The Public Gallery: When is an endorsement not an endorsement?

By - Thursday 25th September, 2014

Boris, a Black livetweet and a brush with controversy as Barwell joins battle for Croydon Central

So who endorsed Gavin Barwell this week?

Gavin Barwell’s campaign launch on Monday was a glitzy, well-put-together affair. Tory operatives were milling around the refurbished Arnhem Gallery in matching blue t-shirts. The blue in question is a pleasing, light shade with a hint of green – no prizes for guessing why Barwell, who wants to run as a reforming, modern and small-l liberal Conservative, chose it. Huge banners informed us all the hashtag of the evening (and presumably, the next eight months of the Croydon Conservative Party’s existence) was #BackBarwell2015. Loud music accompanied speakers as they walked to the stage. This was, admittedly, somewhat incongruous at times – the most surreal moment of the evening came when the headteacher of a local school walked on stage to Muse’s Uprising.

The speakers themselves included John Burton of Westfield; youth activist Rosina St. James; Lives Not Knives’ Eliza Rebeiro; Maureen Martin, headteacher of Coloma and Croydon Tech City founder Jonny Rose. Oh, and Boris Johnson, a man accurately described on the night as ‘in need of no introduction’. The big social media story of the day, however, was not about Boris, but Jonny. Rose’s decision to attend attracted cries of derision from some of the town’s usual suspects – was Croydon Tech City endorsing a political candidate, indeed a sitting MP? Could it claim to be an apolitical movement after doing so?

Rose was adamant his presence was not an endorsement, though pictures of him addressing a campaign launch with huge banners that said ‘BackBarwell2015′ will not help him convince many people of that. Barwell himself, however, spoke afterwards of concern over how some of the speakers had been treated on social media. Rose had not been invited to give an endorsement, Barwell stressed, but to showcase Croydon Tech City. The event was meant to showcase ‘the great things going on in Croydon today,’ regardless of political affiliation.

Jonny Rose gesturing with an invisible tennis ball while definitely not endorsing Gavin Barwell MP.
Photo author’s own.

All very noble. And while some speeches were obvious endorsements – Conservative Future’s Rosina St James’ barnstorming and witty rhetorical display, for example – there’s no denying that Rose’s speech was less clear cut. He only referred to Barwell by name once throughout the bulk of his speech, and that was to poke fun at the posters on either side of him. However, at the end of his remarks, he suddenly thanked Barwell for assisting Croydon Tech City, and for ‘not monopolising it’ as a political football. He notably didn’t thank Barwell for helping the movement directly, but this is consistent with Barwell and the Tories’ stated view that CTC is a grassroots movement ‘and should stay that way’ – something Rose reiterated at the podium.

This distinction, it appears, went over the head of the Mayor of London. In his enthusiastic speech introducing Barwell, Boris Johnson referred to ‘the success of Croydon as a tech cluster, because of Tech City, thanks to the help of Gavin Barwell’. Jonny Rose, seated to my right (aptly) gave a stern look in response. The mayor seemed unfazed.

There was always a risk of Barwell himself being upstaged by the man who was nominally introducing him

Overall, Boris was, well, Boris. A far cry from the awkward figure I met in the Whitgift centre during the 2014 campaign, here the Mayor of London was playing to a friendly crowd and on typical form. Jokes flew fast, jibes at Labour came naturally, a commitment to an EU referendum was reiterated and the whole display culminated in a thundering endorsement of Croydon as ‘an economic powerhouse’. A safer one, too, apparently – thanks to ‘the police, and Gavin Barwell’.

There was always a risk of Barwell himself being upstaged by the man who was nominally introducing him – something he acknowledged in his opening remarks. But the MP wisely chose to stay away from bluster, bombast and easy laughs. He delivered a quiet but determined speech that set out his ‘vision for Croydon’ – get used to that phrase, we’ll be hearing it a lot – and tried to paint himself, as the whole evening had done, as a hardworking local representative. It certainly seemed to work on those present.

Barwell concluded by stating his goal that Croydon should ‘no longer be the butt of comedians’ jokes’. Whatever your politics, that’s something I think we can all endorse. One question facing Croydon’s voters in 2015 will surely be ‘which party do I think can make that happen?’

Fundraising buffet this Sunday to aid anti-incinerator judicial review

Veteran readers of the Citizen (or simply residents of Croydon) will be aware of the long-running campaign to stop the Beddington Lane incinerator. Local Green Party co-leader Shasha Khan has been organising a judicial review to challenge the permission for the waste-burning device, and a fundraiser for the campaign is being held this Sunday.

If you are so inclined, head here to get tickets. As I’m wearing my ‘impartial, honest guv’ hat, I’ll pass no judgment on the merits of the Stop The Incinerator campaign. But I can tell you from experience that a buffet at The Alchemist is well worth £10 and an afternoon of your time. Don’t take my word for it – read my Dad’s quasi-Marxist review.

The Stop The Incinerator campaign has named the event ‘Justice is Served’, which is a rare example of such a name actually being witty and clever. Well played.

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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  • Jonny Rose

    The picture you’ve used is not from the most flattering angle. Here’s a better one:

  • ArfurTowcrate

    “The most surreal moment of the evening came when the headteacher of a local school walked on stage to Muse’s Uprising.”

    Did Barwell listen to the lyrics?

    “Rise up and take the power back
    It’s time the fat cats had a heart attack
    You know that their time’s coming to an end…”

    Whatever, Muse frontman Matt Bellamy would not approve. In 2012 he told The Guardian . “In the US the conspiracy theory subculture has been hijacked by the right to try to take down people like Obama and put forward rightwing libertarianism,” Defining himself as “a left-leaning libertarian – more in the realm of Noam Chomsky,” he added: “Uprising was requested by so many politicians in America for use in their rallies and we turned them down on a regular basis.”

  • Sean Creighton

    Although he may have stupidly started incurring election
    expenses, Barwell has done us all a great favour with the launch of his
    premature election campaign.

    He has reminded us about the dangers of political naivety that often permeates activists in non-party political campaigns. Johnny’s presence for TechCity, rather than as an individual, will not do TechCity any favours with the Labour administration bearing in mind the proposed Council endorsement of it at the Cabinet tomorrow (Monday 29 September) in the further review of the Growth Plan.

    There is growing evidence that the new administration is blanking people and organisations it regards as questioning and critical even when they are trying to be constructive. And it is very worrying that a number of people who are concerned about what is going on in Croydon do not have the confidence to challenge the way the new administration’s open, transparent public engagement promises are being ignored.

    The other big favour Barwell has done is to show Westfield in its true light. The
    attendance of a leading representative is a loud message that the struggle to
    get concessions from them and Hammerson is going to be much more difficult than perhaps Labour is prepared to admit.

    On the issue of whether Barwell has started the clock ticking on his election expenses, its over to Nathan Elvery in his capacity as Electoral Returning Officer to make a public statement.

    The irony of the event was it being held in the Arnhem Gallery. Barwell’s beloved former Tory administration cut the town twinning grant with the Dutch city. In this the
    70th Anniversary year of the Battle of Arnhem Labour sensibly reinstated the cut.

    In that Battle the British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade worked together; a reminder of why the hostility to Poles today is so often based on ignorance.

    Citizen readers who would like to know more about the Battle might like to read ‘Surgeon at Arms: Parachuting into Arnhem with the First Airbornes’ by Lipmann Kessell (d.1986), who as I was growing up was a friend of my parents.

    • Stephen Giles

      Labour-ish I’d wager!!