CROYDON COMMENTARY by Steven Downes, Editor, InsideCroydon.com
As newspaper front pages go, this pretty much hammered home a final nail in a government’s coffin.
The Sun‘s “Crisis? What Crisis?” splash in January 1979 is a classic headline. It refers to Prime Minister Jim Callaghan’s remark while on a Caribbean island during an international conference when he sought to reassure the British public that the mounting piles of uncollected rubbish, rail and transport strikes, fuel shortages and bodies unburied in public cemeteries were really nothing to worry about.
Oh, how the public back home in shivering Britain was put at its ease. Within four months, Labour had lost the general election and would not be in power again for two decades.
Perhaps in years to come, the people of Croydon will come to regard in similar scornful manner the equally ill-judged remarks made in the past week by Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell.
Less than a year after the 8/8 riots, corporate collapse and exodus from Croydon could see nearly 3,000 jobs being lost from a borough. And what was MP Barwell’s prognosis?
“The medium-term prospects are actually very bright,” Barwell wrote.
Will this be remembered as Barwell’s “Crisis? What Crisis?” moment?
Barwell is the product of a privileged education at a minor public school, followed by Cambridge University. Barwell has never had what most of the people of Croydon might regard as a “proper job”. Apart from a brief spell running a “consultancy”, Barwell hasn’t had to do a night shift as a ward nurse, do overtime on top of a full-time job in a foundry or factory to make ends meet, nor ever spent a term organising lesson plans and teaching a class of 15-year-olds.
Straight from university, Barwell went into a career as a professional politician, mostly working as the bag-man for Tory party donor Lord Ashcroft, someone whose assiduous avoidance of possibly millions of pounds of tax over many years would make Jimmy Carr look like… well, a comedian.
Even according to the Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gideon Osborne, “aggressive” tax avoidance schemes by the mega-rich are “morally repugnant”.
Not that Barwell has ever decried such tax avoidance by Cashcroft while his Lordship has been bank-rolling the Conservative party, funding campaigns for key target seats, and paying for the running of influential right-wing websites.
Some might think that Barwell’s silence on Ashcroft’s tax affairs marks him out as an arch hypocrite.
Barwell has a line of cant in other areas, too.
Mental health bills and the “loon” jibe
Lately, he has been more than a little self-righteous about his introduction in the House of Commons of a Private Members’ Bill which includes some commendable recommendations to outlaw discrimination against people on grounds of their mental health.
With his self-satisfied toothy grin, you could almost sense Barwell polishing his halo when he appeared on local television news at the weekend to talk about the terrible consequences of discrimination against the mentally ill. Yet this was the same Gavin Barwell who thinks nothing of publicly insulting local residents on Twitter, including calling one “a loon”. The height of hypocrisy?
It is certainly very questionable behaviour from someone who holds elected office. Imagine if Barwell had used a similarly loaded, pejorative term about someone’s racial background or their sexual preferences. Would he still have an office at Westminster?
And how sincere is Barwell about his mental health bill if, in less guarded moments, he can behave in such a spiteful manner simply because a constituent has dared to ask him questions?
Barwell, whose maiden speech to parliament two years ago provided the platform for the launch of this website, clearly dislikes Inside Croydon. We suspect it is because, unlike his friends on the council, the Croydon Establishment, the Whitgift Foundation, or websites funded by Tory millionaires, he cannot control Inside Croydon.
After he lost his barely read weekly column in the throwaway freebie Sadvertiser Midweeker, we approached Barwell to offer him a similar platform on this site. After acknowledging our enquiry, Barwell has failed to have even the common courtesy to reply to our generous offer.
Inside Croydon is not aligned with any political party – in the past two weeks, we have carried articles by councillors from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties and a leading Green party activist.
And unlike Barwell, who staffs his office using a six-figure budget provided by the tax-payer, we do not receive any public funding, nor do we get cash from any political party, trades union or a billionaire sugar daddy. We treasure our independence.
