Head-to-head: Gavin Barwell and Sarah Jones answer our questions

By - Wednesday 29th April, 2015

The Citizen presents the frontrunning candidates for Croydon Central – in their own words

Artwork by Dom Richards for the Croydon Citizen.

The race in Croydon Central is Croydon’s most competitive electoral contest, and one of the closest in the entire country. With other parties a good way behind, it’s clear that either the incumbent Conservative MP, Gavin Barwell, or the Labour challenger, Sarah Jones, will win.

On 7th May, we will elect a government. But we will also be voting for individuals to represent us. This is a chance to get to know where two of those individuals stand.

After the success of last year’s head-to-head ‘printed debate’ between Cllr Tony Newman and Cllr Mike Fisher, the Citizen team have once again compiled an identical set of questions that we sent to both candidates, giving them both a word count to adhere to in their answers. We’re pleased to present those answers here, side by side. Gavin Barwell’s answers are presented inside blue speech marks, Sarah Jones’s inside red speech marks.

What is the best thing that central government can do for Croydon?

 Run the economy well. If the current recovery stalls, unemployment will rise, there’ll be less money for our public services and the regeneration of our town will be put on hold. Turning our economy around is this government’s greatest achievement. Things aren’t perfect but living standards are now rising, unemployment is falling fast and so is the deficit. Why change course when things are headed in the right direction? 

 The best thing central government can do for Croydon is guarantee the future of our NHS – something only Labour has done. And we must build more homes so that our children can have a future here.

The government also has a role developing the local community. We’ve got some great local grassroots activism – look at Save the David Lean Cinema, Stanley Halls and the fantastic graffiti art in Croydon. It’s activism like this that revitalises Croydon and gives the borough its own identity.

What was the last meal that you ate out in Croydon?

Pizza Express with Karen, our three boys, my mum and Karen’s mum on Mother’s Day. 

 I ate at Cadillac Diner in Shirley with my family. I had spicy chicken wings and too many of my children’s chips. Great jukebox, I recommend going! 

Both of your parties promise continuing cuts after the election. What effect will those cuts have on Croydon?

You are right that Labour are committed to a similar level of cuts, though they tend to keep quiet about that! The main difference is we believe a significant proportion of the cuts can come from the welfare budget, which means we would better protect the NHS, schools etc. And if we can convince the Government to change the way money is distributed around the country – as I have done in respect of school and NHS funding – cuts nationally don’t necessarily mean cuts locally. Our schools and local NHS are both seeing above inflation increases this April. 

 The difference between the two parties is that the Tories will cut more and harder. And Labour won’t make promises we can’t keep. Over the next three years, the Tories will cut public services deeper than any level in the last three. The Tories will have to cut the NHS, or raise taxes such as VAT to pay for their plans.

Labour has a more sensible and balanced plan to get the deficit down, with fair choices on tax and a plan to boost the living standards and wages of working people. This will let us protect vital services we need such as the NHS.

The Conservatives and Labour are both losing support to parties previously thought to be on the fringes of politics – why do you think this is, and what do you plan to do about it?

UKIP and the SNP are nationalist parties who blame our problems on others – immigrants in UKIP’s case and the English in the SNP’s. In Scotland, the Unionist parties need to work together against them – I’m very concerned that Ed Miliband’s considering working with Alex Salmond if there’s a hung parliament. In England, we need to address the concerns UKIP feeds on by renegotiating our relationship with the EU and letting people say whether they’re happy with the deal through an in/out referendum – but also expose the racism behind Farage’s man-of-the-people image.

People are fed up with the main political parties, with a feeling that politicians are ‘all the same’ and are only interested in their own careers. That’s not helped when we have MPs like Gavin with the lack of conviction to say that he’s a Tory. The level of cynicism over politics is so great that the only way you can have a relationship with people is face-to-face and for months I’ve been campaigning door to door. You need a million different conversations with a million different people. I haven’t found many Labour people switching to UKIP or the Greens. I suspect that the Tories will suffer more than us on that front.

What local issues do you think will most impact the election in Croydon Central?

Plans to regenerate the town centre. The need for a new accident and emergency department at our local hospital. The current state of the rail service to central London – in particular the chaos at London Bridge. The need to build more houses and help first-time buyers so that young people have a chance of getting on the housing ladder, while protecting our green spaces. Ensuring all parents have a choice of good schools for their children. And Croydon Council’s plans to impose a tax on all private landlords that will be passed on to hard-pressed tenants.

It’s tough making ends meet in Croydon – prices are high and wages are stagnant. This borough has had the largest increase in the country of people in work but who rely on housing benefit to survive. That’s a broken system. People want an MP that tackles that head on, not who chases a Westminster career. Labour will build 200,000 more homes a year by 2020, and I have been campaigning for Croydon Zone 4, which will help save commuters over £350 a year and reboot Croydon’s economy. We’ll freeze energy bills and provide more free childcare. Simple, sensible policies that will make a difference. And we’ll guarantee a GP appointment in 48 hours – to help the 50,000 people in Croydon who have to wait more than a week.

What national issues do you think will most impact the election in Croydon Central?

