CROYDON COMMENTARY: Our mole in the local Conservative Association’s headquarters in Purley cannot be identified – they don’t wish to risk being seated on top of the local Rotarians bonfire next week. But they have been very impressed by the selection process so far
Such is the good quality of some of the candidates putting themselves forward for the Croydon South Conservative parliamentary nomination that we local party members have it in our power to choose a high-calibre politician to represent a Croydon seat, and one who may even go on to sit in the Cabinet.
As we were discussing the other day over our espressos, there is also the opportunity to secure either the first female MP for Croydon – it’s rather touch and go in Croydon Central for Labour’s women-only list candidate Sarah Jones against our campaigning guru Gavin Barwell – or to have Croydon’s first black and minority ethnic MP. Or even both!
The last Cabinet-level Croydon MP was the excellent John Moore MP, whose experience in American politics left him with the campaigning style to secure a growing political stranglehold over Croydon Central, after holding the seat with a 164-vote majority but to bow out with a huge 32 per cent advantage over Labour.
Croydon South is not the true-blue seat it was when we first moved to the area. Unfortunately, under Richard Ottaway, the seat has slipped significantly in the Tory rankings to sit at No 180 in the “safest seat” list published by Electoral Calculus. I am told that this is partly because of the weakness of the LibDems in the opinion polls.
Nevertheless, whoever we choose over the course of the next 10 days or so, with interviews next weekend and the final selection on November 12, the selected candidate is regarded by Electoral Calculus as being 75 per cent certainty of holding the seat.
So the chance is there for we Tory members to improve on the dreary parade of white, male, former local government worthies who have represented Croydon seats in the past two decades – Steve Reed, Andrew Pelling, Geraint Davies, Paul Beresford and David Congdon.
Maybe our new Conservative candidate can achieve more for Croydon South than their two predecessors: I am reliably informed that Sir William Clark kept his visits from Bedfordshire to a minimum, while Ottaway purposefully left local matters to local councillors.
Ottaway beat high-flyer Judith Chaplin to the seat. Chaplin was John Major’s private secretary, but after being elected for Newbury, she passed away after just 316 days as MP.
I am very much looking forward to the interviews and then selection process. I wasn’t a member of the Conservatives more than 20 years ago, the last time there was a chance to pick our next MP, though one or two of my friends have told me what happened then. Apparently, Chaplin was so wrong-footed by a question about her divorce that she never recovered in the head to head contest with Ottaway.
It is such a long time ago that many of my fellow members no longer remember that Ottaway apparently made a promise that he would live in the constituency. As someone who has visited his lovely home in Bletchingley, where Richard has held wonderful garden parties raising much-needed funds for the party, I don’t see that it is such a problem. And Bletchingley is not so far away anyway, especially if you have a car.
But some are grumbling – there are grumblers even in our friendly local Conservative party – that in all his time as our MP, Ottaway only managed to make one significant gain locally, in the form of the wonderful rebuild of Purley Hospital, achieved after a good deal of complaint.
Ottaway did also claim credit for the Coulsdon by-pass, though I am told that the first proposal for this was in 1944 – the year before he was born! Much more recently, though, and some in our group are still unhappy at the Ottaway’s use of parliamentary expenses. I can’t see what the problem was myself – after all, when he was caught, didn’t he pay back the money?
Long before that piece of nastiness, Ottaway’s political advancement seemed to have hit the buffers because of his support for Michael Heseltine’s leadership bid that did for Margaret Thatcher. Still, since the last general election, being handed the chairmanship of the foreign affairs select committee has probably allowed him to organise his post-Commons connections.
With some of my friends suggesting that they might even vote UKIP at the local elections next year, our selection of the new parliamentary candidate gives us a chance to excite the party and stop the trend of our losing members.
There are some really top class candidates available who look like potential parliamentary high-flyers – and then there is Mike Fisher.
Fisher’s decision to enter the fray seems very odd. He has a lot to lose by risking a rebuff from Croydon South party members. The risk for the party is probably even greater. Just like Andrew Pelling, his predecessor as the local Conservative leader, Fisher seems to be far too greedy in taking on many different roles and wants to carry on with three jobs, being the parliamentary candidate, being the council leader and being on the London Fire Authority.
If selected as the parliamentary candidate while remaining as the local party leader, Fisher might yet be offered up to the Croydon South electorate as the man who lost Tory control in Katharine Street.
