The Tories are keen to take Sadiq Khan's old seat—but they've got an uphill battle ahead of themby Katharine Quarmby / June 6, 2017 / Leave a comment
As children broke up for half-term at the end of May, parents all around the UK gathered to march to local parks and protest about proposed cuts to school funding. In South London’s Tooting constituency, parents and children did likewise, marching in their hundreds from 16 local schools, carrying homemade banners to gather at Tooting Bec Common.
Under the blazing sun, they held up posters and blew whistles. Children added their handprints to a long paper petition. Schoolgirls rehearsed a specially composed song about the cuts. As the ice-cream queue snaked out of the park café, I asked the Labour candidate, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, what issues most concerned local people.
Allin-Khan, a local hospital doctor and parent, was elected last year in a by-election following Sadiq Khan’s successful mayoral campaign. She got nearly 60% of the vote then, adding over 8% to Labour’s 2015 share. Her Conservative rival Dan Watkins, a local parent and a business expert in legal technology, is fighting for the seat for the third time. The Conservatives are working hard to win: media reports that Allin-Khan has had lukewarm support from the Labour leadership may have encouraged them to go all out. Her election leaflets, in turn, make much of her support from Sadiq Khan.
Allin-Khan, for her part, told me that she was running a positive campaign, largely about combating austerity. “I’ve hit the ground running on protecting the NHS, the savage cuts to school budgets, more affordable homes to buy and rent, supporting local businesses on business rate rises and working so hard with the local community.” She is far from complacent, however. “People know me but it’s going to be very tight; a really close election.” She gestured to the families behind me. “This government is robbing our young people of a great start in life. My daughter’s pre-school is having to ask parents for money. These are savage cuts—over £7m in Tooting alone.”
A day later, news emerges of a local primary school headteacher, in the Furzedown ward, saying that children were hoovering their own classrooms, as the school had no money for a cleaner. The school is not alone in this: although the national budget for education continues to increase, rising costs and pupil numbers mean that schools are having…