The Public Gallery: Who says people don’t get off the sofa anymore?

By - Thursday 19th September, 2013

This week, Tom Black explores some local events which demonstrated Croydonians are keen to get out and about – and actively involved with local politics

Wet weather doesn’t perturb Friends of Ashburton Park

More than forty people not only got up off their sofas but also braved the rain at a public meeting last Wednesday. That’s right – it was held outside. The Friends of Ashburton Park are, it seems, such good friends of the place that they will meet in it come rain or shine.

A source present at the meeting was delighted to inform me that more than forty people attended to discuss the group’s proposed plan – to keep the abandoned library in public ownership and turn it into a centre for the park, containing facilities for families and disabled people. There’s been some debate right here in the Citizen, both for and against the move (the opposition to the plan tends to support the Conservative council’s proposals to sell off the site).

Rather predictably for a proposal involving the phrase ‘public ownership’, opposition at the meeting took the form of four or five Conservative Party members in attendance (one of whom is well-known for his exploits in various Westminster bars, so may have simply been looking for a watering-hole closer to home). While some concerns were raised about disabled access to the proposed new facility, a local disability activist was able to forcefully reassure the Conservative member who brought it up that any such worries are entirely misplaced, and that disabled access had been factored into the plans from day one. Friends of Ashburton Park will meet again in October, and I’ll be watching with interest as their campaign develops.

“Walkgate”, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Twitter

Citizen contributors have voiced concerns time and again about the tone of Croydon’s political debate, particularly on Twitter. Last week, another chapter in this sorry saga was written after Gavin Barwell left a charity walk early, citing ill health. A few days later, he traveled to where he left off and completed the walk. Not much wrong with that, only a video on the Croydon Guardian website left out the crucial detail that Barwell didn’t complete the walk on the day. Within hours, veterans of the Croydon Twittersphere were popping up left and right (pun intended) to defend or criticise their man/target for a perceived cover-up by Barwell and his bag-carrier/sidekick/reggae connoisseur Mario Creatura, thanks to a suspiciously-quick response to criticisms of the video on Twitter. The ensuing hashtag, #walkgate, was more the target of derision than it was directed critiques of Barwell’s actions/inactions/perambulatory habits.

Should we be encouraged by this level of engagement, just as we should be by the Friends of Ashburton Park? I’m not so sure. This kind of mudslinging isn’t going to change anything, and it certainly isn’t going to sort out Croydon’s problems. Glenn Ebrey, of fellow Croydon paper The Croydon Advertiser, said it best in this instance:

It is worth mentioning that the parties involved parted fairly amicably after the exchanges, though old grudges and rivalries will require more than an absurd hashtag to heal. And frankly, speaking as a voter, I don’t mind where Gavin Barwell walks. Except when he’s walking through the Aye lobby in the Commons to sell off Royal Mail, of course.

Labour in Croydon South are looking to shake things up

After looking last week at the Labour selection battle in Croydon Central and the approaching Tory one in Croydon South, I’ve cast my eyes elsewhere this time. Before you get too excited, I’m afraid I’m unable to divulge any insider information about the badger-racing competition UKIP will be holding to determine their candidate in Croydon South.

Elsewhere in that constituency, however, there are rumblings of a bold step forward from the local Labour Party. It’s known that officers in Croydon South CLP (Constituency Labour Party) are keen to pursue ‘something more innovative’ than the style of selections that have been carried out in the recent past. The power of an insurgent campaign was explored last week in an examination of relative outsider Sarah Jones’ selection as Croydon Central’s Labour candidate over several establishment-endorsed councillors.

Steve Reed and Sarah Jones will be joined by a third candidate to represent Labour in Croydon in 2015. Will he or she, like them, be somewhat unexpected?

Steve Reed and Sarah Jones will be joined by a third candidate to represent Labour in Croydon in 2015. Will he or she, like them, be somewhat unexpected?

But sources point to the selection of Steve Reed, now MP for Croydon North, as the beginning of a new trend in the local party. Like Jones, Reed chose to engage directly with the CLP membership and beat Val Shawcross, an accomplished figure who’s been active in Croydon Labour for 20 years. The party’s traditional power structures – and tendency towards gerontocracy – have begun to erode via its council selections, too. A new, younger crop of candidates has won contests in winnable wards. Among them are Emily Benn (yes, she’s his granddaughter), Hamida Ali and Stuart King. They and others potentially represent a slow shift in the makeup of Croydon Labour.

Such a shift would be entrenched by an ‘innovative’ selection in Croydon South. It’s not a seat Labour expects to win this side of doomsday, so senior party authorities may be more willing to experiment. While no decision has been taken at any level, plans are being made that propose ways for the contest to utilise a process that energises the local party and increases engagement with the political process. I can certainly say I await with bated breath, as anything to get more of us off the sofa and into our communities can only be a good thing.

Got a tip, query or just an idea for an angle The Public Gallery could explore? Contact the Citizen.

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.

More Posts - Twitter