Pool closure leaves Labour’s Emily Benn high and dry

WALTER CRONXITE on how Labour has quickly reinforced Croydon’s North-South divide, in moves which it may come to regret

Have you got the message? If you live in Purley, Kenley or Coulsdon, Labour don’t expect you to vote for them.

How the wards of Croydon are represented by councillors since May: the Tories lost four council seats in Barwell's Croydon Central

The party political battlelines as drawn in Croydon at May’s local elections

What other conclusion can possibly be drawn from the now Labour-run council’s decision, announced last week, to withhold a £781,000 spend to repair Purley pool (in a Tory-held ward of the Tory-held Croydon South parliamentary constituency), when at the same time managing to find at least £17 million to build a new pool in New Addington (in a Labour-held ward in the Labour target seat of Croydon Central)?

So much for “One Croydon”.

Our local politicians’ pettily vindictive North-South divide is deeply damaging for the borough, whether as applied by the previous Conservative administration which deliberately neglected wards in the north of Croydon for eight long and economically hard years, or now by the Labour councillors who are still getting used to their new-won power.

Labour’s stance is disappointing and is also undoubtedly bad politics.

That conclusion can be reached because, in mirror image, it is the simply the same perverse game played with whole areas of the borough as was fondly supported by Conservative MP Gavin Barwell’s gobby fac totum, who articulated the Tories’ attitude to riot-hit Croydon North as “unwinnable and at present a waste of effort”. Experience suggests that anything which the egregious and over-ambitious Mario Creatura supports will invariably be a very bad idea.

The Hon Emily Benn at Royal Ascot in 2014: she'll likely have plenty of time for the social whirl after May's General Election, too

The Hon Emily Benn at Royal Ascot in 2014: she’ll likely have plenty of time for the social whirl after May’s General Election, too

And that malign “rule-and-divide” attitude will also prove to be bad for Croydon Labour.

Certainly, The Hon Emily Benn has been hung out to dry by the Labour council’s decision to drain Purley pool for one final time next April, just a month before she is to stand for the party in the Croydon South seat at May’s General Election. Presumably Croydon Labour leader Tony Newman regards the seat, with its 16,000 Tory majority, as “unwinnable and a waste of effort”.

Thing is, at such an early stage in a council administration, progressive and far-sighted politicians would be going that extra step to win new friends and influence people. It would be a calculated effort, street-by-street and ward-by-ward, to cement political control for the long-term.

Wandsworth was once a Labour stronghold, but carefully over years and decades, after taking control in 1978, the Tories there have turned their borough blue. They have achieved that by winning over former Labour voters, not by alienating them. And for all the national problems of the FibDems under deputy PM Nick Clegg, Sutton seems secure as LibDem territory, because their council is known for being well-run and properly managed.

Yet just six months into their term in charge of the Town Hall, and Newman’s crass decision over Purley pool has placed Labour’s Croydon South candidate in an impossible position before the campaign has even started.

It is just another piece of ill-considered and poor politics – both in terms of timing and presentation – from Croydon Labour’s flip-flopping leadership. Newman’s Labour group has failed to squeeze any political capital out of the fact that it was Mike #WadGate Fisher’s Tories who took the decision to close Purley pool four years ago.

Instead, they have handed the initiative to the Conservatives, who are now arguing for the preservation of Purley pool. Meanwhile, City banker Benn – a South Norwood resident and new councillor for West Thornton – has the dilemma of whether to campaign in the interests of voters in her constituency and against the decision of the Labour council of which she is a member.

Newman’s spring-time promise in the first flush of election victory that “we’re here to serve the whole borough” has quickly withered in the cold of a Croydon winter.

Like their Conservative predecessors, Labour have pointed to the new Waddon Leisure Centre as alternative swimming provision, highlighting that it is a mere “2.2 miles” from the site of Purley pool. But that overlooks the fact that it takes two bus rides from Purley to reach the Waddon pool, and there are only 30 parking spaces at the leisure centre. And if you live in Coulsdon or Kenley, you are even further removed from your closest public swimming facility. “Tough on you for voting Tory” is the clear message.

