Direct from an election meeting where the most impressive thing was Eddie Izzard’s new glasses, WALTER CRONXITE, our man on Katharine Street with the rolled up copy of the local free paper and an e-cigarette tucked behind his ear, reports on possibly the shoddiest piece of literature yet seen in the 2014 campaign
Occasionally, our local politicians go in for something conceptual in their attempts to win the attention of voters, who are often either jaded about politics or cynical of politicians, or most commonly, both. So a different slant is taken, moving away from the routine photographs taken by bored local newspaper snappers, showing a glum councillor pointing out yet another pot hole or pile of steaming dog turd – as illustrated so well by the glum councillors website.
With voters entirely disenchanted with expenses-grabbing national and local politicians, a new approach is always worth a try.
The first piece of political whimsy during this year’s council elections came when Waddon residents received a Valentine’s card from their Labour candidates. The card, adorned with a broken heart, spoke wistfully of the broken promises of the Conservative councillors who undertook not to support a local incinerator and then went ahead and did the exact opposite. Labour will be far more faithful than the Tories was the clear message.
That was two months ago, but now another piece of political paper has found its way to Inside Croydon Towers, this time with the Waddon Conservatives trying to “think outside the box”.
They probably ought not to have bothered.
The three-man Tory team seeking election on May 22 in one of Croydon’s key wards look to have raided a low-rent photo library for the epitome of a generic middle-class, suburban domestic scene. Or they’ve been round to “Sir” Tricky Dicky Ottaway’s country pile for afternoon tea armed with an iPad.
With a soft-focused, sun-bathed picture of a freshly toasted hot cross bun beside a bone China teapot, the Waddon Tories’ leaflet has a passing resemblance to a page from Ideal Home magazine. The tea set looks like just the sort of thing Maria Miller would buy out of public money, while in the background of the picture there looks to be a vase that escaped the Croydon Tories’ auctioning of the borough’s Riesco Collection of fine Chinese porcelain. The only thing missing from the image is a butler’s white-gloved hand, reaching through to pour another cup.
Pensioners are, after all, a key target demographic for Tory canvassers.
Above the picture are the words “Have a Happy Easter” in a peaceful blue along with an extra line in jarring red warning “But don’t let Labour spoil the party!”
Such political sloganeering often says much more about the authors than they do about the political message.
Perhaps there are pensioner households in the deep south of the borough who still make time for high tea in the afternoon – it seems exactly the sort of nostalgia which Dudley and Margaret Mead, Croydon Council’s very own Terry and June, might enjoy. Maybe this is what Croydon’s Conservatives hope that voters still hanker after.
The realities are somewhat different, at least in Waddon, probably the only ward in true-blue Croydon South that might to vote Labour on May 22. Because among the good people of Waddon are families coping without time, or money, for tea and hot cross buns.
Instead, Waddon residents often find themselves dealing with the competing demands of a two-salary household and finding time for the kids. Instead of getting out the Royal Doulton, some find themselves in jobs that pay wages that don’t match their living costs.
Some Waddon people are on benefits which are now sanctioned so often that they are likely to be among the 1 million people in Britain this year who have had to rely on a food bank in order just to feed their family.
Today saw an open letter from the nation’s religious leaders to politicians regarding the hunger crisis in the country – there will be no toasted hot cross buns at tea for Britain’s hungry million.
They used to say that the Church of England was the Tory Party at prayer. Not any more. If they were, then Waddon’s three Tory candidates – Simon Hoar, Tony Harris and newcomer Mark Johnson – would realise that the sacred festival of Easter is far from the “party” that they dismissively describe in their leaflet.
Using Easter to try to score party political points also exposes the three white, middle-class and middle-aged (or older, in septugenarian Harris’s case) men’s lack of awareness of the multi-ethnic and multi-faith make-up of Waddon and Croydon generally. Wishing a Muslim, Sikh, Hindu or a Jew a “Happy Easter” in an election leaflet might be regarded as a touch insensitive.
The Waddon Tories have a problem, though. It’s just over a month to polling day, and their party has yet to issue an election manifesto for Croydon. All they have to go on is a picture of three (other) middle-class, middle-aged blokes, this time standing inside the Town Hall, waving around a giant cheque offering Croydon Conservatives’ 25-quid election bribe.
Given that, Waddon’s Tories have opted for the old-style Nasty Party’s negative campaigning on their leaflet.
Such a style of campaigning is often a turn-off for politically disengaged voters, who are heartily sickened of all politicians and their politicking.
But in the absence of any policies in a manifesto, Waddon’s Tories have got to fill the space in the leaflet somehow. It is not until you get to its back page that you find anything resembling a promise of what they intend to do over the next four years if you give them your vote: the Conservatives say that they will freeze Council Tax until 2016. Just the same as Labour.
That’s hardly surprising: neither Labour nor the Tories are allowed, by the Government at Westminster, to increase Council Tax by more than 1.99 per cent. So having had all discretion over Council Tax rates taken away from them, what other option do council candidates have but to offer a freeze? Of course, they could say that they will cut Council Tax, as a few other Tory-run authorities, including some London boroughs, have done.
It must be significant that after eight years in charge of the borough’s finances, and having built up a £1 billion debt mountain for the borough, Croydon Conservatives can only promise not to increase our Council Tax bills.
The Waddon Tories try to have a pop at Labour, too, over how little change there has been to the opposition group’s front-bench team in the eight years since they last ran the Town Hall. But when you look at the leaflet’s picture of Waddon’s Tory candidates, it is clear that the Conservatives have been having a few problems with membership recruitment and party renewal as well.
The balding, be-suited middle-aged Tory twosome of Hoar and Johnson don’t look that inspiring. Congratulations are due to the 74-year-old Tony Harris who, unlike his younger counterparts, has kept his hair and is much trimmer.
But what ever happened to the expected third Tory candidate, Sophie Khan, who was slated for the Waddon ticket? Johnson, who has been active across in Woodside on the eastern side of Croydon, is a last-minute call-up, creating a Tory team of white men only in Waddon.
Perhaps the dated image of English tea time on the front of the Tory leaflet does communicate one other message – that the Conservatives don’t really reflect the modern Croydon community in 2014.
Recent Inside Croydon election coverage:
- A Viscount, two Lords and a comedian back Labour’s campaign
- Council spends £200,000 on drop kerbs in flood-risk area
- Tories pick ‘Osland of the Yard’ to stand in Thornton Heath
- Newman struggles to get Labour singing from the same songsheet
- Councillors get two months off to work out what they stand for
- What Barwell fails to tell you and the myths of Council Tax
- Council allowances and local politicians’ secret consensus
- Tory ward chairman quits to stand for UKIP in Ashburton
- Snap! Croydon Tories use same leaflet graphics as council
Coming to Croydon
- Opening of Marlpit Lane bowling and putting greens, Apr 17
- Arts and Crafts Market, Exchange Square, Apr 19
- Private Peaceful, Charles Cryer Theatre, Apr 23-26
- Alison, A Rock Opera, Spread Eagle Theatre, Apr 23-26
- David Lean Cinema: Short Term, Apr 24
- Stop The Incinerator Beer and Bingo fund-raiser, Apr 28
- Hauntology – the architecture of Croydon, Apr 5-May 2
- Norwood Society Talk: West Norwood – a place of change, May 15
- Croydon RFC charity memorial day, May 17
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 72,342 average monthly page views (Jan-Mar 2014)
If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org