Croydon’s appetite for self-destruction


By - Monday 6th July, 2015

Let’s have robust debate in our community, argues Sean Creighton, but we should work together


Autumn 2014: Croydon’s new developments rise a mile from communities in need of restoration.
Photo by Paul Dennis, used with permission.

As I submit this piece to the Citizen, the Annual General Meeting of the Croydon Communities Consortium approaches (to be held on Thursday 16th July). I will be attending in order to make a stand against destructive attacks upon it and upon me. The unpleasant and personal nature of these attacks is why I have not approved several attempts to post attacks on me on my blog site, and why I am now threatened with a hostile Twitter campaign.

The Croydon Communities Consortium came into being after the former Tory council shut down the Neighbourhood Partnerships. CCC exists to run meetings in different parts of the borough to enable residents to air their concerns, to share information about community issues, and to enable people from different areas to discuss issues of common concern. It does not claim to represent any particular view. I explained why I believe CCC is important in a previous posting in the Croydon Citizen.

Now the alleged announcement that borough police commander Andy Tarrant has decreed police officers should no longer attend its meetings, and a call for a trade unionists’ boycott, may appear to be the final nails in this organisation’s coffin.

CCC has been under vitriolic attack

If this is the case, it will be yet another example of the destructive tendency among activists to attack each, other rather than the real targets who are re-shaping Croydon at the expense of the needs of existing residents: the property developers, the landlords, and the council which has signed up to the massive built environment and population changes being driven by the developers.

Since late summer last year the consortium has been under bitter and vitriolic attack from Inside Croydon and through social media tweets. The row allegedly centres on a re-tweet by its vice-chair Clive Locke of an allegedly Islamaphobic tweet, on the involvement of UKIP members, and the alleged mistreatment of Glen Hart of the Trades Union and Socialist Coalition for asking questions about these issues at its annual general meeting last November. The social media anti-CCC campaign launched by one individual led to the council putting pressure on Clive Locke to be deposed as vice-chair. He decided to resign.

Clive unreservedly apologised for the re-tweet in an interview with the Croydon Advertiser (on 29th September 2014): “There’s no way I am Islamophobic… I’ve been incredibly naive. If I offended anyone, I apologise unreservedly”. But rather than having his apology accepted, he has been hounded. The matter was even referred to the police who stated verbally that there is no case to answer, and hence took no action against him.

As far as I am aware, Clive was given no right of a hearing by the council to discuss the allegations against him. The council also decided to request the return of an unspent amount of its grant aid to CCC; as I write it is unclear what action has been taken on this.

CCC has found it difficult to counter the attacks on it

In the absence of other candidates at the AGM, Clive Locke was replaced by Peter Staveley, the chair of UKIP Croydon Central and South branch. Having been a committee member, he did not stand as vice-chair in his UKIP role. He has not used the CCC meetings I attended for UKIP party political purposes. People who have attended meetings of the Consortium include members of different political parties and those who are not members. There was strong pressure on him to stand aside until after May’s general election because he was standing as a candidate for UKIP, and he duly did so. It would in my view be wrong to impose a blanket policy that would exclude party political activists from being elected. UKIP members should be challenged at meetings, and people with other views should stand for election to the committee.

We then add into this mix attacks on Peter Morgan, recently reported to have been expelled by UKIP, for using CCC meetings to oppose the campaign for 20 mile an hour speed limited zones across the borough. As CCC meetings are open to anyone to raise issues, he had every right to be critical of the proposals just as others can put the case in favour.

The CCC Committee has found it difficult to counter the attacks on it. It’s not clear whether CCC’s critics think that it is racist, but it is in my view almost inconceivable that a racist organisation would advertise some of the British Black History events I have been involved in organising in Croydon. The CCC has done so.

If CCC folds, Croydon will be the loser

By all means let’s have robust debates about differences over policies, tactics and strategy; that is part of the healthy democratic process. But the personal attacks and the poisonous nature of the way in which social media has been used by some are unacceptable.

What is at stake here is the future of attempts to co-ordinate across different sections of the community. If CCC folds as a result of bullying, harassment, misinformation and misinterpretation, the Croydon community will be the loser. It would add to the high level of cynicism and defeatism that pervades the dysfunctional nature of Croydon’s politics and make it easier for community activists to be ignored – we will all be painted as a bunch of people who do not know what they want or how to work together. And who will win? The re-shapers of Croydon.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Anne Giles

    Excellent article and good of you to point these things out. I hadn’t realised that you had also come under attack and I am sorry about that. There is never any need for nastiness.