The Tories’ Croydon South parliamentary candidate, Chris Philp, has been quick to pick up the political gift, accusing Newman of breaking a promise to keep Purley’s pools open. Newman had delivered his pledge with a caveat that it was subject to seeing quite how badly the Tories had left the borough’s finances, which seems fair enough. Where Newman’s position breaks down, though, is that while claiming the council cannot afford the £781,000 needed to  renovate Purley pool, he simultaneously announced the council is able to afford to spend 22 times as much with a new pool for New Addington.

In May’s local elections, Labour regained a council seat in New Addington that they had lost in 2010. Labour do need to ensure that such a loss is never repeated, and to win favour with voters in the marginal Croydon Central parliamentary seat where the New Addington ward sits.

Purley Pool: under constant threat of redevelopment

Purley Pool: under constant threat of redevelopment over the last five years

But the bare-faced geographical discrimination will hurt Labour interests hard elsewhere. While winning Ashburton ward – in Croydon Central – in May was an important part of Labour’s election success, so was the three seats won in Waddon ward, which has the misfortune of being in the apparently forgotten and now to be neglected Croydon South. The grumblings of complaints from loyal but marginalised Labour members can already be heard from Coulsdon to Pampisford Road.

Labour did poorly in the May local elections in the five wards that Purley pool serves. According to figures provided by the Greater London Authority, only in one ward, Purley (19.7%) itself, did Labour come second to the Conservatives by vote shares.

In Sanderstead (11.7%), Kenley (16%) and Coulsdon West (18.8%), Labour was third behind UKIP and the Conservatives. In Coulsdon East (10.5%) the party also trailed the LibDems, only reaching a modest fourth place.

The announcement of the abandonment of Purley pool signals Labour’s abandonment of Croydon South. In effect, Newman’s formal disinterest in the south means that the Tories can concentrate on seeing off the UKIP challenge.

In so doing, Newman has effectively cemented a long-developed North-South divide in the borough, raising again the question of whether the 50-year-old merger of the Coulsdon and Purley District Council with the Croydon Corporation really helps either part of the borough any longer.

For 21 of the 30 Conservatives on Croydon Council, their dialogue with their Labour counterparts up in Katharine Street for the next three years will be rather pointless. Back in their wards, it is UKIP that is their opposition, not Labour.

Whether done through malice, in a petty Red v Blue tit-for-tat, the dysfunctional political divorce between northern and southern Croydon ends up delivering poor value and poor decisions for the borough as a whole. It was wrong for the Tory council to divert riot recovery funds to their own wards, which were largely unaffected by the 2011 riots, and it is wrong for Labour to penalise Purley now.

In this one case, for instance, would it not make sense – in financial terms, and in health terms for the residents – to invest  less than £1 million on refurbishing a pool which serves Purley and the southern end of the borough?

After all, council leader Tony Newman thinks nothing of spending £200,000 on establishing his pet project, the Fairness Commission. Perhaps the fate of Purley pool should be on the list of issues which the Commission’s chairman, the Bishop of Croydon, is asked to investigate, since no one has yet suggested that his remit is solely with matters to the north of the Town Hall.


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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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Ashburton, Bishop of Croydon, Chris Philp MP, Coulsdon, Coulsdon West, Croydon Central, Croydon South, Emily Benn, Gavin Barwell, Parking, Purley, Purley Pool, Tony Newman, Transport, Waddon, West Thornton and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Pool closure leaves Labour’s Emily Benn high and dry

  1. davidcallam says:

    Puerile and politically naive: but what else did you expect?
    Croydon is cursed with mediocre poliicians on both sides of the council chamber and the major parties do nothing to change the situation.
    Mr Newman has been hanging around like a bad smell since Labour last lost the council to the Tories and yet the party did nothing to replace him. He should have gone within weeks of the defeat, as should the coterie of senior councillors who helped him make so many bad decisions last time.
    But he and they are all still there. And they still don’t seem to have an original idea between them. Instead, they blindly follow the lead set by a bunch of second-rate, overpaid senior administrators.
    I don’t believe it wasn’t possible to find some money to repair Purley pool, possibly by delaying part of the New Addington pool development for a few years or even modifying the wasteful expenditure on Fairfield Halls.
    The council owes it to the people of the south of the borough to keep Purley pool open until it can find a way to fulfill its promise and build a pool in Coulsdon. Of course that will be difficult: it will require some original thinking, some leadership. That surely is why Mr Newman and his chums entered local politics. Or was it just for the fat personal allowances?

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