Who do you want your MP to represent after being elected on Thursday? Do you want them to go to Westminster to represent you? Or do you want them to provide more support for multi-million pound property speculators?
STEVEN DOWNES, the editor of Inside Croydon, says that one of the candidates in the borough’s marginal constituency is clearly on the side of big business
This will be a “career-defining election”, according to David Cameron. It was a slip, another one, and perhaps the most revealing yet as to where the Old Etonian’s priorities really lie.
Cameron’s choice of candidate in Croydon Central, Gavin Barwell, says that his “first priority” if returned as MP for Croydon Central is the £1 billion Westfield development.
Unusually for gaffe-prone Gav, that was not a slip. It was quite deliberate. Barwell has said it more than once.
Gavin Barwell, after all, is the developers’ friend. Not that he admits to that so readily.
Because in Barwell’s bogus campaign, what you see is not what you get.
He says he’s a life-long Croydon resident, when he’s not. He was born in Sussex. It’s hardly the most important thing. But then, why bother misleading people over such a trifling detail? In bogus Barwell’s campaign, there’s little that is frank and straightforward.
Public school and Oxbridge-educated, like so many in the Tory Establishment, Barwell’s never had a “real” job, having been a career politician straight from university. You won’t find that mentioned on any of his election leaflets.
Barwell doesn’t even live in the Croydon Central constituency. His home is in Sanderstead, which was where he scurried off for safety on the night of the Croydon Riots in August 2011, when so many of his constituents were in fear of losing their homes or businesses, or worse.
He drafts bogus letters of support for party lackeys to put their name to, addressed to “Dear Neighbour”, but where he has asked them to avoid mentioning the Conservative Party. Or David Cameron.
You see, in Barwell’s bogus campaign, he’s worked very hard to disguise the fact that he really is a Conservative, who has spent five years in a government propped up by the LibDems, as he tries to pretend to be something he is not – perhaps to win over some of those who have been lured to vote for UKIP in the past couple of years.
Because there’s not a school in the whole of Croydon that’s good enough for Barwell, who has sent his eldest son to … a grammar school in Sutton. It’s a very good school, by the way, providing a standard of education that, under Barwell’s Tory Party policies, is denied to the vast majority of children in Croydon.
Barwell says much about how he has the interests of local people at heart. But his voting record in parliament over the past five years shows that he has rarely voted against the Conservative Party whip. He’s voted for tax cuts for millionaires. And he’s voted in favour of the Bedroom Tax. This is a man who supports developers over local people.
And while Barwell says he is against racism, he’s happy to take support for his campaign from a leading light in the Croydon Tories who casually exhibits her racism on social media. Meanwhile, Barwell’s local party stands by, idly, taking no action at all.
In fact, Barwell’s not too fussy about who pledges their support to him. In Barwell’s bogus campaign, he’s included endorsements from members of his own constituency staff (forgetting to mention the connection), and Barwell was happy to boast of the backing of a businesswoman who was found guilty of failing to pay her restaurant staff the minimum wage.
It is instructive to look at some of the people Barwell lined up to speak on his behalf when he launched his bogus campaign last autumn. There was Boris Johnson. There was the founder of a local charity, which had coincidentally recently benefited from a £10,000 grant from the local council when under Conservative control. And there was John Burton, a director of Westfield, the Whitgift Foundation’s chosen partners for the redevelopment of the town centre.
Barwell’s stated “first priority” all along has been to use his position and influence as an MP to help the megabucks developers who have Croydon in their clutches.
Barwell rarely volunteers the information that he is an influential member of the governing board of the Whitgift Foundation, the borough’s biggest landowners who stand to profit massively from the £1 billion redevelopment of their property in the Whitgift Centre.
Barwell has claimed the credit for brokering this deal “behind the scenes”. Thus, if inadvertently, he admits he’s used – misused – his position as a local MP to further the cause of his chums on the Whitgift Foundation.
Once open, the new Hammersfield megamall will provide jobs. But how many, and will they be predominantly low-paid, low-skilled jobs in retail, as seems likely? Barwell’s always been reluctant to provide any detail on this point.
And there will be new homes, too, Barwell promises. But for whom? Local, hard-working people? Or for overseas property investors, who think nothing of spending £200,000 on a one-bedroomed Yuppie flat that is so small, if you tried to fob it off as a rabbit hutch, the rabbit would complain of claustrophobia?
Barwell almost showed his true colours when a batch of posters from his bogus campaign went up in the windows of Green Dragon House last month. The unprepossessing building on the High Street, wedged between Gregg’s bakers, charity shops and fried chicken takeaways, used to be an office block.
One of the businesses based there was Nudge Factory, a PR firm whose leading figures include Paul Scully, the Conservative Party candidate in nearby Sutton and Cheam. Nudge Factory’s clients include the Croydon Partnership – the joint entity formed by Westfield and Hammerson. How cosy…
But there’s not the big bucks in office rentals that there once was, and like many other blocks around the town centre, the Green Dragon building has been vacated by Nudge Factory and others to make way for what the planners call “permitted development”, conversion of offices to residential property. Nudge now also promotes the work of the developer of the Green Dragon House, a company called Inspired Asset Management.
This company has been inspired to turn this particular property asset into no fewer than 75 Yuppie flats, the smallest of which will offer just 26 sq m of floor space. That’s about one-quarter the size of a regular tennis court. Asking price for this “quality” property? A cool £195,000.
Much to the displeasure of Barwell, the developers’ friend, the Labour council in Croydon has moved to prevent developers creating these rabbit-hutch-sized flats. The Mayor of London – yep, the same Boris Johnson who did a quick turn at Barwell’s campaign launch – has said that the minimum size of an apartment should be 37 sq m – or 40 per cent larger than the smallest flat being offered in Green Dragon House.
The developer of Green Dragon House is clearly backing Barwell. You can see the posters in the windows of Green Dragon House. They know whose side he’s really on.
And Martin Skinner, the chief executive of the Barwell-backing Inspired Asset Management, has threatened never to invest in Croydon again if he is forced to develop fewer, but larger flats, offering him smaller profits.
When the council insisted on new properties actually providing adequate living space, Barwell’s developer mate did a strop. “I won’t be investing anything more in the area if they do that,” he said.
When you see the people who are really backing Barwell, you get a better idea of where his real priorities lie.
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