The Public Gallery: Benn a shoo-in for Labour in Croydon South

By - Thursday 26th June, 2014

The granddaughter of the late Tony Benn is all-but assured the Labour selection in true-blue Croydon South, writes Tom Black

Emily Benn to win Labour selection for Croydon South

Last November, the Croydon South Conservative Association selected their parliamentary candidate for 2015. My predictions were fairly wide of the mark, I must sheepishly admit. This week, however, I can assure you that Labour’s selection result in the same constituency is far easier to call.

With the deadline for applications now closed, it is widely believed that Councillor Emily Benn will be Labour’s candidate in Croydon South.

Benn, though only 24, is an energetic candidate who impressed constituency members with her enthusiasm for leading a campaigning presence in the south of the borough. This was a welcome quality, as – with respect to Benn and her Labour colleagues – the eventual candidate is not going to beat Chris Philp, the Conservative candidate. The impending selection of Benn will complete the major party selection battles in Croydon, after last week’s selection of Councillor Vidhi Mohan for the Croydon Conservatives in Steve Reed’s Labour stronghold in Croydon North. Cllr Benn’s chances are not much better than Cllr Mohan’s.

It’s therefore encouraging for Labour members to hear that a candidate wants to ‘lead a movement’ and build up a presence in a constituency already beginning to undergo demographic change. Thanks to an increasing rate of migration from the north of the borough into the south (demonstrated by the dramatic shift in Ashburton ward in marginal Croydon Central), some believe Croydon South may no longer be a dead-cert safe Conservative seat by the mid-2020s.

Should Croydon South Labour Party feel snubbed?

But in the here-and-now, Benn is certain to win the selection for a more immediate reason – she’s the only candidate from Croydon who has stood, and only one other candidate has connections with the borough – and those are in Crystal Palace. A rumoured application from Andrew Pelling – no stranger to parliamentary races – failed to materialise.

As a Croydon South resident myself, and a Labour member, I have to admit I was disappointed not to hear from any other Labour councillors, or indeed members, from Croydon. This no-show from all-but-one of Croydon Labour’s councillors will not do much to assuage the belief that Croydon South is looked down upon by the upper echelons of Croydon Labour.

Furthermore, there are benefits to running for parliament. The seat is not winnable, but the election campaign would be an opportunity for any Labour councillor or aspiring candidate to build up a movement of supporters and canvassers who like them personally. This valuable asset would come in very handy when the candidate stands in an election they can actually win.

Benn will shake up the Croydon South contest – but won’t cause an earthquake

That last point is one that will surely not have been lost on Benn, who has clear political ambitions. A long-time resident of Croydon who represents West Thornton on the council, this will not be Benn’s first run at a seat for a general election. In 2010, she was Labour’s candidate for the safe Tory seat of East Worthing and Shoreham (making history in the process, as the youngest ever Labour candidate for parliament). A good campaigner with the added benefit of friends in high places, I wouldn’t be surprised if Croydon South is the last ‘unwinnable’ seat Benn runs in for Labour.

Emily Benn is going to be Labour’s candidate in Croydon South. That much is certain. Thanks to her surname, she will likely bring with her some national media coverage – she certainly got some when she was ‘merely’ standing for Croydon Council.

Benn may be a strong choice, but it’s debatable whether Jesus Christ himself would be able to beat the Conservative candidate. However, Benn has a strong chance of reclaiming second place from the haemorrhaging Croydon Liberal Democrats, who have made no announcements about candidates in Croydon South at time of writing.

Whatever happens, with two young, energetic candidates representing the major parties (and neither of them currently incumbent), the people of Croydon South can at least be assured of something approaching a campaign in 2015. That’s if both of them don’t get whisked off by Party HQ to go and stump in ‘target seats’, of course.

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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  • Anne Giles

    I don’t think I’ll be wishing her good luck.