The Public Gallery: Parachutes spotted all over Croydon

By - Thursday 6th March, 2014

Tom Black ponders the morality and acceptability of political parachuting

Croydonians concerned about the council’s proposed de-twinning with Arnhem in the anniversary year of Operation Market Garden may breathe a small sigh of relief. While there has been no update as to whether the plan is to be ruled out, this year’s council elections mean a widespread re-enactment of history’s biggest airborne operation will take place above Croydon – metaphorically, that is.

The bright young things of the Conservative and Labour Parties are lining up in their metaphorical Dakotas, waiting for the green light, and leaping out of the door. Beneath them lie the welcoming haystacks (and pitchforks?) of safe wards. Leading their descent is fresh-faced Conservative Mario Creatura, aide to Gavin Barwell, who has landed with both feet on the ground in my home ward of Coulsdon West.

I wouldn’t normally lay into one particular instance of ‘parachutism’, but it’s well known that Creatura and the local Conservatives have made a big song and dance about ‘local’ candidates. When New Addington’s local Labour Party selected two candidates who were not from the area, the Conservatives produced a controversial leaflet that made arguments along the lines of ‘they’re not from round here’.

I hope the Croydon Conservatives will soon produce a press release stressing that Creatura ‘actually lives in Fairfield’

And as recently as last week the press release received by the Citizen (and presumably a great many other publications) boasted of the three Addiscombe Tory candidates’ local credentials. It even went so far as to say ‘unlike the current Labour councillors, all three [Conservative candidates] actually live in Addiscombe.’ In the interests of openness and honesty, I hope the Croydon Conservatives will soon produce a press release stressing that Creatura ‘actually lives in Fairfield’.

The 1st Allied Airborne Army descends into Holland in September 1944. Image free to use in the public domain.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Ed Miliband wasn’t born and bred in Doncaster. Nick Clegg doesn’t have a South Yorkshire accent. David Cameron, a Berkshire boy, doesn’t seem particularly embarrassed to represent a Oxfordshire constituency. Parliamentary giants from Barbara Castle to Margaret Thatcher have represented areas they have no historical connection with.

Closer to home, none of Croydon’s MPs lives in their seat. Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, lives just over the border in Croydon South. Richard Ottaway, the retiring MP for that very seat, chooses to reside in Bletchingley (although local legend states he promised to move to the constituency ‘soon’ when elected in 1992). Steve Reed lived in Streatham until recently, and it’s believed he moved to Shirley at the end of last year. This would bring him closer to his seat of Croydon North, but still not in it.

Living in Bletchingley doesn’t exactly provide opportunities to live and breathe Croydon South

Does it matter? Using Barwell as an example, his home may not be in the centre of the area he represents, but it enables him to be close to it and his local town centre is in his constituency. But what about Ottaway? Living in Bletchingley doesn’t exactly provide opportunities to live and breathe Croydon South.

I’m not particularly concerned, as long as candidates are talented, committed and prepared to engage with their local community regardless of where they grew up. What do you think? Comment below or take matters to Twitter. I’d be interested to see how many people this matters to, and by how much. With both parties ‘guilty’ of parachuting around the country and the borough, I look forward to a discussion that really ought to be immune from tribal shouts of ‘it’s disgusting when they do it’.

Whether it’s tantamount to high treason, or a perfectly respectable means of getting favoured talent into legislatures, one thing to learn from Mr Creatura’s tale is that you should be wary of condemning a certain kind of behaviour unless you’re sure you’ll never do it yourself. Having spent so much time at the start constructing complex paratrooper puns, would it be childish for me to suggest he ought to look before he leaps?

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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    I would suggest that the ideal situation would be for candidates to live in the ward/constituency in which they stand to be elected. If the decisions made by our councillors and MPs affected their own families directly as a consequence of living in the areas that they represent, then perhaps they would make different decisions? However, many things in this life are seldom ideal, so it seems reasonable to me that living ‘within a stone’s throw’ as Steve Reed and Gavin Barwell do is the next best thing. At least they live within the borough boundary …….

  • David White

    I agree with blath8. The ideal thing is for representatives to live in the area they represent or hope to represent. That way they’re more likely to live and feel the issues which concern their electorate.

    However I’m old enough to remember the legendary Labour councillor Vit Burgos. He was one of the best councillors Waddon has ever had, and was totally identified with Waddon, but in fact he lived in Shirley.

    The problem with Croydon Tories’ position is that they’re open to the charge of hypocrisy. It’s seldom a wise thing for politicians to take a stand on an issue, and then be caught out doing the opposite.