After a morning spent touring London Road, meeting local residents, business owners and workers in the area worst-hit by the rioting last year, shadow cabinet member Sadiq Khan realised he had made a shocking discovery about Croydon.
“Not a single one of those I spoke to who had been affected by the riots had benefited from a penny of the riot recovery fund,” said Tooting MP Khan.
While other political parties began campaigning in Croydon North at the weekend for the parliamentary by-election prompted by the death of Malcolm Wicks, the MP for the area for 20 years, Labour has yet to select a candidate.
By today’s midday deadline, Labour party headquarters had received “dozens” of applications; the selection process for the candidate to stand to succeed Wicks, in his 16,000 majority seat, is not expected to be completed until November 3.
In the meantime, Labour is sending into the constituency high-profile MPs from other London seats to, according to Khan, sound out the electorate and discover “what they’d like to see in their Labour candidate”.
Next Monday, Streatham’s Chuka Umunna is expected to visit Croydon on a similar fact-finding photo op tour. Gareth Thomas, the Harrow West MP, is also pencilled in for a visit.
After his tour, Khan said he was surprised at how badly neglected the area had been by its own borough council. “It’s more than a year since the riots,” said Khan in an exclusive interview with Inside Croydon, “and the people I spoke to today all said that after the riots, the place was full of TV crews and newspaper reporters, as well as politicians.
“But now all that’s disappeared, and the people I spoke to, who live or work locally, who run small businesses in the area, businesses that are the bread and butter of the local economy, all spoke about how they’ve been very badly neglected by their council, by the London Mayor and by the government.
“They told me how they felt that they have had promises broken again and again, how the local council doesn’t understand them or the problems they face, on issues as basic as parking and business rates.
“Almost everyone I spoke to said that it always seems to be a case of ‘Them’ and ‘Us’, and that they desperately need someone who’s on their side, that they need someone to represent their interests.”
Among the many promises made while the smoke was clearing and the broken glass swept away, Croydon was told it would receive £23 million in riot recovery money from London Mayor Boris Johnson.
While that money is now flowing in to Croydon, the borough council has started to use the cash for regeneration projects but not in the areas worst-hit by the 8/8 rioting. Most of these areas in the north of the borough happen to be in Labour-voting wards, while the riot funds are being spent in the wards of councillors from the Conservative group that controls the Town Hall.
Khan said he was shocked and saddened to hear that so little of the Mayor’s riot fund had been directed to the areas of greatest need. “We need to hear what the people want to give them the help that they are not getting from their local council, from the London Mayor and from the government.”
Khan, as well as being the shadow justice minister also sits on Labour’s National Executive Committee which is expected to whittle down the list of applicants to be the Labour candidate to two or three dozen by Wednesday, prior to a sub-committee conducting interviews to produce a short-list of four to six candidates for local members to choose from.
With Labour being able to determine the date of the by-election by “moving the writ” with a motion in the House of Commons, it seems increasingly likely that Croydon North will be going to the polls on November 29.
Khan rejected the suggestion that Labour was causing an unnecessary delay over finding a replacement for Malcolm Wicks. “It’s important that Croydon North gets an MP sooner than later,” he said, “but there’s a balance to strike, and there’s many people still in mourning for Malcolm. We only had the memorial service on Friday.
“We need to get the issues right and get the right candidate to represent the people of Croydon when they are so ill-served by their council, the Mayor and the government.”
- Candidates by the bus-load start their campaigns in Croydon North
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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