Croydon in Crisis: Barwell, “loons” and a “bright” future

CROYDON COMMENTARY by Steven Downes, Editor,

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.

Ashcroft: peerless comedy when it comes to avoiding tax

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?

Gavin Barwell: just a bit smug about his mental health private members’ bill. Doesn’t stop him using the word “loon” as an insult to a Croydon resident

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.

The old school ties bind Barwell to the Whitgift Foundation

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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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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7 Responses to Croydon in Crisis: Barwell, “loons” and a “bright” future

  1. Your railing against the oleaginous Gavin Barwell is good to read. But it will make no difference to his security of tenure as a member of parliament.
    Consider the last General Election: Mr Barwell stood as the Conservative candidate in Croydon Central against Andrew Pelling, a sitting MP with a proven and enviable record in the constituency.
    The voting figures tell the sad story of an electorate who will vote for anyone sporting a blue rosette.

    • Have no doubt that you are correct, David. Of course, Croydon Central in 2010 was an odd contest, with independent Pelling in the mix with Labour and Conservative.

      If you think Croydon Central has got it bad, let me refer you to the poor folks of Croydon South and the infamous expenses claimer.

    • mraemiller says:

      Actually Croydon Central is/was one of the most marginal constituencies in the country.
      Pelling won in 2005 with a majority of a mere 77. Mainly due to the previous incumbant Labour’s Geriant Davies (now MP in Swansea) having garnered some very negative publicity by having expenses claim so egregious their sheer scale could not be concealed even before the Daily Telegraph investgation as they were larger than anyone else;s … a fact he “explained away” with the classic one liner “someone had to spend the most money – I’m proud it was me”. This was compounded by the fact he had used the parliamentary franking machine to put out party political propaganda, was censored by the Speaker and had to return the money. Without the “Davies effect” it is extremely probable that Pelling would not have won in 2005. Davies served two terms as Croydon Central MP picking the seat up in the 1997 Labour landslide. He was generally described (mainly by Private Eye) as a “carpetbagger” who thought so little they didn’t reward him with even a junior government position. Still at least he’d had a career in business before entering parliament and he seemed efficient even if he wasn’t exactly value for money.

      Barwell … well, I’m sure manual data entry into the Merlin database at CCHQ is a proper day’s work. However, Barwell did not go straight to CCHQ like David Cameron (probably because he didn’t know anyone from Buckingham Palace to “put in a word for him”) so went to work on the Lord Ashcroft target seats campaign which at that time was independent of CCHQ as Ashcroft had fallen out with Michael Howerd.
      Michael Howerd refused to take Ashcroft’s money “on condition that it was only used in marginal constituencies as he thought this would give him too much power over individual MPs but Lord Ashcroft gave the money independantly of the party effectively running his own political organisation outside and separate from the main organisation. David Cameron (who’s party leadership bid was financed by Lord Ashcroft) brought the target seats campaign and Lord Ashcroft and Gavin Barwell back into the mainstream Conservative machine by making Lord Ashcroft Deputy Chairman of the party. I dont know what Lord Ashcroft was paying Barwell but the man himself states that he took a “substantial pay cut” to become an MP which tells you everything you need to know about their relationship…?

  2. Hear! Hear!

    I have the misfortune to be represented by “Tricky Dicky” Ottaway. My remarks about gullible people voting for anyone with a blue rosette apply equally to him.

    I can only hope the proposed boundary changes will be implemented in time to give more discriminating voters the opportunity to influence the outcome properly in all future elections.

  3. Ken Towl says:

    The role of competing exam boards has been a scandal for some time – and they have always loved to give away hints about the content of their exams at their lucrative seminars (which have now, of course, been discontinued). I write as a teacher who has been courted for business by exam boards. It is obvious to me that the combination of getting rid of the competition and getting rid of criterion-based marking would ensure that grades would be a more reliable indicator of performance.

    On the other hand, politicians have their own agenda and sometimes just don’t “get it”. I once had the privilege as a teacher to attend a meeting with Jim Knight when he was Schools Minister. I asked him what percentage of children he thought ought to be getting 5 A*-C passes at GCSE level and he said “A hundred”. From his point of view, presumably, this would represent total success. From an employer’s or university’s it would, of course, render the entire exercise pointless.

  4. You write “Inside Croydon is not aligned with any political party”. It is clear, however, that you are viscerally, hysterically and irredeemably anti-Barwell – indeed, that is your raison d’etre. The reality is that Gavin Barwell is the best MP Croydon Central has ever had. One of my biggest regrets in my political career is that I did not vote for him in 2010.

    • Which of course is entirely untrue. But then what do you expect from someone who has sought election for the Monster Raving Loony party?

      Indeed, Loony’s comment is nothing less than can be expected from someone who demonstrates that the old school ties that he shares with Barwell continue to bind very tight. A Croydon Establishment? Shurely shome mishtake.

      We will continue to campaign against hypocrisy, cant, self-serving and duplicity among those in public life. Including Loony party candidates.

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