The Public Gallery: Big beasts a-roarin’ as UKIP demotes McKenzie


By - Thursday 12th March, 2015

Tom Black reports on the big noises in and around Croydon’s political sphere, and the Public Gallery branches out into radio


Big beasts spotted in Croydon

Two high-powered political women came to the aid of their candidates in the increasingly knife-edge Croydon Central contest last weekend. For Labour, Tessa Jowell – former Olympics minister and quite possibly the next mayor of London – campaigned with Sarah Jones. For the Conservatives, Theresa May – the longest-serving Home Secretary since James Chuter Ede left the post in 1951 – came to town and pounded the pavements with Gavin Barwell.

It’s not the only personal endorsement Barwell got from senior party colleagues this week. In a video that appears to have been recorded in a windowside booth in a pub, Liam Fox gave the incumbent MP a warm endorsement based on his personal qualities and record as an MP. The former defence secretary, who has previously been talked about in friendly and personal terms by Barwell himself, was chairman of the Conservative Party when Barwell was, in Fox’s words, “one of [his] most trusted lieutenants”.

These interventions confirm, as if it were not yet obvious, that both major parties are intent on winning Croydon Central in May. Figures in both local party organisations have been heard saying words to the effect of “if we don’t hold/win it, we’re not going to stay in/get into power” (delete as appropriate). These visits are the kind of thing you don’t do in a non-target seat two months before a general election. Which might, of course, be why Croydon North and Croydon South have yet to be visited by Mmes Jowell and May.

The visits are also surely the first of many, and arguably aren’t even the first. Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna was in town for Jones a couple of months back, and the de facto ‘keynote speech’ at Barwell’s campaign launch in September was delivered by Boris Johnson. Before the local elections last year, Caroline Lucas of the Greens dropped in, proving Croydon is the place to be if you want to get behind your candidates.

Indeed, the only party not to have had a serious ‘big beast visit’ in recent times is UKIP – their attempt to have Nigel Farage drop in last year became somewhat infamous for its lack of, er, Nigel Farage. In fact, Our Nige has recently displayed the opposite of support for one of his party’s Croydon candidates – Winston McKenzie was sacked as UKIP’s commonwealth spokesperson this week, a decision McKenzie responded to with usual imagination as being like the fate of Fredo Corleone in The Godfather Part II.

The debates are… on? Off? Maybe?

Readers of the print edition and of my column a few weeks ago will have come across my analysis of what the then-apparently-confirmed debates could mean for Croydon’s candidates in May. It seems that if a week is a long time in politics, a few weeks is an eternity.

With the prime minister now de facto refusing to appear in the broadcasters’ planned debates, and the broadcasters refusing to change their plans, it looked as though Cameron would simply have to capitulate in order to avoid giving three primetime broadcasts to his rivals, in which he would have no voice. Instead, the PM has dug in and seems committed now to not appearing in the debates at all – and his party allies have begun to suggest it ‘might’ be illegal/inappropriate for the debates to go ahead without him, unless he’s given some kind of extra coverage to make up for it.

Having predicted for so long that the debates would come crashing down and not happen at all, I think I’m just going to stick with that – it’s as likely to happen as any other outcome at this point.

As for what it means for Croydon, the big change to my predictions last time hinges on whether Cameron takes part or not, and then on whether he gets his ‘compensatory airtime’. Sarah Jones’ and Gavin Barwell’s fates might now be in the hands of the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 – other politicians can probably tell them from experience that this is not somewhere they should like to be.

The Public Gallery radio show: first podcast now available

My first radio show, broadcast on Sunday night, is now available for download or listen again online. Thanks to everyone who tuned in at the time, and listened to me talk about RISE Gallery, interview council leader Tony Newman, and – thanks to a slip of the tongue – create a new gestalt entity at the head of the Green Party.

It was – despite my nervousness – a great experience, and I definitely plan to make it a regular occurrence. My next programme is on Sunday 5th April, by which time the election campaign will be well and truly underway.

Once again, you can download the show here.

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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  • John Gass

    I’d better declare that I help out at the Citizen, before saying that I thoroughly recommend Tom’s programme (if I hadn’t enjoyed it, I’d have just stayed silent!).

    My preferred way of listening is via a podcast app on my mobile phone and I thought it worth sharing how to subscribe to current and future episodes of The Public Gallery so they will be automatically downloaded to your phone as they become available…

    The easiest way is to use the search function in your podcast app, using ‘Croydon Radio The Public Gallery’ but, unfortunately, a lot of podcasts have yet to be indexed and so won’t be found. If that’s the case for you, just follow the instructions below.

    On the Croydon Radio page Tom has given a link to, click on the small, orange ‘RSS’ logo at the top-right. It will take you to a new page full of lines of code. Ignore all the code (unless you are a Croydon Tech City afficionado!) and just copy the webpage’s address. Paste this into your podcast app’s search function and, hey presto, you will immediately be presented with the podcast’s home, and an invitation to subscribe to it.

    I hope that’s helpful.