The Public Gallery Special: Croydon South’s Next MP

By - Thursday 7th November, 2013

It is a cold, bright day in Purley and the clocks are striking fifteen. The Party has met, the Party has considered, and the Party has determined a list of fifteen people – one of whom will represent the good people of Croydon South as their Member of Parliament.

The General Election is, of course, still 546 days away. But this is Croydon South, where the Conservative Party is only likely to lose in the event of David Cameron being caught on camera setting fire to Battersea Dogs’ Home. The candidate who is selected by the Croydon South Conservative Association (CSCA) on 12 November will, with 99.9% certainty, become Croydon South’s MP in 2015.

An ‘open primary’ – a measure popular in America where parties invite all local people, not just party members, to vote in their selection processes – was mooted, but rejected. For a safe seat like Croydon South it would have been an encouraging step for local democracy. However, it was not to be, and so instead we are forced to exercise some cod-Kremlinology to analyse the likely electoral outcome of the CSCA’s selection process.

To help me in this mammoth task, this week I’ve opened up The Public Gallery to some more voices from around Croydon and the borough’s political sphere. I spoke to Bieneosa Ebite of Croydon Radio’s In The Loop, some local voters, and various figures from the Labour and Conservative parties who asked not to be named. Between us, we’ve analysed the ‘longlist’ of candidates for the Conservative selection. Those fifteen candidates will be interviewed by the CSCA this Saturday, and three or four of them will advance to the shortlist. The shortlisted candidates will speak to CSCA members at a meeting on Tuesday, and after the speeches a straight vote will be held there and then.

The lack of more than one Croydonian on the list also raises questions about the basic competence of Croydon’s own Conservatives if only one of them was deemed suitable for the longlist

The longlist is not pleasant reading for those who find the idea of ‘career politicians’ nauseating. Only one candidate, Mike Fisher (the colour of whose face is entirely irrelevant), is local to Croydon. This says discouraging things about the epidemic of ‘parachuted candidates’ in our politics - Bieneosa pointed out that the list itself lost a candidate (the first reserve, Luke Parker, was moved up) when Robert Jenrick was selected for Newark. ‘It’s odd,’ she mused, ‘that you can put your name down for different selections.’ The lack of more than one Croydonian on the list also raises questions about the basic competence of Croydon’s own Conservatives if only one of them was deemed suitable for the longlist – by their fellow party members, no less!

When I and my felow ‘temporary pundits’ were discussing the fifteen, there were some names that came up more than others, and some that didn’t come up at all. The full list can be found here (substitute Luke Parker for Robert Jenrick, as explained above). While the longlist is diverse in race and sex (with not a quota in sight, it has eight women out of fifteen candidates), it’s less varied in terms of class than some would like. A fair few of them appear to be on ‘the SPAD route’ –  PPE, Parliamentary Researcher, then MP. ‘Traditional Croydon South,’ says Bieneosa, ‘doesn’t seem like the place that would reward them for a lack of real life experience.’

Someone with ‘real life experience’ is Dr Rachel Joyce. This former Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner was forced to resign after retweeting a tweet that suggested Hitler was a socialist. My inner History graduate has begun to hyperventilate, so I shall move swiftly on from that anecdotal example of poor judgment on her part. Joyce is, however, a practicing NHS doctor with 20 years’ experience, and runs her own business as well. As a local Labour voter begrudgingly put it, ‘she stands out’. They said the same thing about Ruth Porter, who is the head of economics and social policy as Policy Exchange.

One could look at this guy and think, “here’s a man who might fall on his sword for Boris”

Suella Fernandes is a barrister – one can never have too many of them in Parliament, after all – and has displayed ‘intellectual clout’ throughout her career. One local Conservative expressed doubts, however, saying she was perhaps ‘too nice’ and that while the longlist was a great step for her and showed she had a bright future, she might not make the cut for Croydon South. By contrast, Oliver Dowden (who made his name as David Cameron’s Deputy Chief of Staff) is seen as ‘one of the brightest aides in government’ and was bullishly defended by one Tory source. ‘He has a silver spoon in his mouth, but we are a party based upon merit – it does not matter where he came from.’