Despite this, Barwell regularly attempts to smear this site with false allegations. According to Barwell and one or two Tory troll Twitter accounts that are clearly linked to Conservatives at the Town Hall, we are an “attack site”. If that means we attack bad management of our council, self-serving councillors and expenses-grubbing MPs, their cant and hypocrisy in public office, then maybe Barwell and his chums are right.
Vested interests and the Whitgift Foundation connections
Just how low will Barwell go?
Well, this past weekend, he resorted to trying to score petty political points by raising the subject of my children. Laughably, the serial hypocrite had the brass neck to accuse me, as editor of Inside Croydon, of hypocrisy.
I had dared to question Michael Gove’s proposals on O Levels. Our Gav is in favour of O Levels, it would seem, and grammar schools, too, even though there was no mention of either in his own government’s White Paper on education published barely two years ago.
I have actually spent time working in the same editorial office as Gove, when we were both in the pay of Rupert Murdoch. I was never that impressed by Gove the journalist, and I remain underwhelmed by Gove the government minister.
I was particularly suspicious about Gove’s blatant leak of the O Level story to the Mail. It coincided with the Home Secretary, Theresa May, being held to be in contempt of court. What do you mean, you hadn’t heard anything about May’s brush with the law?
If an education secretary is really concerned about “grade inflation” with GCSEs, there are a couple of simple measures – one of which Gove himself suggested – which might work without putting the entire school system in a Tardis and whisking it back to the 1970s.
The single examination board suggested by Gove could address grade inflation at a stroke. Awarding GCSE grades based not on the candidates’ own scores, but returning to the system where pupils are graded in relation to their peers (so only the top 10 per cent of pupils would get A grades, for example) could be applied to next year’s GCSEs cadre at virtually no expense or, most importantly of all, disruption to the pupils midway through their courses.
These, though, are just the ideas of someone who has been a “consumer” of education for more than 40 years, whose immediate family have attended state grammar and comprehensives, independent schools, and have even taught at state schools. As Susan Oliver suggested here earlier this week, I’d like to hear what teachers have to say. I would certainly have more faith in the judgement of those working in education than some here-today-gone-tomorrow politician.
All of this appears a little too subtle for Gavin “prospects are very bright” Barwell, judging by what he has written on his official MP’s website, where his deliberate misinterpretation of other people’s remarks can only be because he is desperate to score political points, like a schoolboy who’s never quite grown up.
When one of Barwell’s correspondents says that he would “like to know more about the proposal” from Croydon Council for a grammar school and whether it is “a real prospect”, Barwell turns this on its head to traduce his questioner as being “opportunistic”.
When it comes to being opportunistic, Barwell’s among the best of ‘em. After I had questioned the O Level proposal, Barwell accused me of being “pretty hypocritical”, stating that I send one of my “children to an independent school that is moving to the more rigorous iGCSEs”. Despite being advised at the weekend that this is not the case, Barwell still chose to repeat this on his MP’s website.
Barwell has refused to reveal where or how he obtained his erroneous information. Perhaps he was being mindful of Section 55 of the Data Protection Act, which it states that “A person must not knowingly or recklessly … a) obtain or disclose personal data…”.
Hypocrisy? In Barwell’s case, it gets worse.
In nearly one thousand words about education policies, not one word was used by Barwell to declare his own vested interests. Nowhere does this recipient of a scholarship from Trinity School – worth, at today’s prices, a cool £80,000 over a seven-year school career – state in this article that he is a Governor of the Whitgift Foundation charity and chairman of the Governors at his old school.
Gavin “prospects are very bright” Barwell and his wife Karen have three children. Wonder where they will be going to school?
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- Use your loaf, Gav: Barwell’s “Let Them Eat Cake” moment (insidecroydon.com)
- MP Barwell says he got it wrong over group’s racist incident (insidecroydon.com)
- Police called out for “racist” incident with Barwell’s work gang (insidecroydon.com)