After having run a near flawless campaign thus far, Labour’s Steve Reed has managed to score two own goals ahead of the Croydon North by-election on November 29.
The Conservatives’ campaign manager Gavin Barwell – presumably still drawing his parliamentary salary as MP for Croydon Central while pulling candidate Andrew Stranack’s strings – was able to gloat over Reed’s “open letter” challenge issued to his closest rival.
And senior Croydon Tories were also quick to seize upon Reed’s reluctance to answer several “soft” local-based questions in the Inside Croydon questionnaire, published this morning, which they claim further highlight the Lambeth Council leader’s lack of local knowledge.
Barwell and Stranack have had precious little to cheer them so far during the campaign, in which they are trying to overcome a 16,000 majority while representing the unpopular “omnishambles” government of “posh boy” David Cameron.
But Reed’s letter is a gift-wrapped present delivered directly to his Conservative opponent with the election just nine days away.
Factual errors about Croydon in Reed’s challenge to Stranack reveal worrying gaps in the Labour man’s knowledge of the place he wants to represent. His letter was also flawed in an understanding of how London is run, especially odd for a local council leader such as Reed.
Barwell was able to claim that Reed’s letter “reveals flaws in his candidacy”.
In the letter, Reed referred to “Tory plans to build an incinerator in Waddon”, when the incinerator is to be built in LibDem-controlled Sutton, at Beddington Lane, to spew its noxious fumes out over Waddon and all points south-east.
Reed also wrote about “the Tory mayor’s plan to close South Norwood library”, when it is the police station in South Norwood that is to close under massive cuts to the police force imposed by Boris Johnson. The Mayor of London does not run public libraries.
These are not fatal flaws. Reed is clearly going to win the contest on November 29: Ladbrokes have him as the 1/50 favourite.
Nevertheless, very basic errors of fact about Croydon in the letter from Labour – released to the media as a publicity stunt – only underlines the Conservatives’ main (only?) campaigning issue, that Reed is an arriviste outsider who does not know the area which is about to fulfill his political ambition by electing him to the House of Commons.
Keen to regain some lost ground over his “local” attributes, Reed’s office was on the phone to Inside Croydon Towers this morning, pleading for the opportunity to provide answers for questions which had been unanswered when the candidate had submitted his reply to this site’s election questionnaire.
Even where Reed had provided answers, he was often less than transparent, particularly in the lack of detail in his own biography, such as where he grew up and went to school and university. Those who run hyper-local blogs in Lambeth confirm that Reed’s personal history, pre-2002 when he was first elected to Brixton Town Hall, remains shrouded in mystery, despite his having been the council leader since 2006.
Wherever it was that Reed went to school, judging from his open letter, the focus could not have been on grammar and spelling. Not everyone is lucky enough to receive a private education as did Barwell and his government chums Cameron and Gideon Osborne, but writing good quality letters on behalf of needy constituents is a key job for an MP. If elected, it will be something in which Reed will have to do much better.
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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