The Public Gallery: Thirty-two Thursdays

By - Thursday 18th September, 2014

Tom Black starts the countdown clock on Election 2015 – but finds that the candidates have beaten him to it

Like many observers, I was unhappy about the Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2011. It seemed to be making a major constitutional change – fixing the exact dates of our elections in advance – for the sake of making sure Nick Clegg wouldn’t stay up all night worrying about whether the Conservatives were going to prematurely break the Coalition.

As it happens, Nick Clegg has had more than enough other things to stay up all night worrying about, and the political system seems to have survived this far. What the 2011 Act does mean, however, is that we now know for certain that we have thirty-two Thursdays to go until the general election. It’s time for TPG’s coverage of Election 2015 to formally begin.

With the end of Mike Fisher’s career comes the end of a chapter in Croydon’s politics. May 2014′s local elections are well and truly behind us, Labour’s first hundred days in office have passed, and all eyes are fixed on the next electoral contest in our borough.

As it did with Election 2014, I want to see the Citizen become a hive of debate and comment in the run-up to Election 2015. If you missed any of the politics articles that Citizen contributors wrote over the summer, I’d recommend a look. We’ve had assessments of how clean our air is, a post-Croydon Rave look into the murky world of promoting regulations, and a treatise about how our votes are almost certainly going to be wasted anyway. I’m looking forward to the response pieces to that last one.

To join the debate, become a contributor to the Citizen today.

Conservative parliamentary candidates launch manifesto

While others in the Conservatives were reeling from their defeat in May, it seems that some, at least, learned from one crucial error the Tories made: they didn’t publish a manifesto.

This time, no such mistake will be made. Gavin Barwell (MP for Croydon Central), Chris Philp (PPC for Croydon South), and Vidhi Mohan (PPC for Croydon North) have produced a joint manifesto outlining what they call their ‘Vision for Croydon’.

It’s a slick, professional-looking document, and the presentation has Barwell aide Mario Creatura’s fingerprints all over it. But it is smart and, at times, genuinely savvy – party affiliation is played down on the cover, with a small tree and lots of blue being the only indicator of the Conservatives’ involvement.

The document also takes a cleverly non-partisan approach at times. It is very willing to give Labour credit where it’s due, and avoids gratuitous sniping at the party – though that’s not to say no sniping occurs at all. It reads a little like a 1940s ‘Condition of Britain’ report at times. There’s an exhaustive league table of local (state) schools in the education section, for example.

This impression of being ‘above party politics’ is something Barwell himself has always been very keen on giving. But it’s not consistent: there’s a particularly nasty part about the ‘Croydon rave’, where the crime section declines to mention the name of Barwell’s Labour opponent, Sarah Jones, referring to her only as ‘the Labour candidate’. It then goes some way toward misrepresenting her by quoting an article she wrote before the news of the death of a rave attendee, and then treating this as if it were written in full knowledge of that tragedy.

But politics-as-usual is par for the course in any manifesto. All the same, you’ll be fairly sick of the phrase ‘the Conservative council that was in power until May 2014′ by the end.

What makes this interesting is the vision of Croydon it offers – people from all parties (or none) will be able to find something they can get behind (yes, there is a plug for Croydon Tech City – on page 4, no less). Conventional Tory ideology goes out out of the window on occasion – the candidates say they want to see suburban rail eventually taken out of private franchisers’ hands, and run by local government-operated Transport for London.

The Conservatives seem to be trying to paint themselves as the elder statesmen of Croydon

More BIDs, superfast broadband, support for Croydon Tech City and even popular left-wing ideas? It does appear that, despite their ages, Mssrs Philp, Barwell and Mohan are trying to paint themselves as the elder statesmen of Croydon. I lack the space to provide a full blow-by-blow account here, but I do recommend a read of the manifesto – it’s more interesting than it looks. It can be found here.

Finally, there’s an interestingly telling tidbit contained within the detail of the document. Roehampton’s proposal to bring a campus to Croydon sees the manifesto actively trumpet Barwell’s sometimes controversial membership of the board of the Whitgift Foundation as a plus, enabling him to influence local decision-making on numerous levels. It appears the Conservatives don’t believe that Barwell’s presence on the board – a situation he shares with Labour cabinet member Cllr Toni Letts – is the liability some try to paint it as. Who’s right? The answer may determine a crucial number of votes in 2015.

Jones and Barwell fire starting pistol with campaign events

The two candidates for the most hotly-contested seat in the borough, Croydon Central, are getting their campaigns underway. Both Gavin Barwell (the incumbent Conservative) and Sarah Jones (his Labour challenger) have been canvassing and ‘doorstepping’ since before the summer, but now things are really heating up.

The seat is marginal – both parties believe they have everything to play for. The shape of their campaigns, therefore, will be crucial.

Both Jones and Barwell have public events coming up – and I will be livetweeting them both. Jones is holding a public meeting for debate and discussion on Croydon’s rising cost of private renting, tonight at Matthews Yard. It’s free, and starts at 7pm. Barwell, meanwhile, is doing a campaign launch this Monday at the Fairfield Halls. Tweets from both events will be forthcoming, so keep an eye on the @CroydonCit account.

You can book free tickets for Barwell’s campaign launch on the 22nd (which his team is marketing as a chance to meet Boris Johnson) here.

Pollard on track to take Conservative leadership unopposed

Cllr Tim Pollard, former cabinet member for children, families and learning, is understood to be running away with the contest to succeed Mike Fisher as Conservative group leader, having acquired swathes of nominations and the support of the entire shadow cabinet. I’m particularly thrilled at this news, as it means that, for once, I seem to have got a prediction right – listeners to Bieneosa Ebite’s excellent live broadcasts from the May 2014 count may remember that she and I agreed that Tim Pollard looked to be the likely choice to win the election to succeed Fisher if he went any time soon.

But, as one Conservative helpfully pointed out, ‘we won’t need the election if he stands unopposed.’ Such a coronation would make sense – after Wadgate, the Conservatives do not want a messy contest to succeed a disgraced ex-leader. Nominations closed yesterday, and at time of writing it’s not believed anyone has stood against Pollard. Which means only one thing.

Croydon, put the bravado of Mike Fisher behind you. It’s time to get ready for a smooth-talking brand of Conservativism.

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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  • Stephen Giles

    Excellent article Tom.

  • Anne Giles

    As usual, excellent.

  • Jonny Rose

    As usual, excellent. Excellent article Tom.

  • Gavin Barwell

    Croydon Council wants to license all privately-rented homes in the borough. The measures will lead to higher costs for landlords and rent increases for tenants.

    As a local resident, you have the right to have your voice heard. You can contribute to the consultation exercise by helping me to demonstrate that the Council’s policy is damaging and will only increase the cost of living for tenants in the community.

    I’ll be at a public meeting, as will a representative from the Council, other residents and businesses based in Croydon to discuss the proposals and help find a way to keep Croydon affordable.

    At the Imperial Conference Centre, Hampton By Hilton Croydon, 29/30 Dingwall Road, CR0 2NB.

    25th September 2014. Doors open at 6.30pm for a 7pm start. It’ll finish no later than 9pm.

    Please feel free to contact me using if you have any questions.