The biggest differences in opinion were about Kit Malthouse, Deputy Mayor of London for Business and Enterprise and Member of the London Assembly for West Central. Bieneosa felt he was the frontrunner, and that he ‘ticks all the requirements for Croydon Tories’. She cited his extensive experience with the Mayor and police authority, and also his business background. He brings a touch of normality. ‘Croydon is a city in all but name’, he said when he opened the Croydon Enterprise Centre.

One conspiratorial Labour member raised a metaphorical eyebrow over Malthouse’s motives, thinking back to when Boris Johnson himself was rumoured to be very interested in Croydon South as a launch pad for his future parliamentary ambitions. ‘One could look at this guy and think, “here’s a man who might fall on his sword for Boris”, if the Mayor decides he wants to get into Parliament sooner rather than later.’ One local Tory thought Malthouse’s links with Boris could play well for his chances in being selected. If the membership of Croydon South think Boris will one day be leader, Malthouse would be sure of swift promotion and could ‘take the constituency with him’. ‘He’s known to deliver,’ another Tory said, ‘and he’d make an excellent MP.’

Bailey’s areas of ‘real life experience’ with youth groups are, however impressive, difficult to make relevant to Conservative members in Croydon South

Mike Fisher is the leader of Croydon Council, and it’s difficult to see a scenario where the CSCA exclude the only local candidate from the final shortlist. One Labour figure said his candidacy ‘looks more like a sop than anything else’ in the wake of predictable attacks from Gavin Barwell and the Croydon Conservatives on Labour’s decision to select non-local candidates in Croydon North and some council wards. My own view is that these attacks will eventually backfire, as Fisher is unlikely to be selected in the final meeting. Bieneosa found his candidacy ‘quite curious’, saying she wasn’t sure ‘what will happen to him if he’s not successful. He’ll return to the Town Hall as the leader of the council that has failed to win over his own party – and in the strongest area for Croydon Conservatives, too.’ Deputy Leader Tim Pollard, widely regarded as waiting in the wings to lead the Conservative group on Croydon Council, will watch his leader’s progress with interest.

Two of the heavier hitters on the list were, pleasingly for me at least, predicted in my very first TPG back in SeptemberShaun Bailey is keen on ‘helping the poorest in society’, and has described one of his political missions as being to take back the mantle of ‘only our party can help people in poverty’ from Labour. His background in community work and distinct style – helped by an ethnic and social background unusual in Tory candidates – make him a strong contender. However, his forthrightness can ‘rub people up the wrong way’, admitted one supporter. Bieneosa had a similar view, saying that while he’d attended the Croydon Conservative Conference this year, his areas of ‘real life experience’ with youth groups are, however impressive, difficult to make relevant to Conservative members in Croydon South, a very middle class and affluent constituency.

‘I don’t think the Croydon South Tories are radical enough to select a candidate like Shaun,’ she went on. ‘I don’t think they’ll want a troublemaker.’ Bailey has in the past been openly critical of the Conservative Party, and if there’s one thing the often unremarkable Croydon South Conservative Association is known for, it’s loyalty.

Many of Croydon South’s Tories may find that an unashamedly right wing and strong-willed woman brings back happy memories

The other heavy hitter likely to do well this Saturday, and again on Tuesday, is Charlotte Vere. The head of the Girls’ Schools Association and a name on David Cameron’s A-list (like Shaun Bailey), she was described by Bieneosa as ‘a strong candidate with good credentials.’ Vere stood in Brighton Pavilion in 2010 (where Caroline Lucas became the Greens’ first MP), and is another of the longlisters who attended the Croydon Tories’ annual conference. She has a record of standing up for women, and her work in education sector should qualify her for ‘real life experience’ points. Local Tories are known to consider her ‘very impressive’.

Bieneosa cited Vere’s appearance on her own show as proof she as ‘a good speaker – firm and confident.’ I suspect such qualities will be very important to the Conservatives of Croydon South, many of whom may find that an unashamedly right wing and strong-willed woman brings back happy memories.

These were the eight candidates who came up by far the most in my discussions this week. There are, of course, seven more. Anyone with something to say about them is welcome to do so in the comments below.

