The Public Gallery: Honourable members?


By - Thursday 27th February, 2014

As the Conservatives fire the starting gun in Addiscombe, their social networking provokes frowns in New Addington


Conservative selection season begins in Addiscombe

After a long period of elusive silence, the Tories have announced when they’re going to start selecting candidates for the May local elections: now.

The news has been a long time coming. The Conservatives’ coyness saw even likely candidates kept in the dark as to when they would be subject to internal elections. Now, the key Conservative target of Addiscombe has a slate of blue candidates.

David Harmes, Lisa Terry and Partha Chatterjee have a slew of credentials between them, including involvement with Safer Neighbourhood Teams, Brownie Packs, churches and the IT industry. Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central, sent letters to many Addiscombe residents encouraging them to stand some months ago. While there was some controversy over the letters (Barwell made no mention of his Conservative affiliation, but claims he did put respondees in touch with parties other than the Tories where requested), Barwell’s response to the selections suggests they bore fruit.

“David, Lisa and Partha aren’t long-standing political activists whose first loyalty is to their party”, the MP wrote in the circulated press release, “they are people who are already active in the community and will put its needs first.”

The press release also trumpeted the trio’s local connections, saying that “unlike the current Labour Councillors, all three of them actually live in Addiscombe”. Whether this will matter to voters is a debate likely to grow on the Citizen in the coming weeks – watch this space.

How responsible are local parties for their members’ tweets?

Christian Wilcox, who joined the Labour Party in 2011 after a period as Green Party member, tweeted on Monday night that New Addington was a “hole”. Unfortunately for him, he accused the incumbent Conservative council of being responsible. Shortly afterwards, Conservative New Addington councillor Tony Pearson began to circulate rumours across social networking sites that matters in the town hall had “turned nasty”. When voters asked for clarification, local Conservatives began to suggest that Wilcox’s ‘hole’ remarks were representative of what Croydon Labour thought about the area. Wilcox reacted badly to the backlash he received, and sought to imply that his critics were “on drugs”, a tactic he has used on multiple occasions – he is no stranger to Twitter arguments.

Wilcox, who has written in the past about his struggle with mental health, has made remarks that have been used by the Tories to attack Labour’s image before. In an exchange on Twitter some weeks ago, Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central, seemed to imply that Labour was using Wilcox as a spokesperson and should do so “more often”. If this was a joke, it was in dubious taste. Barwell himself waded into the ‘discussion’ this week, further clarifying his position.

Wilcox’s remarks are regularly offensive, Barwell said. That’s an opinion anyone who has read his tweets and blog posts about feminism or obesity would be able to sympathise with – Wilcox has courted controversy before. But Barwell’s next suggestion – that if the local Labour Party members do not distance themselves from Wilcox’s statements, they can be assumed to agree – is far more contentious and rather unbecoming of the MP.

Mr Wilcox is a private individual. He has never been elected to office, nor has he ever, to my knowledge, held an official position within the internal structure of the Labour Party. It is thoroughly disingenuous to take his remarks, ill-judged and unhelpful though they might be, as indicative of party policy. Furthermore, controversial remarks on Twitter and Facebook by individual local Conservative Party members – seen by myself and brought up in this discussion by Bieneosa Ebite (who referred to them as racist) – have not been circulated by the Labour Party, and rightly so.

Offensive remarks by UKIP councillors and MEPs have brought that party into the headlines – unfairly, according to local leader Peter Staveley. But Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative MPs and councillors have landed their parties in hot water many times over the years with misguided statements about everything from women to foxhunting. It seems only right that we hold our elected representatives to account, and expect the parties they are part of to take action when they cross the line. But to declare that every single one of the hundreds of thousands of members of political parties is ‘fair game’ is not going to attract apathetic people to politics – and furthermore, it smacks of desperation.

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

    Excellent article,Tom.

  • http://www.pearshapedcomedy.com Anthony Miller

    I drove through New Addington the other night. I took the wrong turn and ended up there. Well, I was pursuded round a roundabout by a maniac who kept tooting and driving up my rear so I took the first turning off to get out his way and ended up in… New Addington. It looked pretty much the same as it used to. But… putting it as nicely as possible… why would you go there if you didn’t have to? It didn’t used to be called “little Siberia” for nothing before the tram came along and integrated everyone. According to wikipedia Observer journalist Robert Chesshyre referred to New Addington as “an impoverished ghetto that Tia Sharp called ‘Home.’” and it featured “3 times in the same episode of Crimewatch”. It’s a bit mean to call it a “hole” but at the same time I wouldn’t exactly call it a tourist destination. According to the Croydon Advertiser it’s the worst place in Croydon to live “based on life expectancy, incapacity benefit claimants rates and income
    support, unemployment, crime, deliberate fires, school exam passes,
    unauthorised pupil absence, children in out-of –work households, public
    transport accessibility and access to open space and nurture”. Which is quite a few issues to be working through. I’m sure there are positivies to the place … but you’d have to go there to know what they are. Michael Castle…?