Benn puts clear blue water between herself and pool closure

The Hon Emily Benn, who once distinguished herself as being “a Benn, not a Bennite”, made it clear at last night’s Croydon South Posh-Off debate that she’s not Ed, nor Ed. And she doesn’t much care for some of the decisions that Tony (that’s Newman, not her mother’s former boss, Bliar) and the Labour leadership at Croydon Town Hall have made in their first six months in charge, either.

Labour councillor  Emily Benn canvassing with Viscount Stansgate. Or "Dad"

Labour councillor Emily Benn canvassing with Viscount Stansgate. Or “Dad” as she calls him

When it came to the show of hands at the end of the evening, Chris Philp, the Tory shoo-in for the Croydon South constituency, was the comfortable “winner” of the first Coulsdon and Purley Debating Society event of the election year, but not before his Labour opponent made it very clear that she intends to be very much her own person in the forthcoming campaign.

Benn, a Croydon councillor since May, used the platform she was given in front of what can politely be described as a “mature” audience in the usually Conservative-inclined Old Coulsdon to disassociate herself from some of the decisions of her party leadership on the council, talking of them making “decisions I do not always agree with”.

Benn’s slim chance of upsetting Philp’s 16,000 inherited Conservative majority in Croydon South come the General Election on May 7 was given a hospital pass before she had even been able to begin her campaign when Tony Newman, the council leader, presided over the announcement that Purley pool will have to close within weeks of the electorate going to the polling stations. Benn told her audience last night that she will “try to find alternatives” to the Purley pool closure and other recent council decisions.

Having distanced herself from Labour’s Town Hall leadership, next Benn, not unlike her famous grandfather did on occasion in the past, chose to distance herself from her party’s national leadership, too. “It is not Ed Balls or Ed Miliband who is on your ballot paper. It is Emily Benn who is on your ballot paper,” she said. It was not clear from the audience whether this would encourage them, or deter them from, voting for Labour.

In a part of the borough where Labour came fourth in last May’s local elections, Benn will be pleased that the motion in favour of Labour’s economic policies went down only by 25 votes to 36, with eight abstentions. Such a 40 per cent-plus vote share would likely see Benn home to victory in a first-past-the-post election when there is more than one candidate. The debate organisers’ regular format did not allow them to include in the event candidates from UKIP, the LibDems or the Greens last night.

Chris Philp: "compassionate cuts". At least, that's what we think he said

Chris Philp: “compassionate cuts”. At least, that’s what we think he said

In line with the national debate, these local voters seemed unmoved by the detail of economic policy, but they warmed up decidedly when Benn spoke of the NHS and her experiences of visiting the accident and emergency at Mayday which was operating at close to breaking point when her 91-year-old grandmother had a fall.

Tory millionaire Philp was a strong performer in the debate, exhibiting a self-assuredness that can only be bolstered by being the 50-1 odds-on favourite to hold the seat for the Conservatives. And let’s face it, he can hardly be worse as a local MP than the absentee expenses-claimer, “Sir” Tricky Dicky Ottaway. Can he?

Philp and his wife’s own experiences of the NHS in delivering their very premature twins (born at 25 weeks) demonstrated the Conservative candidate’s apparent respect for the NHS. But as a former adviser to Andrew Lansley, Philp’s assertion that the former Health Minister’s reorganisation of the NHS had saved “billions” did not seem especially persuasive.

Philp spoke of the government’s “compassionate cuts” – yes, seriously – and tried to present himself as a moderate Tory. In the ultimate act of compassionate Conservatism, Philp interrupted his speech to give a woman, coughing and struck down by the heat in the very crowded room, his glass of water.

Benn spoke against the coalition government’s liberalisation of the housing market, where “permitted development” allows office blocks to be changed into very small flats without the necessity to secure council planning permission, a permission process that would usually demand better housing standards.

Philp’s own personal interests see his business involved in the finance of some office-to-residential transformations. He argued, without backing permitted development per se, that it delivered urgently needed new housing.

And neither candidate did anything to undermine the Posh-Off characterisation of the event. Philp volunteered to the audience that both he and Benn had attended the same south London grammar school. Benn reminded the voters that both had been to Oxford.

