The Public Gallery: No Kippers for Barwell

By - Thursday 27th November, 2014

Tom Black wonders whether a dislike of Kippers will get Gavin Barwell smoked in 2015

Barwell considered second least likely UKIP defector

Gavin Barwell is considered by the bookies to be the second least likely Conservative MP to defect to UKIP. The least likely? David Cameron.

It’s a logical show of faith in the loyalty of the Croydon Central MP who is – unlike some of his colleagues – never afraid to attack UKIP on social media or speak out against its politics in public.

There’s a policy logic to it as well. Barwell has long presented himself as a liberal conservative (his office has a picture of Benjamin Disraeli, 19th century Conservative PM and the father of the ‘One Nation’ ideal) and is on the left of his party on most issues – with the notable exception of crime. But while UKIP voters might approve of Barwell’s traditional ‘law and order’ approach, they won’t be keen on his unashamed support for immigration and multiculturalism. I discussed Barwell’s positions with him in more detail in an interview early this year.

Speaking of UKIP voters, what does Barwell’s ‘wet‘ position mean for 2015? Barwell tweeted that he wears the prediction as a ‘badge of honour’, as is his right. UKIP is a divisive party, attracting adoration and loathing from different bits of the British electorate. Barwell’s picking of a side may play well with floating moderate voters. But a big part of Barwell’s 2015 hopes is known to rest on the so-called ‘Pelling votes’.

In 2010, sitting MP Andrew Pelling stood as an independent candidate after leaving the Conservatives. Barwell won, but Pelling took 3,000 votes. The belief that those votes are going to ‘come home’ to the Tories now Pelling isn’t standing (and, indeed, has defected to Labour) has long been a comfort to local conservatives as their national poll leads became an increasingly distant memory. The votes would notionally double Barwell’s slim majority of 3,000.

Polls still suggest Croydon Central is Sarah Jones’s to lose

However, the belief that the Pelling votes will necessarily ‘come home’ has started to wane. Many who voted for him last time will have done so out of personal loyalty over the way he was ‘treated’ by the Conservative leadership (inverted commas used very deliberately). In 2010, it looked like most of them could be depended upon to vote for a sitting Conservative government come 2015. But UKIP, of course, provides a third option. A very tempting third option for a lot of people – many of whom have strong objections to David Cameron.

Photo by Croydon Conservatives, used with permission. Modified emblem added by Tom Black.

With Labour ahead of the Tories nationally and local polling suggesting it’s Sarah Jones’ seat to lose now, Barwell’s lack of compatibility with ‘UKIP voters’ may be a cause for concern among his campaign staff. Their ‘notional majority’ of 6,000 is looking a lot less nailed-on as the Conservatives suffer general losses to UKIP, and the ‘Pelling votes’ find a new potential home.

Is this overstating the relevance of personality? Probably. The chances of any Conservative – be they Ken Clarke or John Redwood – winning over someone who’s decided to vote UKIP are slim. Indeed, if you want proof that it’s not about individual candidates, look no further than UKIP’s two recent by election victories. The UKIP candidates were literally the sitting former Conservative MPs. Their names didn’t matter. The party logo next to them did.

Barwell had better watch out. It’s not like there’s an equivalent party that Labour are equally afraid of… oh, hang on.

Interesting times, folks.

Parliamentary launch for ‘ambitious growth bid’

Two Croydon MPs, several senior councillors and a slew of public servants and private developers met in the Churchill Room of the Palace of Westminster yesterday. They were gathered to launch ‘Croydon: Our Time Is Now’, a slickly-produced set of proposals for Croydon geared towards establishing a ‘growth zone’.

What does that mean? For one, it means getting control of Croydon’s stamp duty from the Whitehall treasury and giving it to Croydon Council. That one may be a long shot. A further measure that won’t endear Mssrs Newman, Barwell and Reed to George Osborne is ‘the retention of all business rate uplift’.

Loosening the Treasury’s grip on the pursestrings has always been difficult – most infamously under Gordon Brown, but it’s fair to say that no chancellor has ever been keen to devolve away things that he (and to date, they have all been ‘he’) currently controls.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere was upbeat, and a very positive case was being made. Highlights of the various prepared remarks included “this is a development the size of Ebbsfleet, in half the time” (Steve Reed), “the greatest potential is the people that live here” (Gavin Barwell), “there’s kind of an Olympic moment going on here” (John Burton) and “Croydon was in danger of becoming another dormitory suburb of London. We want it to become a vibrant, modern, European city” (Tony Newman). The link to the (now apparently highly likely) Gatwick airport expansion meant this proposal is ‘a corridor to the south coast, not just a city’.

Politically, it was a rare show of bipartisanship – something Cllr Tony Newman noted was rarely seen on this scale in British politics, but notably was one of the reasons Greater Manchester’s bid for devolved power finally succeeded last month. All the parties got behind it. Being unable to paint something as the actions of a political party with an axe to grind makes its success rather likely.

And so far, the bipartisanship is holding up. Boris Johnson is supporting a Labour council’s efforts to make this happen, and in Reed’s words: “On this one, you couldn’t get a fag paper between Gavin Barwell and me.” How refreshing.

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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