Making Richard Ottaway’s anointed successor work for their election would send a message that the people of Croydon South want an MP who works hard for them

As the closed process of Croydon South’s ruling party rumbles on, what are their opponents thinking? Joanne Milligan, the Secretary of Croydon South Labour Party, told me, ‘it seems that Croydon South Conservatives have recognised the limitations of a huge swathe of their local political characters, longlisting only one of their 37 Croydon Councillors among the 15 Parliamentary hopefuls.’ Citing as an example the decision by Croydon North’s Labour members to select Lambeth’s Steve Reed as their candidate last year, Milligan believes that the Croydon South Conservatives ‘have realised that they need to move beyond the “local party time-server becomes Parliamentary candidate” story and ensure they have a better calibre candidate.’

As a parting shot to her opposite numbers in the Croydon South Tories, Milligan gave them a warning: ‘The Croydon South Labour party will make sure that whoever the local Conservatives choose as their candidate, their path to Westminster won’t be as easy as the one traveled by their predecessors.’

A strong campaign from Labour in Croydon South would be most welcome in a 2015 election likely to be defined by anger toward the Coalition. While the odds of a Labour win remain miniscule, making Richard Ottaway’s anointed successor work for their election would send a message that the people of Croydon South want an MP who works hard for them.

Predicting the future is a mug’s game. But what’s the point of analysis if you don’t give it a shot every once in a while? In this vein, I’m going to suggest that the four candidates that will make the shortlist are Mike Fisher, Kit Malthouse, Oliver Dowden and Charlotte Vere. As for the eventual winner, I don’t think Fisher stands a real chance. Depending on how they perform on the night, and how the CSCA is feeling that evening, it could be any one of Malthouse, Dowden or Vere. Vere, I feel, has a fractionally better chance than the other two.

I might be wrong. Statistically, I probably am. What do you think? What are your predictions? And who would you like to see win? Comments below the line are, as always, more than welcome.

UPDATED 10/11/2013

Well, one out of four ain’t bad. At least, that’s what my mother used to tell me on sports day. The shortlisted four candidates for the Tory nod for Croydon South are the following:

Charlotte Vere
Suella Fernandes
Chris Philp
Lucy Frazer

My prediction was only 25% accurate (it’s a mug’s game, like I said) but I’m encouraged that my bet for the eventual selection winner is still in the running. It would be very uncharitable of me to say that this shortlist looks like a case of ‘we have selected one candidate we want [Vere] and three more the membership probably won’t vote for’, but part of me can’t shake the feeling that this is the case.

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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  • Jason Cummings

    The suggestion that because only 1 of 37 local Councillors was shortlisted has a bearing on the quality of those Councillors is a very poor argument. To see it in a real context you would have to ask how many applied and since to my knowledge it was only one or two using 1 of 37 is bordering on the ridiculous. To be fair looking at who made that comment it doesn’t surprise me!

    Overall though, not a bad piece.

    • Tom Black

      I think the wider point is perhaps more telling – not just the councillors, but local Conservative members. How many of them applied for the seat? How many were weighed, tested and found wanting? Or did few apply at all?

      Essentially, there are three possible answers here. Do the Croydon Tories have a talent problem? Or do they have an apathy problem? Or, for whatever other reason, do they not have a problem at all?

      Thanks for reading, and for your speedy comment!

      • Jason Cummings

        I would suggest you ask some of the councillors individually why they didn’t apply and see what the answers are. I expect you would find a wide variety of answers some of which would probably as you suggest be that they didn’t feel they were ‘up to it’. That in itself of course does not suggest a lack of talent as the role of MP must surely be considered as a ‘higher’ grade of position that local councillor. I have posted my own position above.
        Do Croydon Tories have a talent problem. I would say no (no surprise there!) but would also allow a caveat. If Croydon Tories DO have a talent problem it is only to the same extent that ALL political parties might do so and THAT is a much wider and I feel more interesting question.