Benn said that being an Wallington old gal had put her off wearing green jumpers for life. Philp said he would not allow himself to be seen wearing a green skirt. Oh, how we laughed.

Audience participation saw local LibDem community activist Gill Hickson reminisce as to how her party came second in the Croydon South seat at the last General Election and Labour activist Charlie King express concerns that the redistributive principle in British politics now sees “the poor give to the rich”.

One call from an audience member for the speakers to offer something more visionary, “to offer something more strategic”, liberated the two guest speakers to depart from the fusty discussion about economics.

Benn, 25, spoke of those in her peer group who “have not fulfilled their potential” and sought an economy run like Germany’s, with worker participation and better apprenticeships, patients free to control their own spend available from the public purse on the treatment of their own choice, and public policy based both on “economic efficiency and social justice”.

Philp spoke of favouring a “safety net” for the needy and a desire to rescue 5 million people from benefits. He did not support the principle of redistribution of wealth. He recalled 1976 when Denis Healy had to go to the International Monetary Fund to argue his case that Labour cannot be trusted with the country’s finances. Benn’s reply was to look forward in hope to 2076.

But as one audience member in the Old Coulsdon Centre for the Retired interrupted: “We’ll all be dead by then.”

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This entry was posted in 2015 General Election, Chris Philp MP, Coulsdon, Croydon South, Emily Benn, Purley, Purley Pool, Richard Ottaway MP, West Thornton and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Benn puts clear blue water between herself and pool closure

  1. Peter Bell says:

    Within the confines of this forum, a pretty accurate & amusing summary of the evening. You did not mention that there were some very good points made from the floor, including that from Richard on budgetary philosophy and also from the UKIP representative regarding the complete absence of discussion on immigration, which, while we may not like it, is important to many people and deserved some address by both candidates.

    It should also be mentioned that the audience was very well behaved (as befits the Coulsdon Debating Society & its members) and that dignity & decorum were maintained. It was so refreshing to be able to attend a live audience with candidates of any hue, a very rare opportunity in this day and age. I can only suggest to all parties that they offer the ability for us to measure THEIR candidates to similar scrutiny. (I do appreciate that the LDems Ukip & Green party – as well as any others – were not invited last night). I particularly thought that for a 25 year old, the girl done good.

  2. Croydon Labour could easily take the wind out of the Tories’ sails over Purley Pool fiasco – they could find the cash for the £781,000 repair bill quite easily. “Connected Croydon” is about to spend £5.4m on “major improvements” around East Croydon station, including repaving footpaths.

    There’s nothing wrong with the existing block paving apart from giving it a good clean at a fraction of the price. The savings could then be spent on other things. If Vidhi Mohan can spend West Croydon riot money on tarting up South End, why don’t Tony Newman and Kathy Bee pull a similar stunt with this money and Purley Pool?

    • KristianCyc says:

      It’s a bit dodgy and frankly, were it not for a sympathetic Tory Mayor, the misuse of riot funding could have threatened future funding grants for Croydon, as the funders are relucatant to give money to councils which don’t spend it according to grant applications.

      If I understand the situation correctly though, some funder has made millions available for a new pool meanwhile the council doesn’t have money to keep the existing one running? If I’m reading this situation right, that’s a really sad reality for the localisation agenda under Pickles and predecessors. Councils are given all the legal powers for executing and co-ordinating changes in the borough, but budgets have been slashed and funding put into funding ‘pots’ that councils have to apply to, but those pots are very specific about what that money can be spent on, i.e. councils are being severely controlled in how they spend the money available.

      What sort of localism is that?

      • Thing is, Kristian, the New Addington Pool is to be developed for £17m (it may be more by the time it is finsihed). Waddon cost £15m.

        Yet similar public pools in other parts of London have cost local authorities £10m less than that. In next door borough Lambeth, Clapham pool and library and the Streatham Hub (pool, fitness centre and ice rink) were developed at nil cash cost to the Council Tax-payer.

        Why are public pools so expensive when built for Croydon Council?

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