I attended the Croydon Central hustings

By - Tuesday 6th June, 2017

Spirited debate in London’s most marginal seat

Photo by Zach Baker for the Croydon Citizen.

Whether it was an omen or not I can’t really tell, but I had a meeting in Westminster prior to the rescheduled Croydon Central Hustings. As a consequence I picked up a copy of the Evening Standard prior to jumping on a train to East Croydon. There on page three was a photo of incumbent Gavin Barwell, under the headline “Tories could lose seats in capital as Labour opens 17-point lead”. Gavin’s photo was next to a map labelled ‘TORIES UNDER THREAT’ and of course he had the smallest majority of any seat in London in 2015. Arguably there were specific reasons for that result, but I’m not going to go into that here.

The event itself was organised jointly by Croydon BID and the Croydon Advertiser. The event got under way with an introduction from Francois Mazoudier, CEO of TMRW in whose event space we were seated. Then followed another introduction from Matthew Sims, CEO of Croydon BID (Business Improvement District) and finally we were introduced to the chair of the event, Croydon Advertiser editor Andrew Worden,

We kicked off with each candidate having five minutes to set out their stall.

Questions were asked by Croydon Advertiser readers and mediated by the editor

Gavin Barwell (Conservative) emphasised his local background having lived in Croydon all his life. He then claimed credit for having delivered a new A&E department at Croydon University Hospital, bringing Westfield to Croydon, greater schools funding and, rather oddly, getting affordable housing built in Croydon. I was expecting him to claim credit for the almshouses, Croydon Minster and Surrey Street Market next, but he stopped there. That fundamentally this is a two horse race was brought home when he berated Sarah Jones for not mentioning Jeremy Corbyn in her election leaflets.

Sarah Jones (Labour) spoke next and began with a remembrance of the Manchester victims of the previous week. She also mentioned her local background and also that in contrast to Gavin Barwell that she also has long experience in both public and private sector organisations. She continued by referring to the uncosted Conservative manifesto and Theresa May’s reasons for calling the election, in her view motivated by a desire to crush Tory rebels. But the campaign from the Conservatives has instead been characterised by U-turns; she therefore questioned whether we could trust Theresa May to take any notice of anyone should she return. Sarah gave a powerful vision of how she would defend the interests of Croydon should she be successful on 8th June.

Gill Hickson (Liberal Democrats) continued by expressing her opposition to Brexit and emphasising how damaging the referendum vote had been. Her introduction was filled with numbers and statistics, which made it hard to follow her drift.

Photo by Zach Baker for the Croydon Citizen.

Peter Staveley (UKIP) started by mentioning that last time he was the only Leave candidate and that the referendum vote had been a victory for democracy. He said that we must be prepared to simply walk away from the EU without any negotiations or deal. In spite of what appears to be evidence to the contrary, he still looks forward to the financial bonanza from the savings in leaving the EU.

Tracey Hague (Green Party) started by acknowledging that she had benefited from a privileged upbringing in Croydon but said that her family has endured tough times too. She recognised that her achievements in life were in part a consequence of the freedom and support she’d received from her mother, who was in the audience. Tracey is proud of the Green Party for being different and standing up for its principles.

Don Locke (Independent) was something of a wild card, not having been mentioned in the agenda handed out to us. He is standing not to win votes but draw attention to the problems of ordinary people in the constituency. He has given up his job as an estate agent to stand, as he is worried about the outlook for housing, and the consequences of a hard Brexit. He attacked both main candidates, Gavin Barwell for waiting time writing a book after his election victory, and Sarah Jones for not supporting proportional representation. Identifying as progressive centre left, Don is aiming for fairness in society.

Photo by Zach Baker for the Croydon Citizen.

We then moved on to questions from Croydon Advertiser readers, mediated by its editor, each panelist being given a chance to respond and supplementary questions following from the floor.

First topic: What kind of Brexit deal is good for Croydon?

