United we stand: looking for a more representative Croydon

CROYDON COMMENTARY: There’s gathering interest in more radical solutions to the deep economic and social problems, locally and nationally, judging by one well-attended meeting last week, writes ANDREW PELLING

Something rather extraordinary is happening to left of centre politics in Croydon.

Everyday, people are getting involved, prompted by ease of access to social media.

John McDonnell: drew a large audience when speaking in Croydon this week

Ruskin House, home to the disparate elements of the local Labour movement, was packed on Thursday evening with people to hear John McDonnell MP, the chairman of the left of centre Labour Representation Committee.

The LRC includes those MPs like Jeremy Corbyn and Katy Clark who sit in the far corner of the Commons furthest from the Speaker, and who often prove to be better critics of the Labour party than the Conservatives.

McDonnell takes the view that the most effective opposition to the government could come from the combination of the everyday people campaigning on single issues, democratising social media, trade unionists and Labour party members.

He feels that society could be driven to radical action by the regression to uncaring Dickensian values with, for example, sacked disabled Remploy workers being told to compete for jobs with the able-bodied, or rightful benefits being denied to the truly needy, while the majority of benefits in reality being used to subsidise sky-high rents charged by profiting landlords, while subsidising employers who are paying less than a living wage.

McDonnell decried the Establishment as corrupt, with frequent scandals featuring bankers, the media, law courts, the police and politicians. For him, individuals are over-taxed, while large corporations paid little through sophisticated tax avoidance schemes.

McDonnell sees the Labour party leadership as timorous in the face of an unfriendly media and urged that “leadership” should come from everyday people because they would not see that leadership coming from the Labour front bench.

A hesitant, weak and fractious coalition could be chased from office early by pressure from the public, according to McDonnell.

For those who love political nostalgia, there was a chance to hear an eloquent “Red” Ted Knight, the formerly notorious Lambeth Council leader, now nearly 80 years old but still a resident of Gipsy Hill, who was elected to the committee of LRC in 2007.

Yet even Knight sounded relatively mainstream in his commentary. The idea of harnessing local concerns, one-issue campaigns and people’s upset at a dysfunctional society could just as easily have come from Blairites and Labour’s Movement for Change.

The only difference in the message seems to be the LRC’s self-assured open liaison with trade unions, who are happy to persuade their members to strike. The rather dated Labour trauma from the “Winter of Discontent” of 1979 and fears of misrepresentation of a “Red Ed” leader leaves Labour HQ nervous of a natural and worthy hinterland in the trades union movement.

This aversion is a particular challenge in Croydon for Labour, where the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is a strongly performing organisation with a large set of administrative jobs in the town. PCS was instrumental in saving the Croydon Land Registry from closure and securing its upgrade to being the Land Registry’s national headquarters.

The PCS is not affiliated to the Labour party and will back anti-austerity candidates in Parliamentary elections, thus taking away a few but maybe vital votes from Labour.

The LRC initiative, though, is about working through the Labour party. Creating a distinctive offer for the electorate is important when so many Croydon voters dismiss political canvassers, Tory and Labour, as “they’re all just the same”.

Working with the enthusiasm that the LRC offers could give an important additional boost to Labour in Croydon. Croydon has many of the same challenges detailed by McDonnell at the meeting.

Councillor Carole Bonner spoke of 902 families in South Norwood being dependent on food parcels. Both Bonner and Gerry Ryan, Labour’s Parliamentary Croydon Central candidate in 2010, offer good links with the trade union movement that would be part of any LRC activity in Croydon.

  • Andrew Pelling is a former MP, London Assembly Member and councillor in Croydon
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About insidecroydon

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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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