The Public Gallery: from Cherry Orchard Road to Westminster and Hong Kong


By - Thursday 4th December, 2014

In a packed week, Tom Black has a lot to digest in his weekly round-up of the big political stories


The council tax freeze, 2015, and you

The leader of Croydon Council, Labour’s Cllr Tony Newman, announced to a full council meeting on Monday that Labour’s manifesto pledge to freeze council tax for 2015/16 would be kept. The announcement was met with cheers from Labour, but a more muted response was received from the Conservatives. Tim Pollard, elected leader of the local Tories after Mike Fisher’s resignation in September, accused Newman of trying to ‘distract’ voters from a coming series of cuts. He also pointed out that council tax next year will still be higher, as the £25 rebate from April of this year will not be in effect. The rebate itself is still a sore point for many local Conservatives, since if it was supposed to curry favour with the electorate a month before the election, it didn’t work.

Both parties will accuse each other of trying to turn council tax into a general election issue. But how will you be affected? Whether this is great news for your household budget, or if you’d happily pay more to preserve services you fear will be cut, please comment below, , or write an article for the Citizen.

Playing fields controversy lumbers on

Is Croydon Labour going to sell off any playing fields belonging to Croydon schools? The answer is still no.

Is Croydon Labour open to the idea of building on playing fields? The answer has shifted from ‘maybe’ to ‘yes’.

Is Gavin Barwell’s petition on the subject still a little bit sneaky? Well, it’s been edited to remove references to ‘selling off’ playing fields (though screenshot evidence proves it did at one point imply ‘selling off’ was being planned). But it remains fairly naked politicking.

As I said when this first came up, Gareth Davies is the local journo to keep an eye on if you want the inside scoop on all this. Sure enough, he found himself in the bad books of Croydon Labour at Monday night’s council meeting, and accused of misquoting and ‘sensationalising’ the remarks of cabinet member Simon Hall. Understandably, Gareth had a few things to say about that. I’ll let his blog post tell the rest of the story.

(Incidentally, if you’re worried that clicking a link to the Advertiser website will see your screen get taken over by a giant advert for tablets or the Discovery Channel, fear not – while the site is still pretty ad-heavy, editor Glenn Ebrey’s efforts to remove ‘takeover ads’ from the browsing experience appear to have been successful.)

I’m taking bets already on how this controversy will impact the campaign in 2015 and beyond. Anyone interested in 7/1 on the Conservatives using a leaflet that says ‘turf Labour out of the Town Hall’?

Croydon gets name-checked in the Autumn Statement

On Wednesday, George Osborne gave his 2014 Autumn Statement, outlining a number of things that are better explored in columns that don’t focus on Croydon.

However, this line of his speech will be of interest to anyone who took notice of my coverage of ‘Croydon Now’ last week:

“And we’re starting the same process with Croydon, where I’m working with local MP Gavin Barwell on a plan for a Growth Zone to boost homes and jobs.”

Not Steve Reed MP, then, who led the launch in parliament? Oh well, the bipartisanship was fun while it lasted. In fairness, the stated plan last week was for Barwell to approach Osborne while Reed turns on the charm with Ed Balls. May Steve be as successful as Gavin.

Sarah Jones opens office in Croydon

Sarah Jones, Labour’s parliamentary candidate in Croydon Central, has opened an office on Cherry Orchard Road. It’s a prime location, and much was made of the huge crowd that attended the opening of the office – by objective political standards, it was impressive.

But how many of the eighty or so attendees will hit the streets and the doorstep? Not all of them, that’s for sure. The Conservatives in Croydon Central are nevertheless understandably worried, with the polls as they are. But Jones’ campaign has taken some time to get going, with Labour sources admitting some disquiet – now calmed – over the relaxed pace at which things were moving. This well-attended launch, presided over by a shadow cabinet heavy-hitter Chuka Umunna (a Streatham boy, no less), should continue to assuage fears – as long as the campaign picks up from here.

However, I’ve said it before and I shall say it again: it is highly likely that Croydon Central will ‘go with the country’. Historically, it has done so since 1979. ‘But what about when it went Conservative in 2005, and the country stayed with Labour?’ I hear you cry. Andrew Pelling (for it was he) won for the Tories by only 75 votes, and we should not forget that 2005 saw a huge swing against Labour, and the Conservatives got the most votes in England (as opposed to the United Kingdom). So there.

So people can tweet all the photographs they like, give the candidates as many puerile nicknames as they like, even knock on as many doors as they like: it is likely to all be for naught if there’s a decisive swing one way or the other in 2015. If there isn’t one, though, I expect Jones and Barwell will start getting used to the taste of their own fingernails (ew).

Richard Ottaway is at the centre of an international incident

You didn’t read that incorrectly. Sir Richard Ottaway is the MP for Croydon South and – to put things politely, as the chap is retiring next year – isn’t very much of a presence in Croydon.

He is, however, not going to be a presence in Hong Kong any time soon. For it is Ottaway, in his capacity as chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, who is at the head of the delegation trying to visit the former British colony. I say ‘trying’ because the Chinese government isn’t letting them in.

So, for the first time, TPG is going a little bit international. It will, however, probably be the last time Richard Ottaway makes national headlines before his retirement next year. Unless he runs over a swan.

As outlined at the start of this piece, there was an unusually large amount to cover this week. The launch of Croydon’s fairness commission did not go unnoticed, and will be examined as it continues to sit next week.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • davidhill

    The government’s
    Autumn Budget is just another ‘smoke screen’ to make normal people (up to 90%
    of the UK’s population) think that the UK is not doing that bad and billions
    can be borrowed as sweeteners to make the people feel better. But you can see
    with this smoke and mirrors budget statement, that the elections are just
    around the corner. Unfortunately the truth is that successive governments have
    sold the people of the UK down the river and created more debt through their
    inept policies than at any other time in the history of the British economy.
    Indeed it is sleight of hand and not telling the truth in the main. For one has
    only to look at how our political masters have allowed our nation’s debt
    spiral, not the £1.5 trillion national debt, but to a projected total UK debt
    of up to £11.5 trillion next year. Why is it that governments do not tell the
    people that and where PPP has increased the country’s debt by nearly £1/2
    trillion and where this is all off balance sheet that does not show up as
    government debt at all (it does not form any part of the £1.5 trillion national
    debt).

    ‘ UK’s Debt is far more than what people really think’ – http://worldinnovationfoundation.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/uks-debt-id-far-more-than-what-people.html

    ‘Democracy died a death when ‘Partyocracy’ and ‘Corporatocracy’ Corrupted the
    System and became the New way to Control People and run a Nation’ – http://worldinnovationfoundation.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/democracy-died-death-when-partyocracy.html

    I just wish our politicians could come clean for once so that the people really
    know where they stand – debt that we most probably will never be able to pay
    off and where bankruptcy is the reality, not the rose garden that the
    government purports to be the case.