Who people want to run our country for the next five years – David Cameron or Ed Miliband. One of these two people will be prime minister after the election. You may think neither of them is perfect but of the two who do you want representing Britain on the world stage? Who do you trust to get the best deal for Britain in Europe? Who do you think has the strength to stand up to the likes of Vladimir Putin abroad and Alex Salmond at home? Who will do the best job of running our economy?

People are disappointed with David Cameron – who famously said ‘we’re all in it together’ and then gave tax cuts to the richest – and a lot of people who voted Tory in 2010 are thinking again. In terms of policy issues, people want a government that deals with job insecurity and protects the NHS. For our young people and first time voters, they are the struggling generation, saddled with debt from university, unable to find work or afford their own home. Labour’s policies to guarantee a job for young people, cut tuition fees and reform private renting will be important deciding factors.

What foreign affairs issues should matter most to the people of Croydon?

Help for the world’s poorest; the growing threat from Russia and terrorist groups; the pressing need to resolve the Arab/Israeli conflict and create a Palestinian state; international action to tackle climate change; and the need for an independent investigation of alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka to name a few!

Croydon is wonderfully diverse and people have connections across the world. The future of the EU will be crucial to Croydon, as our trade connections are so strong. Labour’s policies to tackle the abuse of migrant workers in Croydon is important here. And, of course, ISIS and the stability of the Middle East impacts on us all.

How do you think Croydon will look in 2020?

The town centre will have more people living in it, new office buildings for firms who’ve moved here, Westfield Croydon open, Ruskin Square next to East Croydon station developed, Wellesley Road no longer an urban motorway, Fairfield Halls modernised and work underway on St George’s Walk.

But I hope district centres like Central Parade and Portland Road will have been regenerated too and the character of our suburbs won’t have been changed by over-development. That’s why I opposed the council’s plans to build on school playing fields and am campaigning to protect the fields at the bottom of Gravel Hill.

I want Croydon to be the beating heart of south London, with a thriving economy that works for everyone, homes our children can afford and a revitalised NHS. If a Labour government wins the election, Croydon will have more nurses, more GPs, more home care-workers, giving Croydon locals the health service they need. Croydon residents will have greater job security, with no more zero-hour contracts, and long-term unemployed 18-25s guaranteed a job if they’ve been out of work for more than a year. And by 2020 I want a revolution in our cultural scene – to reflect the amazing people who live and work in Croydon.

Who will be the winners and losers of Croydon’s current plans for regeneration? What will you do to help the losers?

 We’ll all be winners – the town centre should become safer and more attractive with a better range of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. The investment will create thousands of jobs not just in retail and construction, but also in other sectors as firms relocate here. And our transport system – both public transport and the road network – should improve. The main downside is that property prices are likely to rise and that’s not good news for those trying to get on the housing ladder. The answer is to make sure enough of the housing is affordable to first-time buyers.

Westfield Croydon will help revitalise the town centre, but it’s vital that the proposals benefit local residents. That means ensuring local people have priority for new jobs and new housing. If the winners are foreign property investors, we will have failed. Westfield will also cause disruption to local businesses. Labour knows that small businesses are the backbone of the economy. That’s why we’ve committed to lowering business rates in 2015, and to freeze them for 2015 for 1.5 million business properties. We’ll also create a British investment bank so that small businesses can get the funding they need in order to grow.

Over the last five years, what moment made you proudest to be a member of your party? What moment made you most disappointed?

Proudest: Theresa May’s announcement on reforming stop and search – an example of how the Conservative Party has changed for the better. Most disappointed – Malcolm Rifkind boasting he’d plenty of spare time for a second job and, when challenged, saying he couldn’t be expected to live on an MP’s salary.

My proudest moment was when Ed Miliband stood up to Rupert Murdoch over the News Of The World Milly Dowler phone-hacking scandal.

I was most disappointed – for me and for Croydon – when Labour didn’t win a majority in the last general election. 

What would you contribute to our series ‘I would make Croydon better by…?’

 …transforming the town centre and then getting some of the key people in the borough together to make a concerted effort to doing something about its image problem. Croydon has so much going for it, but many people are put off investing here by its reputation.

 …fighting for our future, not just boosting my career. I have 20 years’ experience in housing, health and senior government. That fresh approach and our strong Labour policies will deliver better job security, better housing, more investment in our area and a revitalised NHS.

Sum yourself up in a tweet.

 Croydon man. Doting father to three boys. Honoured to represent my home town in parliament. In politics to build a fairer society. 

Life-long Croydon resident and working mother of four. Proud member of Labour standing for election to fight for a better Croydon and for a better NHS.

Interested in round two?

The Citizen is hosting a live election debate between Gavin and Sarah, which will feature audience questions, cross-examination, and discussion of many of the issues explored here.

The debate will take place at 7:30pm on Saturday 2nd May, at Matthews Yard, off Surrey Street. Questions may be sent in advance to

The Croydon Citizen

The Croydon Citizen

The Croydon Citizen is a non-profit community news magazine for London's most populous borough.

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  • David Callam

    I am underwhelmed by both sets of answers. They could have been prepared centrally for any candidate with spaces left to fill in appropriate local references.
    If this is the best the two national parties can do, maybe the electorate is right to be casting around for fringe or single issue parties to represent them.
    Certainly, if there was a regional party that put the needs of Greater London first and was not otherwise too far to the right or left I would be giving it serious consideration.