Folly of a debate sees dour O’Connell bat out his innings

Well. Maybe.

Croydon got its own version of the election hustings this week for its London Assembly candidates. ANDREW PELLING was one of the few who went along to Folly’s End

Sixty-five assorted political activists, journalists and council officers rather rattled around in the big space upstairs at Folly’s End for the Redhill Sadvertiser hustings this week, ahead of the London elections next Thursday, May 3.

There was no end of follies here.

Croydon Council press officer John Bownas was on hand to get the Sadvertiser out of a hole, as he had to help to get the sound system working and try to adjust the lighting, not altogether successfully as the candidates spent most of the evening with a projected Sadvertiser logo over their faces.

It was unclear as to whether the Sadvertiser editor, who took time out from his office in Redhill to compere the hustings, was being sarcastic when he said that the paper was overwhelmed with readers’ questions for the hustings.

The Sadvertiser editor will certainly have not been amused by the observation of one questioner from Sutton who found the Croydon-centric nature of the hustings too much like the Sutton Advertiser with what he described as “one page Sutton news, 85 pages Croydon news” (according to the most recent, independent audit of the Sadvertiser‘s declining sales, they sell an average of 202 – yes, 202 – copies of the Sutton Advertiser each week).

Winston McKenzie, the UKIP candidate, passed his practical skills test with flying colours when making one of the microphones work.

McKenzie’s rhythmic turns of phrase and preacher-style invigorated the hustings’ atmosphere, even if the actual remarks entirely parted company from the realities of the limited role of London Assembly Members.

It is fair to say that the Sadvertiser's hustings event was not slickly presented

The approach of the Conservatives’ Steve O’Connell, the current GLA member, seemed more pedestrian, a bit like a batsman trying to bat out defensively to the end of the day, playing for a draw and hanging on in the hope that his majority will stand up on election day despite his party’s ailing ratings in the national and London polls.

His strokes became somewhat lazy towards the end of play. Perversely for a full-time, professional politician, O’Connell said that he would prefer people to go out and vote LibDem or Labour, rather than not vote at all.

His denial of involvement in voting in favour of the incinerator seemed half-hearted, when he said he was yet to judge the safety of the facility. In direct contradiction to his vague understanding why he had supported the burner in Beddington Lane, he had just categorically welcomed the LibDem candidate Abigail Lock’s support for the same scheme.

O’Connell offered a crowd-pleasing moment when he expressed opposition to Tesco taking over the historic Swan & Sugarloaf pub in South Croydon, which might be uncomfortable news for his Conservative colleagues Dudley Mead, the deputy leader of Croydon Council, Councillor Margaret Mead, and Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell, who all hold positions with the pub’s owners, the multi-million-pound landowners at the Whitgift Foundation.

O’Connell grumbled that he spent what he regarded as a disproportionate amount of time in Sutton, but Croydon should get Boris bikes ahead of the Liberal-Democrat-controlled  borough. If Sutton Council paid him respect, he would support their bids for Mayoral money.

Steve O'Connell, the Conservative candidate for Sutton and Croydon: has spent his time writing a letter to Mayor Boris to tell him when the first anniversary of 8/8 riots will be

O’Connell revealed his insight when he told how he had written to his friend, Mayor Boris Johnson, to remind him that the first anniversary of Croydon’s 8/8 riots would come up on … August 8! One supposes that we, as voters, were meant to be grateful for this letter writing exertion to express the obvious on our behalf.

Abigail Lock never recovered from being tactlessly introduced as the candidate who came third last time, but she did treat the audience to lucid, constructive answers.

Even more earnest was the Green candidate, Gordon Ross, who found out that earnestness does not stir at a hustings.

Ross created the one controversy of the night when he said that Labour should have co-operated with the Greens on the incinerator for the last three years. This seemed to overlook that his own party declined to work with Labour when approached to do so.

On feisty form was Labour candidate Louisa Woodley, who felt it criminal that Conservative politicians, by implication including O’Connell, did not speak out for Croydon getting proper police cover in the 36 hours up to the outbreak of rioting, looting and arson last August. She spoke of a desire to see a City Hall administration for the people of London, putting money back into the economy with 7 per cent fare cuts.

O’Connell did feel that the election was about trust – no trust in Ken Livingstone.

Once trust was on the agenda, it was inevitable that Croydon Conservatives’ broken 2010 election promises not to have an incinerator “in or near” Croydon would be aired.

But with all the style and excitement of a Chris Tavare, while O’Connell failed to score very much, he was still stubbornly at the crease at the end and will very likely be there at the start of play following next week’s election.

Woodley’s supporters felt that she won the hustings, but be that as it may, the Sadvertiser‘s limited grip on Croydon political life was seen in the small and activist-dominated audience, so little momentum for Woodley can be expected from the Folly’s End encounter.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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