No one else I’ve spoken to who are on the interview panel think that he has much of a chance, but that means that Fisher could return to the Town Hall open to the reasonable charge that he now thinks that the job of leader of the council is somehow beneath him. As if!
For me, Fisher’s main task now is surely to keep Labour out of the Town Hall. The last thing we want is for Croydon’s recovery to be snuffed out by big rises in Council Tax and a Labour obsession with providing affordable housing for those without the get up and go to get a proper job.
Conservatives have the proud record of having given our country its only woman Prime Minister. While Labour has to fix things with all-women short lists, Croydon South’s list of prospects have female candidates like Charlotte Vere, Dr Rachel Joyce, Laura Trott. Lucy Frazer, Ruth Hampton, Suella Fernandes and Nusrat Ghani, who are all more than capable of holding their own and beating the male competition.
Indeed Vere rejects Labour’s arithmetic gender balance tokenism and narrowly focused approach to women’s issues. She told the Evening Standard that, “There can be no excuse for promoting anybody other than 100 per cent on merit.” So she’s unlikely to complain at all if we decided not to pick her.
Vere opposes gender quotas as “social engineering” and wants to take women’s concerns beyond what she sees as Labour’s too narrow focus, saying, “We get quickly sidetracked on to female genital mutilation and rape crisis centres.”
With Cameron losing support among female voters Vere and the think tank she founded Women On, with its lovely Waitrose-style branding, seems to have a lot to offer the parliamentary team.
Vere’s think tank brings forward ideas that promote women’s issues while taking a less man-hating approach: “Women On … campaigns for women, but not at the expense of men”.
I’ve looked at Vere’s CV, and she has already achieved quite a lot. She was a spectacularly successful fundraiser as the Finance Director of the victorious NO2AV campaign in the recent referendum. She stood in the 2010 general election in the tough seat of Brighton Pavilion where Caroline Lucas’ success pushed her back into third place.
Vere, with biochemical engineering degree and an MBA from an American business school, was a high-flying investment banker and ran Big White Wall, a business boosting mental health, proving that Conservatives have both a business acumen and a strong capacity and concern for the needs of others. Now she is continuing to back the needs of aspiring young women as the chief executive of the Girls’ Schools Association.
Also offering the chance to show that Conservatives put women’s interests first is Rachel Joyce, who has already exhibited the strength of character to ignore the capacity of the Sri Lankan government to attack and to vilify its critics.
Dr Joyce has been outspoken in her role as an international humanitarian campaigner, condemning the persecution of Tamils. Winning support among the normally Labour-voting and prosperous Tamil community in Croydon will help the party in both local elections and in the key marginal of Croydon Central, where I am told they might need all the help they can get.
In Shaun Bailey, the party has the prospect of looking more like Croydon’s population than Labour, which from what I have read on Inside Croydon seems to have spent the summer deselecting black and minority ethnic councillors for next year’s local elections.
Bailey, like Vere, has far more influential connections than Fisher. His off-the-record briefings that he dislikes the overbearing influence of Old Etonians in government will also go down well in Croydon. Bailey’s Jamaican background will also help the party win BME votes across Croydon. Bailey’s story of success secured from a humble background will remind voters again how it is the Conservative party that seeks opportunities to hard-working people who want to make something of themselves.
Suella Fernandes reaches out to women and BME voters. A London barrister, her parents are from Mauritius and Kenya; she co-founded the excellent Justice in Africa organisation with Cherie Blair and Paul Boateng. Another strong female candidate is Kashmiri Nusrat Ghani, who worked at Goldman Sachs.
Our party does not need all-women’s or black and minority ethnic short lists to cultivate its talent. But with such a strong women and BME candidates, it will take an exceptional interview and candidate performance before me and other members to persuade us to choose yet another white, middle-aged male.
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Coming to Croydon
- Behind the Candelabra: Nov 4
- Frankenstein’s Travelling Freakshow: Nov 5-8
- Poppy Cafe, Coulsdon, re-opening: Nov 9
- The Kings of Summer: Nov 11
- St Giles School open morning: Nov 13
- Secret Love at the Ashcroft Theatre: Nov 14
- Summer in February: Nov 18
- Much Ado About Nothing: Nov 25
- Future Tech City: Nov 30
- Comedy in Music show: Dec 1
- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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- From Camden to Croydon South (richardosley.wordpress.com)
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- Teenager stabbed to death in Croydon (theguardian.com)