Both Tracey Hague and Don Locke believe a second referendum should be held on the final deal. Sarah Jones doesn’t question the result but focussed on how we protect jobs and workers’ rights. She emphasised the need for a good trade deal with Europe and the need for managed immigration. Using the example of nursing, she drew attention to the lack of training here: hence we have to recruit abroad.

Peter Staveley stated that the EU needs us more than we need it and that there was no need for Article 50 to be implemented as we could just leave. Gavin Barwell countered that real political leadership is about bringing people together. He mentioned the need to preserve workers’ rights, trade and cooperation, and that we need the right person to negotiate the right deal. Gill Hickson pointed out that a ‘bloody awkward woman’ was not the right choice for negotiation with friends.

Second topic: Rail travel

Much concern was expressed about safety and accessibility, and although there was consensus that the status quo was unacceptable, the discussion became quite heated and technical. Sarah Jones felt that the industrial unrest in Southern Trains was a symptom of weak management. I had hoped for some discussion of the impact that a new Brighton mainline would have on Croydon but although it was briefly mentioned by Gavin Barwell, this didn’t happen.

Third topic: How secure in your opinion is Croydon University Hospital’s future, and in which party’s hands is the NHS safest?

All the candidates expressed strong support for the NHS. A hot topic was the potential threat of closure hanging over CUH, and how that tallied with the £20m+ currently being spent on a new A&E department there.

Fourth topic: How will young people get on the housing ladder?

UKIP advocates modular housing on brownfield sites as a quick fix. These will be sold to appropriate people for £100,000 but covenanted to prevent them being sold on for profit. The Greens favour rent controls and advocate a housing first policy for those suffering from addictions and other problems. Sarah Jones stated that a decent home is the bedrock of society and quoted a statistic that six out of then of those renting privately are in substandard housing. Invest in housing is her solution: she pointed out that she’s been on the board of a housing association for six years. Her solution is to advocate three year private tenancies with a cap on rent increases.

Photo by Zach Baker for the Croydon Citizen.

Gill Hickson asked the question: where are poor people meant to live? She pointed out the need to invest in social housing and help everyone get a roof over their head. Don Locke, a former estate agent, pointed out that property ownership is dwindling, especially amongst the under 35s. He wants a national reorganisation of housing, a rent cap tied to local salaries and a stop to ‘social cleansing’ through rent and property price rises. Increasing stamp duty and moving investment further north to create jobs there would also boost the local economy and draw people to areas where they would be able to afford to live. Gavin Barwell pointed out the need to build more homes, and proposed that help should be given to people right now. He mentioned that the Mayor of London had been given £3.1bn to this end.

Final topic: Knife crime

No surprises here, with most candidates supporting maintained or increased police numbers and efforts to improve education.

Summing up

The candidates were given a further minute each to sum up. Here are the highlights.

  • UKIP want more flags to maintain British culture and to prioritise the NHS
  • Don Locke quit his job to stand. He ended by handing his CV to Gavin and Sarah and asking them to hire him
  • Sarah Jones pointed out that Labour has a fully costed manifesto; she wants to adjust the balance so that everyone has access to good education and healthcare
  • Gavin Barwell wants to change the country for the better and asked us to vote for Theresa May not Jeremy Corbyn
  • Tracey Hague hopes to find real solutions that work and to stand up for what is right. She also supports trimming tax breaks for landlords, and drew attention to climate change as nobody else mentioned it during the evening.
  • Gill Hickson wanted credit for the Liberal Democrats having stopped the EU referendum during their period of coalition with the Conservatives (2010 – 2015) and reminded the audience that the Liberal Democrats carried through 75% of their policies as the junior coalition partner.
Ian Marvin

Ian Marvin

Ian is a product designer who moved to the borough in 2003. His interests in all things Croydon stretch from being on the committee of the Constructing Excellence Croydon Club to active membership of the Croydon Clandestine Cake Club. During the day he works on his interior lighting businesses which are also based in Croydon. In the unlikely event that he has any leisure time, he enjoys creating ceramic pieces and playing bass guitar. Any opinions expressed here are personal.

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