With 50 days to go to the General Election, Croydon Central’s Labour candidate can look back on the past couple of days as a turning point in her campaign. By STEVEN DOWNES
It is fair to say that Sarah Jones, who is standing for Labour in Croydon Central at the General Election, has had a pretty good week so far.
While the mother-of-four was out pressing the flesh and seeing how Croydon works around-the-clock on Monday, the Evening Boris was splashing on its front page that her political rival, MP Gavin Barwell, was exhibiting unseemly reluctance to mention that he is, actually… errr… a Tory.
And yesterday, even gaffe-prone Gav’s former boss, Lord Cashcroft, was publishing his latest marginal constituency poll which showed that, try as he might, Barwell was not making any significant in-roads into Jones’s lead. And that in a survey which was conducted before Barwell got turned over by the Standard.
As things stand, with the election now 50 days away, and as predicted by former Tory Party chairman Ashcroft’s poll, it is looking like Jones could become Croydon’s first woman MP, albeit with a small majority.
As she finished her 24-hour-long tour of the constituency among Surrey Street’s market traders, as they hauled their stalls out for business just before 7am yesterday, Jones said, “I’m more determined than ever to win this election.
“This has really been a wonderful experience – I’ve spoken to so many inspirational people from all walks of life who make Croydon the amazing town it is. I learnt a lot and saw whole new aspects of Croydon living.
“What I heard loud and clear was that for the people of Croydon, they want to be proud and live their lives, but they feel let down by this government.
“This election is about the future. What kind of place will Croydon be in 10 years’ time? Will the NHS be thriving, still free at the point of need? Will our children be able to afford to live in Croydon and get a job they enjoy, with a decent wage?
“People are telling me they are worried about the future. They are worried that the next generation will not be better off than the last. Croydon can and should be the beating heart of south London.”
Jones had started her 24-hour odyssey at 7am on Monday among commuters at East Croydon Station, many of whom are enduring drastically poor service while paying ever-rising fares. During the day, she met care home residents, teenaged mums, small business owners and mental health patients.
She talked to people working night shifts at a supermarket warehouse, bus drivers and call centre staff. By 9pm on Monday, she was helping hand-out cups of steaming soup at one of Croydon’s ever-busier soup kitchens for the homeless and working poor.
But through the day, Jones’s efforts, and the cans of Red Bull she was drinking, drew increasing levels of attention on social media. In an election where her party leader has decreed that having a “conversation” with the electorate should be more important than for a very long time, Jones’s election stunt may actually count for a lot.
Jones needs to get herself known, and to win over people’s trust. She also has to overturn the considerable built-in advantage which Barwell has simply from being the MP. Barwell, Inside Croydon may have stated before, has a staff of six working for him, paid for by the tax-payer. It is just possible some of their time recently has been spent more on getting their boss re-elected – and saving their own jobs – than it has dealing with the problems of the constituency and their constituents.
But as Ashcroft’s polling showed, Jones’s campaign has been matching the better-funded Conservatives in the number of “contacts” – politicianspeak for real people that have been spoken to in the constituency – which is an impressive achievement for Croydon Labour, especially since their candidate is still working two days a week for a PR firm, running Gatwick Airport’s second runway campaign, at least until the end of this month. “I’ve got to,” Jones said, “I can’t afford not to.”
Jones’s long day’s journey into the Croydon night was, therefore, a good way for her to draw attention to her five election pledges.
“My pledges will make a real difference to the lives of Croydon people – more doctors and nurses, cuts to small business rates, GP appointments in less than 48 hours, a raised minimum wage, more free childcare, a guaranteed job for young people,” she said.
Making a pledge is one thing. Delivering on it is another.
Barwell’s efforts to distance himself from the political classes in his bogus letter-writing campaign was forced upon him not only because of the level of unpopularity of the ConDem Government, but because, after five years, he has struggled to deliver on the pledges which he made when first seeking election as an MP for Croydon.
The deceit and hypocrisy of his ploy seems set to back-fire on the career politician, as in working mum Jones, Barwell is up against someone who genuinely is not a professional politician, and has never before been elected to political office (Barwell went from university straight into Tory Central Office, worked as a “Spad”, a special adviser, in parliament and was a borough councillor aged 26). Barwell’s attempt to portray himself as a non-political politician was shown to be transparently false again today, as the MP was sighted, red-faced and shouting, in the Punch and Judy session that was the Budget debate. Just the sort of thing in Parliament which the public dislike so much.
Jones’s pledges, in the context of Barwell’s non-delivery, appear more immediately achievable – the re-zoning of East and West Croydon Stations, for instance – while also reflecting her party’s national policies (such as the minimum wage and the NHS):
1, Save our NHS for the next generation
With more doctors and nurses paid for by a tax on properties over £2 million and a 48 hour maximum wait to see a GP
2, Build a strong economy in Croydon
With a guaranteed job for young people, a tax cut for small businesses and making Croydon part of Zone 4
3, Provide a fair deal at work
With a £8 minimum wage, tax-breaks for businesses who pay a living wage and an end to exploitative zero hour contracts
4, Invest in Croydon’s schools
By raising reaching standards, ensuring all teachers become properly qualified and capping classroom sizes to under 30 pupils
5, Create stronger Croydon communities
With more decent homes, curbs on bad landlords and 100 more police for Croydon to keep our streets and homes safe
“I have talked to thousands of people in Croydon over the last year about their lives,” Jones said. “I’ve held public meetings in every part of the constituency, I’ve knocked on thousands of doors and I have visited schools, businesses, charities and local organisations. And I have never been more determined to fight for Croydon.”
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