The Public Gallery: Party games for riot victims, and the ambitious Mr Pelling

By - Thursday 12th December, 2013

Riot From Wrong screening at Fairfield Halls attended by no Conservatives

Last week, on the same night as the rather wind-ravaged party to celebrate the new bridge at East Croydon, young filmmakers Fully Focused came to the Fairfield Halls for a showing and Q&A of their documentary, Riot From Wrong. The film, which I found to be an exceptionally well-made and thought-provoking piece of work, is reviewed in more detail here by Liz Sheppard-Jones. Liz also wrote of her disappointment with the Q&A the last time the film was shown – for this second showing in Croydon, there was a hope that more of the political class would attend, Sarah Jones having attended the first one. Jones herself returned, and Labour’s Opposition Leader Tony Newman was there with Clls Alison Butler and Stuart Collins. Steve Reed, MP for Croydon North, was another senior Labour figure who attended, and he prefaced the evening by reading out a message from Ed Miliband, who had sent his apologies.

The Croydon representative of the National Front, Tony Lee Martin, provoked a lively response when he attempted to equate the actions of the first peaceful protesters in Tottenham (whose clash with police eventually sparked the riots) with the murderers of PC Blakelock.

But Croydon’s current ruling party, the Conservatives, were nowhere to be seen. Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell was not there, though apologies were received from Mike Fisher and other senior Tory councillors. The film makes some serious criticisms of the police and the current government (though the Blair years do not get painted as sunshine and rainbows, either). Whether this factored into the notoriously loyal Croydon Conservatives’ decision not to attend is unknown.

Whatever the reason – and readers will forgive me if I am sceptical that 37 councillors, two MPs and countless local party officers were all engaged in other, unmissable activities on the same night – it played badly for the Conservatives on the night. It will do little to assuage the concern, heard at Gavin Barwell’s meeting on regeneration and at Riot From Wrong‘s Q&A itself, that the Conservatives are not sufficiently interested in regenerating the riot-hit parts of Croydon.

But, in fairness, it’s not just the Tories who misjudged an opportunity to appear in touch with riot-hit areas last week. Ed Miliband himself visited Crystal Palace as part of Small Business Saturday. He was met by Croydon Labour figures including Sarah Jones and Tony Newman, but did not come further into Croydon to visit the small businesses in London Road. Bushra Ahmed, the organiser of the Riot From Wrong screening, is confident that he will visit before the council elections next year. However, attending for an event like Small Business Saturday, rather than a nakedly political visit, would have given more credibility to Labour’s claims to be on the side of people like Bushra herself, who lost her business in the flames of August 2011.

Pelling’s ambitions clearly don’t end at Katharine Street

Andrew Pelling, the former Conservative MP who left the party in controversial circumstances, joined Labour in 2011 and will be one of the left wing party’s candidates in Waddon in the local elections next year.

But Pelling, 54, clearly feels his time as a parliamentarian is far from over. On 4th December, he stood in the Labour Party’s selection in Carshalton and Wallington, a constituency in Sutton. He lost to Siobhan Tate.

Labour’s Opposition Leader in Croydon, Tony Newman, said he had not been told in advance of Pelling’s candidacy, but had no objection to it.

But it’s unlikely this was a spur of the moment decision – Pelling has been playing a long game in Sutton. He was present at the planning meetings which granted permission for the Beddington Lane Incinerator, and regularly heckled, asking ‘where’s Tom Brake?’ His attempts to draw attention to the Lib Dem MP’s absence made him a lively presence, but evidently were not enough to fully endear him to the Carshalton and Wallington Labour Party. Pelling will likely not be too put out – Labour came a very distant third in Lib Dem Carshalton and Wallington in 2010, and the candidacy in Sutton would likely have been another worthy post for his CV.

All the same, Pelling is a formidable campaigner. He is understood to have been on a charm offensive with voters in Waddon since his selection. If he does make a successful return to front line politics, further attempts at Parliament are even more likely. Rumour has it that only Labour’s decision to use an all-women shortlist in Croydon Central stopped Pelling from standing to be selected for his old seat – but for his new party.

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

    Why the title “Riot from Wrong” for the film? There was no wrong. A well known criminal who had guns in his home and one in his car got shot, though he was not pointing a gun at police. There was nothing sweet or innocent about him. It is extremely difficult to see what a driver is doing through his front windscreen. Police probably thought he was about to shoot them. What were they supposed to do? It wasn’t a race thing either. Police have accidentaly shot white men too. The riots were pure criminality. One of our cleaners had a ‘phone call suggesting she go down with her partner and raid the shops, as there was plenty of free stuff going. Naturally, she refused.

    • Tom Black

      The version of events you have described is heavily disputed, Anne. There is an inquest currently underway and for legal reasons, it’s not possible to go over the details until that inquest reports.

      To answer your question about the film’s title as directly as possible (with all of what I said about legal restrictions on what we can say in mind): the film rejects many aspects of the explanation that you have just put forward, and posits that the ‘wrongs’ from which the Riots stemmed were more than just one thing. The recession, modern consumerism, lack of social mobility, racism and, yes, police misconduct are all considered as possible causes and triggers for the Riots.

      • Anne Giles

        Thanks for the explanation Tom. Just goes to show, one should not always believe what one reads!

    • Anthony Miller

      How about Riot from Cock Up?