Inside Croydon columnist ANDREW PELLING, left, spent some time listening to the submissions to the boundary commissioners over proposals to re-shape Croydon’s parliamentary constituencies. He was unconvinced by what he heard
Wandsworth’s grand 1930s Town Hall is a haven of peace just a few yard from the hurtling South Circular road, with its fountain outside its main entrance and inside with the brown English oak panelled walls, where pictures of past, worthy Mayors hang.
No sign here of extravagant plans for multi-million pound new town hall buildings in this south-west London council renowned for its low Council Tax. Unlike Croydon, Wandsworth is a Conservative Council that still puts value for money as its primary target.
Peaceful, if not completely somnolent, too, is the council chamber as the Boundary Commission does its consultation work on the new Parliamentary boundaries devised to reduce the number of Westminster MPs from 650 to 600.
Under a spectacular but dimly lit Art Deco chandelier, Judith Farbey QC sits as an Assistant Commissioner, hearing concerns about some rather peculiar new pairings of communities across borough boundaries in deepest south London.
It’s mainly the Liberal Democrat politicians who are there. Even in south-west London, being a LibDem is a minority activity, so it is a sparsely populated council chamber. Liberal Democrats, the “partners” in the coalition government, have most to worry about after the changes proposed, and thus they have the most to say.
Liberal Democrat MPs’ records of incumbency will count for little when their seats get so badly mucked up under the review initiated by their supposed friends in the government, the Conservatives.
Gavin Barwell, Croydon Central‘s Conservative MP, did visit Wandsworth this week to say that as far as he’s concerned, he’s happy with the changes more or less.
He told the commissioners that he and the Croydon Conservatives would also like the Boundary Commission’s proposed renaming of the constituency of “Croydon Central” to “Croydon East”, to be further altered to read “Croydon East & New Addington”.
Barwell must judge that such a move will pander to voters in New Addington.
Of course, such a move runs entirely counter to the direction of public policy over the years under both Conservatives and Labour locally. The approach has been to tie in the New Addington community in to Croydon, not to separate the place from the rest of the borough. This approach tried to reverse policies up to the 1970s, when an estate of over 20,000 largely working class residents were treated as “out of sight, out of mind” for Croydon Council.
Both Labour and Conservatives have played up to that old failed approach by using the slogan “New Addington: the place the Council forgot” against each other. Some New Addington residents still talk in the terms normally heard by fans at Millwall football club: “no one likes us and we don’t care”.
Although there have been foolish attempts to impose an ugly Tesco’s to despoil the 1930s “Garden Village” concept of Central Parade, public policy has been effective in trying to repair the neglect of New Addington’s needs. The clearest example of that desire to break down the separation between New Addington and Croydon has been Tramlink.
Recent efforts by Conservatives to academise what was Selsdon High School was also aimed at increasing education choice off the estate for New Addington residents. The Tram reduced travel times by public transport by more than half. As a result joblessness fell in New Addington in such a way that the two wards in New Addington post-Tramlink moved from being at the top of the joblessness tables to the middle amongst Croydon wards.
The whole thrust then was to make New Addington part of Croydon. Barwell and Croydon Conservatives seem to want to re-emphasise the outlying nature of New Addington. Perhaps the BNP, who are relatively strong in New Addington compared to other parts of Croydon, will welcome the renewed distinction?
It’s not clear how popular Barwell’s proposed altered nomenclature would be in other parts of the new “Croydon East” seat, as other communities have just as strong a call upon identification for their historical antecedents.
Down in the valley, Addington has the Norman St Mary the Blessed Virgin church, dating back to 1080, built 17 years before the Westminster Hall through which MPs will traipse on their way to the Commons chamber. Addington was the country residence of Archbishop of Canterbury. Five Archbishops are buried at St Mary’s.
Addiscombe was the home of the East India Company’s Addiscombe Military Academy, with generals’ names used in five of the roads there between Addiscombe and Lower Addiscombe Road. Shirley has its poppy and its links with John Ruskin and the Lloyd family.
Even Selsdon has its Selsdon Man, courtesy of Edward Heath and Selsdon Park Hotel.
So perhaps it’s better to keep the Croydon East name. There is continuity with a seat of such a name from 1950 to 1955.
Indeed, if Croydon wants to escape its “damaged” reputation after the urban riots that cursed our borough, it might be better to green our town’s image and respect our long historical ties. Why not have a constituency named “Addiscombe, Addington and Shirley Hills”? Sounds like just the kind of place Conservative voters would like to live in.
“Croydon East and New Addington” sounds more like a gritty Labour seat to me.
- Andrew Pelling is a former Croydon Councillor, London Assembly member and, until 2010, was Conservative MP for Croydon Central. To read his previous columns, click here.
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