whether being an Assembly member is a full-time job

"Absolutely. You couldn't hold down another full-time employment. But I think it's beneficial to leverage maybe doing what a lot of them do and actually being a councillor in one of the boroughs, because that gets you right down at street level ... and knowing the issues first-hand.

"Obviously I'm a councillor somewhere else, but the insight I have in [Tower Hamlets] is just amazing because of my ability to get answers from the council about anything in the entire borough. That shouldn't be seen as a negative, it should be seen as a positive."

On bridging the gap between town hall and City Hall

Houghton says that Assembly members need to forge cross-party working relationships to make things happen.

"You have to work with them for the good of the people. That means getting to know the senior officers in the council, getting to know the council leader – just overlooking party politics for the benefit of the people."

On the Elephant & Castle regeneration

On the current impasse between Southwark Council and Transport for London about the remodelling of the Elephant & Castle, Houghton says that getting to the heart of TfL is the way forward.

"Assembly members will be able to go on the board of TfL, so that will be the route that the Assembly members should be looking to take. And if they're not on the board, they should be looking to use the Assembly members that are on it to lobby for them."

On the Cross River Tram

"My view on the tram is that 30-odd million pounds has been spent so far on consultation. Livingstone has admitted that it's not going to go north of the river.

"If it goes ahead, it will be south of the river only. He's going to use us as guinea pigs. If it works then he will try to push it north, because the other boroughs don't want it.

"I know the people of Southwark want it, and my role on the Assembly would be to lobby to do what the people want.

"My preferred route – because the route to Brixton is already mirrored by a Tube line – would be the Peckham route.

"I really have doubts about whether it will ever go across the river. If it does, it won't be before 2020 at the earliest."

On the Congestion Charge

"Obviously Boris will not go ahead with the 25 charge. He will have a referendum on the western extension and stand by what the people say. He wants to reform the congestion charge.

"He has said there is absolutely no way that he will have a congestion charge that lets some people in for free when they have a normal petrol engine.

"Congestion is now back up to the same level it was because of all the re-phasing of the traffic lights ... all the things [Livingstone] is doing to punish motorists.

"Yes, we all want to get people out of cars and onto public transport, so we need to improve public transport. We need to get people onto bikes and put more bike lanes in and make it safer.

"But you can't just go and crucify one set of road users without giving them the other options. You've got to encourage them. It's carrot and stick."

On crime and antisocial behaviour

"People don't feel safe when their police station is not open. Camberwell station open half a day a week – disgraceful. Rotherhithe to be closed, supposedly. People want a visible presence.

"My personal view has always been that police should be chasing criminals not targets.

"The police themselves are fed up of chasing targets and filling in paperwork, stopping people because they have to to meet their target for this week instead of doing what they were recruited to do.

"Police are leaving the force in droves because they are not able to get out and do what they need to do in the community."

On affordable housing

"The 50 per cent target that Livingstone has set has never been reached anyway. Affordable housing is still at about 35 per cent which is what the boroughs are building to.

"The developers always argue that that that is the maximum they can go to to make a scheme viable.

"It's all very magnanimous saying 'elect me, and I'm going to have this target' but the fact is you never meet it so it's absolutely pointless."

On tall buildings

"In terms of high rise buildings I'm completely with Boris. I am the thorn in the side of the planning department in Tower Hamlets. I am there all the time.

"I really abhor ill-thought-out, over-dense schemes full of concrete, no greenery, nowhere for kids to play.

"They are just storing up problems for the future. They are not communities ... I am really, really against over development.

"I just think the local community doesn't get enough say. I am really, really against over development.

"The GLA act that has transferred all the planning powers to the Mayor is absolutely disgraceful. Planning should be up to the local authority in conjunction with the residents. The amount of power that the Mayor has got is too much."

On arts and culture

"I think the role of the GLA is not necessarily to spend taxpayers' money willy-nilly on every festival under the sun.

"Yes, you can facilitate them but I think it's about getting sponsorship. There are many private firms that would love to have their names splashed all over them without always being a drain on the taxpayer.

"It seems to me that Ken wants Trafalgar Square to virtually be at a standstill every other week, mainly for the tourist industry. I don't see why taxpayers should pay for that."

On the Olympic Games

"I just think that the Olympics is completely out of control. The bill is just going up and up and up ... I don't have much faith in the fact that the legacy will go to the right people.

"I don't really see what these two boroughs are going to gain from it apart from a big fat bill, I'm afraid."

On why it's worth voting Tory in Lambeth and Southwark

"It's not clearly a two-horse race. The result in 2000 shows that there are people out there who want to support the Conservatives.

"Boris has come along with all this energy, enthusiasm and new ideas ... People who are not Conservatives are going out to vote for him.

"If you want Boris to be the Mayor, you want people [on the Assembly] who are going to work with him to put through the changes that he wants, not trying to thwart him at every step.

"It is quite clear from the 2000 vote that the Conservatives are a challenger. They were very close behind the Liberals at that time."

On why people should make the effort to vote on Thursday

"I think people should care, because it's become more apparent after eight years of the current regime the maladministration .... and the amount of money wasted on spin doctors. The whole regime is discredited. It damages all politicians.

"After four years maybe it wasn't so apparent to people but now they are seeing bigger and bigger bills and not seeing much for it.

"They don't seem to know what [the London Assembly] is for; that's through no fault of their own – it's largely invisible.

"They want to come out now and make a change, make a stand.

"Even if people don't want to vote they might even come out and spoil their ballot paper.

"Knocking on doors, people are very much galvanised to go out and say 'Enough is enough'."

• Shirley Houghton's website:
• Read our interviews with the Labour and Lib Dem candidates

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