Suddenly, it seems, Croydon is the centre of the political universe.
Today, for instance, cuddly Ken Livingstone was launching his London Mayoral campaign transport policy outside East Croydon station while across the road at the Fairfield Halls, Ed Balls was on the stump looking for support among party members for the Labour leadership election, with ballot papers due to drop through letter boxes this week.
Last week, Croydon was graced by the presence of the ever-unctious Nick Clegg, the deputy PM let us not forget and – at least while Call Me Dave is on a spot of paternity leave – the man with his finger on the little red button that could see us launch nuclear weapons from the Trident submarines which Cleggie may have once suggested that we could scrap. Or maybe he didn’t.
Ah, the dear old Lib Dems. What do they stand for? They don’t know whether they’re coming or going at the minute, in so many ways.
They were nowhere in the General Election in Croydon’s three constituencies, and nor did they win any seats in the local council election. That won’t stop Lembit Opik from visiting local LibDems – just don’t rely on the specific article on their website to find out when (it’s September 25, Inside Croydon has been informed, and a tenner a head to pay for the pizza).
Some suggest that Opik, more famous as the one-time beau of a Cheeky Girl than for his work as a MP in Wales, may be gearing up to run as his party’s candidate for London Mayor.
Croydon, clearly, is the place to be for Mayoral bids. Ken has been in the borough at least four times on official visits and hustings in the past few months, while his rival for the Labour candidacy, Oooooona King, has been here twice.
Boris, of course, rolls in to town every time he wants to do a photo op with a knife arch, as he did a month ago.
But keen observers such as The Guardian‘s Dave Hill believe that Boris may not even run for the Mayor’s job again. BoJo did drop one hint back in June, but he has been unusually silent as far as an official declaration that he wants to stay at City Hall.
Watching his Old Etonian chum taking charge across the Thames at Westminster is thought to irk the ever-ambitious Johnson, who realises that another term in charge of London would rule him out of any national office until 2016.
“A Tory-led government bent on slashing public spending was the last thing London’s power-ravenous Tory mayor needed, what with its installation of Cameron … at No 10 for years to come and the prospect of shrunken funding for the core mayoral functions of housing and policing as well as transport threatening his hopes of re-election in 2012. Who will get the blame if bus and tube fares soar even higher … or if crime begins to rise as police numbers fall? ‘Good old Boris’ will,” Hill writes today.
After weekend newspaper stories that Boris has threatened to quit over ConDem government funding cuts – stories which City Hall has, obviously, denied – Hill notes that without Boris, the Tories would be handing London to Labour on a plate. When you consider that the Conservatives’ previous London Mayoral candidates have been the perjurer Lord Archer and Steven “Shagger” Norris, you can see he has a point.
There may be a reason the politicos are choosing Croydon for so much of their campaigning.
Ken articulated it on one recent visit, when he admitted he had overlooked the outer London boroughs at the expense of the rest of his agenda during his eight years in City Hall.
After the last election, highly populated outer London boroughs, such as Croydon, are seen as the battlegrounds where, for the next decade, the balance of power will be determined not just in London elections, but also nationally.
“There is a realisation that future elections, especially for the Mayor, will be won in outer London,” one local political figure told Inside Croydon.
“The voting pool in outer London is just huge, far bigger than in some of the smaller, inner London constituencies.
“And when you are planning a campaign, Croydon is very useful because with people coming into the town for their jobs or for shopping, it means that a candidate can reach an awful lot of people very quickly.”
To an extent, some of that may even explain Clegg’s visit to the Clock Tower last Thursday, in a prime ministerial question and answer session broadcast by Sky News and Capital Radio and attended by nearly 300 specially invited locals.
Clegg, according to one seemingly embittered LibDem supporter, “wouldn’t normally get anywhere near Croydon previously. Absolutely nothing in it for Lib Dems politically.
“This is just evidence that he is more bothered about supporting the coalition than strengthening the Liberal Democrats.”
Curiously, seats for the near-secret event, as offered by the organisers, were fully booked 24 hours in advance. Yet if you applied through the website of the extremely well-connected Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell, even on the morning of Clegg’s visit, then you could have as many tickets as you liked.
Such is the vacuum as far as local LibDems are concerned, it was Tory Barwell who was asked to brief the Deputy PM on local issues ahead of the Q&A session.
Not that even that was necessary, as the free-form session had little if anything to do with specific local issues, instead starting with that hot topic of the moment, animal rights (uh?!), and then meandering through a range of topics over the course of an hour.
The audience was not entirely pliant, though, as they confronted Clegg with the latest report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies which analysed the ConDems’ Budget and found that it would hit the country’s lowest earners more than the well-off.
If Clegg had looked at his own party organisation in Croydon during his visit, he may have realised that he had just seen the future of politics for Britain. Because it appears that his move for power by jumping into bed with the Tories, far from establishing a multi-party democracy as he claims, has only weakened his own party to the point of cementing a two-party system for some time to come.