The choice facing Croydon


By - Thursday 16th April, 2015

The local and national economy on his mind, Conservative Robert Ward explains the process that decided how he’ll cast his vote


Artwork by Dom Richards for the Croydon Citizen.

Don’t be surprised if your doorbell rings more often than usual over the next few weeks. Arguably the most important and certainly the most difficult to predict general election in a generation approaches. The political parties are fighting for every vote. Canvassers are everywhere and I’m one of them.

My voting history is a chequered one. I recently joined the Conservatives, but in the past I’ve voted for the John Major Tory government (once, but not twice), the Tony Blair Labour government (twice, but not thrice) and once for a predecessor of the LibDems.

Inconsistent on the face of it, my strategy is to decide on the one or two biggest issues and vote for the party that in my judgement is best able to deal with them. That said I will follow the ‘right’ candidate even if they are not in the ‘right’ party. I like to think of this as, to quote the largely forgotten author Damon Runyon who coined the phrase, “using my noggin”.

We should expect a minority government supported by one or more smaller parties

Runyon chronicled Prohibition-era America through stories, mostly around horse racing. Let’s look at the election through Croydon tinted glasses in the way that Runyon might have done.

He wrote “the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s how the smart money bets”. Barring a game-changing event, there will not be a single party majority government. We should expect a minority government supported by one or more smaller parties.

The marginal constituencies are the battleground, and for us that’s Croydon Central. The winner determines who takes up residence in Downing Street. Our runners are Tory Gavin Barwell and Labour challenger Sarah Jones. Currently the odds slightly favour Labour.

Central government sets the context for how Croydon’s future might unfold. Starting from the dire situation of 2010, the coalition has given us five years of stable government when it was desperately needed. Some credit here should go to the Liberal Democrats. It seems that they will get none at the ballot box, something they probably recognised at the time.

We have London’s largest population of young people, and they need jobs

For Croydon, there could hardly be a more important time. Big investments have been made, more are on the way. We have London’s largest population of young people, who need jobs as they leave education, and opportunities to advance themselves as their careers progress. We need stability and economic growth.

Croydon missed out on a previous recovery when the dead hand of central planning gave us large inflexible office space designed for outsourcing from Central London just at the time that work was being outsourced to a lot further away. This could be the last chance for a generation to set that right.

Nationally the deficit is still high and the debt still growing – the eurozone crisis put paid to ambitions for better. Happily the private sector has generated vastly more jobs than were lost in the public sector so employment is at record levels. Growth is good, inflation low and earnings growing. Our Achilles heel is low productivity.

Our big challenge is to address productivity, which only an invigorated private sector can deliver

Right now we are running well in a race where our competitors are hobbled. That can’t last forever. Our big challenge is to address productivity, which only an invigorated private sector can deliver. Here too is where Croydon’s opportunity lies.

The threat comes from a Labour Party in an unholy alliance with Alex Salmond, a consummate politician who is more than a match for Miliband, and probably for Cameron too. From my time in Scotland during the ‘New Labour’ years, when Salmond was the MSP of a neighbouring constituency, I recall the apt description of the SNP as ‘old Labour’. These are two tax-and-spend parties, now closer with Labour led by the heirs to Gordon Brown.

The threat from the other side is from UKIP. They are no friends of mine, as I’m an enthusiastic European who voted yes in 1975. But I think it is right we should have another referendum – too much has changed since then, and a better deal is there to be had – just look at what Scotland secured recently. To Croydon ‘kippers’, I would say that there will only be one Prime Minister come 8th May, either David Cameron or Ed Miliband. A vote for other parties in Croydon Central is a vote for Miliband.

Croydon Central’s sitting MP, Gavin Barwell, is why I become an active Conservative Party supporter. Although I don’t always agree with him, his position is always thought through and he is prepared to defend it. He gives a straight answer to a straight question more often than is usual in his profession. His arm-twisting to make Westfield-Hammerson happen is a key part of the new Croydon.

What Croydon now needs is for plans like Westfield-Hammerson and the Croydon Growth Zone to be executed, putting the framework in place for success. Government needs then to keep out of the way and let Croydon create its own brighter future.

Damon Runyon, something of a pessimist, wrote, “I have come to the conclusion that all life is 6/5 against”. Giving Croydon and yourself the best chance – by voting on 7th May – is a good way of beating those odds.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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  • Anne Giles

    Excellent article.