WALTER CRONXITE pokes through the wreckage left by the 2015 General Election in Croydon, London and the country
Politically, Croydon today is more polarised than at any time in the last quarter-century. That possibly reflects the state of the nation, too.
Whatever was the question before yesterday’s General Election, the austerity-lite offered by Ed Balls was not the answer, as the SNP tsunami and Labour’s lack of traction elsewhere in the country has demonstrated. Today, the United Kingdom is closer to breaking up than at any time in living memory, and largely because of the divisive politics of fear played over the last five years by the leader of what used to call itself the Conservative and Unionist Party.
When he was just a fag at Eton, David Cameron’s family must have kept a small dog at home – maybe a terrier used for flushing out the fox for the hounds. Whatever breed it was, it is my guess that it would usually take a kicking from Cameron senior whenever he needed to blame something on someone else. Because that’s how Call Me Dave has conducted himself over the last five years.
Nick Clegg limped away like a well-kicked cur this morning, the LibDems reduced to a parliamentary rump of just eight MPs. The “historic” ConDem coalition had seen Clegg’s junior partners take the blame for all its short-comings, the credit for none of its successes.
And Ed Miliband was reduced to a simpering, wimpering pup, after being put on the leash to defend the union in Scotland during last year’s referendum, brought to heel for fear of Labour losing its wedge of seats north of the border. Yet yesterday he still lost 40 Scottish seats after falling for the trap of joining the Tory platform, rather than making Labour’s own case for the union.
Cameron’s dogs have certainly taken a real kicking in the last couple of days.
Having been brung up proper – Play Up! Play Up! And Play the Game! – the Prime Minister’s speech outside No10 at lunchtime was suitably graceful and emollient. Make the most of these next few days, when a more civilised tone is possible from our politicians, and the political interviewees enjoy a freedom to say what they really think, rather than what the spin-doctors at party HQ have determined is the “right line”. Because there can’t have been anything prepared for what played out after those exit polls, which were so disbelieved, were announced at 10pm last night.
But polarised? More than 20 years ago Neil Kinnock said, under similar circumstances which apply now, “I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old.” And for goodness sake, pray that you don’t have any form of disability.
There are £12 billion-worth of cuts to welfare and benefits to come under this Conservative Government, cuts far worse than anything we have experienced in the last five years, and which all indications suggest will target many of society’s most vulnerable.
Croydon’s politics are more polarised, too.
Steve Reed OBE, in Croydon North, won for Labour by more than doubling his vote and delivering the biggest majority seen in the seat, or its predecessor seats, since the Second World War. In Croydon South, Chris Philp was elected an MP for the Tories for the first time , and with a majority the scale of which has not been seen since 1992. At either end of Croydon, Labour and Conservatives are therefore more entrenched than any time before.
And then there is Gavin Barwell, re-elected to work again as the MP for the Whitgift Foundation, but only just, though now seemingly assured a much safer seat once the boundary changes that the Conservatives have been itching to impose are implemented in 2018.
In his immediate post-poll comments, Barwell said, “You have to work really hard as the MP to reach out to the people who didn’t vote for you, not just celebrate the fact that you’ve won, and that’s what I’m going to be doing.
“My experience is that there’s a lot of people here in this town who are naturally conservative in their values but they don’t vote for the Conservative Party. David Cameron has done a lot to bring those people into our column but there’s a lot more to do over the next five years.”
Getting people to vote for you who would not normally vote for you is, surely, the key to any political success. That’s certainly the Blairite approach, though if you do that at the expense of your core support, you risk being left with an empty husk of a party.
That’s certainly what Jim Murphy, the now ex-MP and ex-leader of Scottish Labour, suggested lay behind his party’s problems in Scotland. It is something which Ken Livingstone, Labour’s former London Mayor, believes after what he called his party’s worst election since 1992: “We lost our working class core vote during the New Labour years because we didn’t create good jobs for working-class people and we didn’t build homes for their kids, and we can’t claw it back by going back down that there road again.”
So as Cameron prepared to spend the rest of today and the weekend forming his Government – watch out for any appointment for Barwell – Labour is left in a cowering state of paralysis. Ed Miliband has gone, and the party will be leaderless probably until its annual conference in the autumn. Once again, as in 2010, Cameron will have time to bed-in his Government without any firm opposition, unless it is provided in Parliament by Alex Salmond.
And this rudderlessness presents a real problem for Labour in London, where the selection of a candidate to run for London Mayor is due to get underway within days. Who might be “the leaders’ choice” if you don’t know who the leader is? There is a real risk that London Labour sleepwalks into selecting the semi-retired (and surely soon-to-be Baroness) Tessa Jowell, just because it is pre-occupied with the other mess going on around it.
With London ‘s current, part-time Mayor now an MP again, there’s even an added urgency, since if Boris Johnson is given a ministerial brief by Cameron (would he dare not?), the Mayoral election might even be brought forward by six months.
The political treadmill won’t stop there. After the London Assembly elections in 2016, there will be Cameron’s promised European referendum in 2017 – all in an effort to shoot a UKIP fox that is looking stuffed already – and then local elections for the Town Hall all over again in 2018.
And therein may be the reason why Croydon continues to have two Conservative MPs and only one from Labour. Sarah Jones’s energetic and exceptionally resourced campaign may have fallen short simply because the performance of Croydon’s Labour council in the past 12 months has been less than impressive. Where Labour made gains in London last night, such as with Wes Streeting in Ilford, they did so in boroughs known for having strong Labour councils.
Streeting enjoyed twice the swing from the Tories which Jones needed to become Croydon’s first woman MP. How might things have been different were it not for her having to shrug off Labour council misjudgements such as the Purley Pool closure announcement and the shambles over the sell-off of school playing fields?
As it is, Barwell will be plotting over the weekend the beginnings of a Tory campaign to win back Croydon Town Hall in 2018, probably with a new platoon of eager young Tory candidates, and all buoyed with the hefty assistance of his six-strong state-funded parliamentary staff.
- Click here to see our 15-hour live coverage of how the General Election developed in Croydon and Sutton
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