    • Joanne Milligan

      Hi Jason
      Despite the tone of your last sentence suggesting you’d prefer a more personal and simplistic, rather than thoughtful and political, dialogue on the issue, I’m neverthless happy to expand on my comments in a considered and mature manner.
      I appreciate that as a local Conservative Cllr you may have perceived my comments as a personal attack – I can’t help how you choose to interpret my comments but my intentions were not as you perceive them.
      My comment about only 1 of 37 Cllrs being longlisted (I believe the shortlisting you referred to hasn’t actually happened yet) is not a question of ‘were the 36 others rejected?’ but more an observation that local Conservative members, including a number of Councillors, evidently (a) hadn’t recognised any others within the group of 37 as having the desired qualities and attributes that would lead members to persuading them to apply (b) had recognised others they thought suitable, capable candidates but couldn’t persuade them (c) had recognised others they thought suitable, capable candidates and persuaded them to apply – but their application was unsuccessful.
      I think that just about covers the possible scenarios. Oh, unless the self-assured among the 37 didn’t need any persuasion from members, applied and were rejected – but you suggest there are only one or two who applied so I guess that’s not as relevant in this instance.
      I’d genuinely be interested in whether you have any particular knowledge or insight as to which of the scenarios are most applicable? And if you applied or considered doing so? If it really is only one or two local Cllrs who applied, what held the others back?

      • Jason Cummings

        Jo, oh dear…..your comment WAS an attack! I don’t have a problem with that, goes with the territory but allow me (however simplistic this argument may be to you superior intellectuals) to use myself as an example.
        I consider my self to be capable of becoming and doing a excellent job as an MP. However, I don’t want to be one hence I didn’t apply. It has been suggested to me but frankly I don’t want to be away from my family as much as the MP’s role (when done right) requires. Unfortunately the narrow interpretations you have allowed don’t cover this as a valid standpoint. Other positions people may be in are similarly not covered such as age or perhaps thinking to themselves that they wouldn’t win as they feel someone else they know is applying is a better candidate.
        Using your argument I could ask you (or any Labour Councillor) if you applied for Croydon North. If you say yes then because you were not shortlisted then you are clearly not good enough and if you say no then you are clearly not good enough. It is this kind of SIMPLISTIC (and clearly wrong) argument I was objecting to.

        • Joanne Milligan

          Like I said, I can’t help how you choose to interpret the comments – you seeing them as a personal attack says more about you than me.
          As for whether the scenarios are ‘narrow interpretations’, your own personal circumstances, as you state them, would be covered by (b) as would anyone you think was approached by members to apply but not persuaded to do so by reason of age etc. Do offer any other rationales you feel are not covered by the options. I’m a reasonable enough individual to acknowledge valid points I may not have considered when presented in a reasonable manner.
          No, I didn’t apply for Croydon North – despite some local members asking me to – see scenario (b) above – which means others thought I was good enough but couldn’t persuade me to apply. Just like the situation you describe about yourself. You might want to re-check the logic in your argument that me not being persuaded by others somehow suggests I wasn’t good enough – that doesn’t appear anywhere in my original argument. I’d then hope that you would admit that you may not have fully considered my flawless logic when you suggested it was simplistic and wrong (oh, and NO NEED TO SHOUT).
          Its in the public domain that a number of local Labour Cllrs did apply for Croydon North but weren’t shortlisted. However, in by-election situations it’s not local members who get to determine the shortlist. The shortlist may have been different were they able to do so but that’s a counterfactual not really worth exploring.
          Croydon North Labour members did however get to determine who the candidate was from those shortlisted and made a marvellous choice. I’m secure enough in who I am to admit that had I been interested, applied and then been shortlisted, I don’t believe I would have won. I think Croydon North Labour members spotted exceptional talent, an unrivalled record of getting things done and making change happen, and a real drive and determination in their eventual choice of candidate.
          Do you believe that had you applied for Croydon South you would have been longlisted, shortlisted and then selected?

          • Jason Cummings

            Would I have been shortlisted and selected. No. I don’t have the experience in politics or the high end business appeal etc that would be necessary to carry an application from such a relatively anonymous applicant as myself. I’m going to leave it here as we are getting overly political and it’s not really adding to the debate. It’s just a shame I’m not a Labour Councillor as then I’d clearly be so much better than I am!

  • Mario Creatura

    I was mentally composing the exact comment Jason posted as I was reading. Darn. He’s right that Joanne’s inference is bizarre!

    Bieneosa’s view that it was ‘odd that you can put your name down for different selection’ is not in the least bit odd. In real life do you only apply for one job at a time? All major parties allow candidates (once approved nationally) to apply for as many seats as they like. And good luck to them!

    Similarly, the comment that party members wouldn’t reward ‘real life experience with youth groups’ because they were ‘difficult to make relevant to Conservative members in Croydon South’ is baseless. After 20 years of one MP, and with many more new and younger members recruited in recent years, I wouldn’t be surprised if they delivered a curve ball one way or the other.