    • CroydonNeighbourhood

      Thanks for the article Sean, and to the Croydon Citizen for running it.

      Sadly, a lot of people have come under attack but we need to keep this in perspective. It is being undertaken by a small group of people, led by one in particular, all working together.

      The attacks have not only been unpleasant but often very personal. People are quite astonished at the amount of agitation and the harassment meted out. Lots of people, from within and beyond Croydon, have been in touch to say they are very unhappy and even angry about it.

      The harassment and agitation has undoubtedly limited what CCC could have achieved. For example, it has made some shy away from CCC meetings. It has delayed the relaunch planned by the committee under a new, more fitting and less cumbersome name. It has meant the committee did not pursue plans to reach out to different sections of the community, such as youth, as not appropriate whilst the agitation continued. But we are thankful that many have remained committed and supportive, despite the agitation.

      Throughout the CCC committee have remained open to speaking with anyone with any concern or question and remain happy to do so.

      Hopefully, we’ll see many of you at the AGM!

      Elizabeth Ash – CCC Chair

  • Robert Ward

    Hello Sean,
    We may not agree on a great deal, but on the need for dialogue I am with you.

    A curse of our age is the sly accusation, usually anonymous. Twitter is full of individuals whose main driver seems to be spite. They enjoy nothing more than seizing on a tweet to justify an accusation of racism, homophobia or similar, followed up with a steady stream of poison. In my opinion, difficult though it is, they are best ignored. It is disappointing that the Council and the Police may have been persuaded in some way by such tactics.

    UKIP is not the only group to suffer but it sounds like they may have got in the frame here. One should not forget that more Croydon people voted in the General Election for UKIP than voted for the Greens and LibDems combines. That you should also suffer is also not acceptable.

    I have a long standing engagement on the evening of the CCC AGM otherwise I would have been there.

    Thank you for writing this and good luck at the AGM. Keep up the good work.

    Robert.

    • Anne Giles

      Good for you, Robert.

  • Tom Black

    Well said, Sean. I’m not too familiar with the CCC dispute, though it’s hard to miss it on the playground-for-grownups that is Twitter. But I have seen and experienced first hand the level of venom that can be directed at community activists by other individuals who consider themselves to be ‘purer’ or more righteous community activists. It’s an utterly toxic environment and you are 100% correct that the only beneficiaries are those who we as a community need to stand up to – big public and private organisations. We must be prepared to both work with these groups and speak out against them when they do not listen. This can only happen if we stand together as a community – I sorely hope your frank and reasoned rallying call is heeded.

  • CroydonNeighbourhood

    Thanks for the article Sean, and to the Croydon Citizen for running it.

    Sadly, a lot of people have come under attack but we need to keep this in perspective. It is being undertaken by a small group of people, led by one in particular, all working together.

    The attacks have not only been unpleasant but often very personal. People are quite astonished at the amount of agitation and the harassment meted out. Lots of people, from within and beyond Croydon, have been in touch to say they are very unhappy and even angry about it.

    The harassment and agitation have undoubtedly limited what CCC could have achieved. For example, it has made some shy away from CCC meetings. It has delayed the relaunch planned by the committee under a new, more fitting and less cumbersome name. It has meant the committee did not pursue plans to reach out to different sections of the community, such as youth, as not appropriate whilst the agitation continued. But we are thankful that many have remained committed and supportive, despite the agitation.

    Throughout the CCC committee has remained open to speaking with anyone with any concern or question and remain happy to do so.

    Hopefully, we’ll see many of you at the AGM!

    Elizabeth Ash – CCC Chair

  • Stephen Giles

    Thank you for a superb article.

  • blath8@googlemail.com

    Very well said Sean and respondents.

    This group has great potential within our community and has involved a wide range of people from all areas and walks of life. Having attended some meetings, it was heartening to be involved in discussions on a wide range of topics with strong audience participation and a willingness to seek positive outcomes.

    I find it hugely disappointing that individuals running CCC (on a voluntary basis) have come in for such caustic personal attacks, and am thankful not to have witnessed many of these first-hand (don’t dabble in Twitter). Such a shame to waste time and energy decrying those trying to make a difference – why not make some sensible suggestions for ways to move forward instead?