The Public Gallery: Labour brings music and Miliband to the campaign trail

By - Thursday 23rd April, 2015

Close encounters for the second time between our very own Tom Black and the Labour leader

Would I like to interview Ed Miliband again?

Hell yes, I’d like to interview Ed Miliband again.

Those were not my exact words when Tim Longhurst of Croydon Radio let me know the Labour leader was in town and Croydon Radio had been asked if they wanted to interview him. But they were my internal monologue. I am not a teenage girl with a fondness for cheekbones and Sherlock, but I’m an unashamed member of  the #Milifandom. Still, I hoped I’d get some concrete answers to my questions – and not too many “I’m so glad we’re talking about this” politician’s answers that Ed is, like all leaders, a little fond of.

On my walk to Praise Church on London Road, I found myself taking in the number of betting shops and payday lenders on the high street. The apparent prevalence of these institutions in places once full of greengrocers and butchers has formed one of the planks of Labour’s campaign. But what is Ed Miliband going to do about it? I told him of local people’s efforts to prevent a Paddy Power from opening in Thornton Heath – and the support they have had from a Labour councillor frustrated that he has no legal power to do anything about it.

“Local people are fed up,” Ed said immediately. “They need to be able to influence decisions… we’re going to give local councils the power to say you can’t have a betting shop next to a payday lender, next to a betting shop, next to a payday lender… you can’t have them coming onto the high street without local people having a say.”

What sort of shape would those powers take? Eschewing a ‘politician’s answer’ this time, Ed provided specifics: “We’ll make it so you can’t just turn a normal shop into a betting shop or payday lender without explicitly getting permission. At the moment, that can just happen, because a supermarket and a payday lender are classified in the same way. We’ve got to change that.” Cllr Audsley will be pleased.

Moving on, I asked Ed about the Croydon Growth Zone, which received a shoutout in George Osborne’s latest (and perhaps final) budget. What would a Labour government do for the zone? Ed nodded, a gesture that was perhaps too vigorously echoed by Croydon North’s Steve Reed (sitting in on the interview). “We are obviously going to continue it,” Ed said, “and it’s an important issue for the Labour council. I think it is important not just to pledge a growth zone, but also to make a growth zone happen: that means policies that reward the hard work of everyone in our country.”

Photo author’s own.

A list of prominent Labour policies followed – raising the minimum wage, dealing with zero hours contacts, cutting business rates for small and medium sized businesses, not cutting business rates for larger businesses, and skills for young people. “There’s nothing more important for economic growth than skills for young people – that’s about apprenticeships, cutting tuition fees, it’s about the things that will make a difference.” Not as direct an answer or as locally-focused as I’d like, but there’s detail here at least.

Finally, I asked Ed about an issue close to my infrastructure-obsessed heart: rail franchises. Satisfaction with Southern Rail, and the franchise system generally, is incredibly low in Croydon, especially the commuter-filled Croydon Central. There have been proposals to give the non-privatised TfL control of the Brighton line and other commuter routes, and they’ve been backed even by local right-wingers including Gavin Barwell. Would there be room for these ideas in Labour’s plans for the railways?

“We should definitely look at those issues,” Ed said immediately, but didn’t go into detail on rail devolution. I asked – again – whether it was on the table. “It’s definitely something we want to look at as part of our plans. There’s two views: the government says the current system works. A lot of people don’t agree, so we should definitely look creatively at what can be done.” Rather less decisive, and we were definitely in ‘politician’s answer’ territory now. But that was all we had time for, and soon Ed was being whisked away by his minders.

The full interview will be broadcast in my next Croydon Radio show, which is live at 7pm on Sunday 3rd May. It’ll also feature highlights and discussion of the Citizen’s live debate between Sarah Jones and Gavin Barwell, which you can attend at Matthew’s Yard at 7:30pm on Saturday 2nd May.

If music be the food of votes, play on!

Clearly Emily Benn heard that I was looking for interesting things to write about in the Croydon South campaign. Well, maybe not – but she’s come up with a rather unique campaign event that places her skills centre-stage – quite literally. In a public concert, Benn will be playing the violin and conducting an orchestra made up of her various musical friends. Doors open at 6.30pm on Sunday 26th April at Coulsdon Methodist Church, 83 Brighton Road, CR5 2BE.

No confirmation has yet been received regarding rumours that Chris Philp is setting up a roller disco.

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

    That photo looks like those terrible Facebook profile pic crops you do when you’re on the arm of your ex.