    It’ll certainly be interesting to see how this plays out, but accusing Croydon South Conservatives of being ultra-predictable based on the choice of Richard Ottaway 20 years ago seems a tad foolhardy. Anything can happen, and I’m sure anything will.

    • Tom Black

      Has Croydon South really seen an influx of younger members in recent years? I know Croydon CF has at least appeared to grow recently – is the bulk of their new intake in the south of the borough?

      I’m also not sure you’re being entirely fair to Bieneosa on the ‘odd’ point – I didn’t interpret what she was saying in the same way. It looked to me like she was saying it was ‘odd’ that someone campaigning to represent a local area could focus their energies on more than one local area at a time, which is perhaps somewhat disingenuous. As for ‘In real life do you only apply for one job at a time?’ – I would like elected offices to be treated differently to a job. They are a public service, and it’s telling that your defense of the practice of applying for more than one seat at a time involves language very familiar to those of us unhappy with ‘career politicians’!

      You do make a good point about a decision 21 years ago not being the best bellwether, but I don’t recall saying or meaning to imply that the CSCA is ‘ultra-predictable’ – or quoting anyone who did. What the 1992 selection is, though, is one of the indicators we have at our disposal to make such analyses. There aren’t all that many, so perhaps it’s been overstated. I’m not sure.

    • Jason Cummings

      I’m going to agree (to a degree) with Bieneosa about applying to multiple places. I would like to see the ‘list’ of all places someone has applied as part of the selection process. This would allow a level of weighting to be used by those involved to reward loyalty or focus on one particular area and give credence to things they might say about their application and how much they love the area!

  • Anne Giles

    Very, very interesting. Funnily enough, when I was chatting to a Labour Councillor this morning, we did mention another name who we thought might get through. Who knows? I shall browse through their CVs later today and make some notes ready for the interviews on Saturday. It’s going to be a long, long day.

  • David White

    I predict that Croydon South Tories won’t select a woman or an ethnic minority candidate. We know from Anne Giles’ comments a few months ago on matters generally that she prefers male candidates. Anne is not only one of those voting, but is a member of the Selection Panel. I suspect there are other dinosaurs in the ranks of Croydon South Tories as well.

    • Anne Giles

      I cannot recall having ever having said that I prefer male candidates, just that I did not agree with an all-women’s list. I am just as likely to want a female as a male in Croydon South. It’s all done on merit, which seems right to me.

    • Anne Giles

      Why do you care, if you don’t live there?

      • Tom Lickley

        By that measure Anne, are you not interested in who wins Croydon Central in 2015?

        • Anne Giles

          You are right. I am very interested, but then I like Gavin Barwell. He is a great guy.

    • Mario Creatura

      So, three out of the final four are women David. Care to admit that your perception of Croydon South Conservatives being ‘dinosaurs’ is unfounded?

      • David White

        The selection isn’t over yet, but it’s encouraging that 3 of the 4 shortlisted are women. Perhaps my original comments influenced the Selection Panel!

        • Anne Giles

          None of us is influenced by you, David, I can assure you. We have minds of our own. Like I said, it is all done on merit.

  • James Thompson

    As others have mentioned I find your critique upon the quality of Croydon Conservatives to be very strange. You fail to consider whether current sitting councillors or members wish to be an MP and your criticism of Mike Fisher seems to be wholly unwarranted – what do Labour members know of the Croydon South Conservative selection process and if he will be successful? It is wrong to speculate when you have no examples of any local members or councillors that applied and didn’t get through. As a resident of Croydon South and someone who will be voting in the selection I am pleased to have such a wide array of high quality candidates that want to be my local MP.

  • Anne Giles

    It has been a long day and a very enjoyable one. There were some excellent candidates. I was very impressed with the women who have been selected.

  • David White

    12th November: Croydon South Tories confirm they’re dinosaurs by selecting yet another white middle-class male (Chris Philp).

    • Anne Giles

      Some did. Many of us didn’t. He was the most dynamic, even though I and a few others preferred the women. It was different on Saturday, when faced by only a handful of interviewers to being faced with a huge crowd. He showed no sign of nervousness. The women appeared more warm and friendly. He appeared more confident.