Britain is left a divided nation, Croydon a polarised borough

WALTER CRONXITE pokes through the wreckage left by the 2015 General Election in Croydon, London and the country


Standard front pageMetaphorically, and as far as the former shadow chancellor is concerned, physically.

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.

This is what the political map of south-east England looks like this morning

This is what the political map of south-east England looks like today

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.

The importance of punctuation: the Mirror's front pages, from firstedition (left) to when the results became clear

The importance of punctuation: the Mirror’s front pages, from first edition (left) to when the results became clear

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.

MP Gavin Barwell: already claiming credit for someone else's petition

MP Gavin Barwell: already claiming credit for someone else’s petition

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.

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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
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4 Responses to Britain is left a divided nation, Croydon a polarised borough

  1. Rod Davies says:

    The fault-line that divides London runs right through the middle of Croydon, and exemplifies much of Britain. The challenge for Gavin Barwell will be to act as a representative of both sides of the chasm, which is a tall order. If Mr Barwell were a “Michael Heseltine” it might be achievable, but my sense is that Mr Barwell will have worked extraordinarily hard to attain that.
    It has been an appalling election battle, largely driven by ancient fears and antipathies. The rise of UKIP signaled a profound reaction to the change that migration from Eastern and Central Europe brought to communities for who immigration had been a distant factor in their lives. The right wing of the Conservative Party chased UKIP endlessly, and in doing so legitimised UKIP’s ideas. The same applied to UK’s membership of the EU, and as with the immigration issue it was characterised by half-truths and damned lies.
    The Labour Party with it multi-cultural membership and values simply couldn’t absorb and internalise this xenophobia, and so had not message for the irrational reactions of many people.
    Alex Salmond opened the SNP with a grandiose declaration that SNP would effectively rule the roost in Westminister, forcing Labour to do its bidding, and he gifted the Conservatives something they couldn’t have imagined, English fear of Scotland and the Scots. From that point onwards the Labour Party were on the run from the demand that they refute any notion of a deal with SNP.
    The LibDems were the sacrificial lambs. Judged by absurd criteria applied to no other party, they faced five years of condemnation for entering into a coalition that provided political stability at a time of real national crisis. The media gleefully harped on about how they had betrayed their supporters, yet there was never any media examination of the success they had in preventing the Conservative Party from pursuing a slash & burn policy of public sector cuts that would have condemned a generation and more to poverty and hopelessness.
    So where do we go from here?
    The division between City and Country could not be more profound. London the economic powerhouse of UK Plc is a Labour Party bloc without equal anywhere south of Staffordshire. Then from the beaches of the Wirral and Formby, and the hills & valleys of Clwyd, across to South Yorks, and then up around Newcastle upon Tyne, the Labour Party dominate. These areas are George Osbourne’s Northern Powerhouse that he hopes through re-industrialisation will once more generate the wealth to support the rest of the country as they did up to the 1960’s
    Yet it is away from these centres of wealth creation that the Conservative Party dominate among the leafy suburbs and quaint market towns.
    It is these Labour dominated densely populated areas that are the most economically efficient and have among the youngest, least dependent populations. How long then do these communities slumber, burdened by national debts caused by bank mismanagement, and the obligations to provide public services to the growing numbers of pensioners?
    So when Mr Cameron says he wants to recreate a “One Nation” Conservative Party, he needs to address that his core support is from communities that are wholly dependent on the dense city communities. To date he and his colleagues would rather effectively punish the poor and the young, and deny them resources and opportunities that their parents took for granted.

  2. Good stuff, but to my mind – the SNP and Labour lines were the most divisive. Even the terminology – ‘Mansion Tax’ and the Like. Barwell may look odd, but he’s worked like a trojan, out and about and Philp at least has had a proper job .. unlike most MPs. The UKIP surge in my constituency should give him something to think about. Overal, I’m mostly hopeful for Croydon.

  3. Bob Hewlett says:

    Walter makes some good points. Ed Balls as shadow chancellor failed to nail the lie that the previous Labour Government caused the financial chaos and the recession/depression that followed. A significant cause was the feather light regulations on the financial sector which were, and still are, endorsed by Osborne and Cameron. Readers can find more information in Andrew Fisher’s excellent book, ” The Failed Experiment” which was in easy to understand language, ideal for a layman like myself.
    Re Scotland and SNP. I, and many others, thought Labour should have campaigned on its own platform. The SNP is a right wing party in left wing clothing and should be viewed by its actions not by its rhetoric. In 1979, the SNP sided with the Tories against the Labour Government. Salmond is on very friendly terms with Murdoch and the odious Brian Souter. In government the SNP had a chance to nationalise ScotRail but chose to privatise it. Shetland ferries have been privatised and Caledonian ferries have been put out to tender. This only the start. The saying of ‘be careful of what you wish for…’ springs to mind to the Scots. Lastly, Steve Bell drew an excellent cartoon in which both Sturgeon and Cameron had Miliband’s head on a silver platter. When it came to the Scottish leadership election, the Labour leadership sided with Arch-Blairite Jim Murphy instead of two credible candidates, Neil Findlay and Katy Clark. The only crumb of comfort as far as I can see is that the SNP are at the very top of Scottish representation, there is only one direction available, and that could happen sooner then we expect.
    As for Barwell…. his campaign decision of not mentioning the Tories or Cameroon must have been agreed at the highest level or his return could well be more jaundiced than sanguine. A quick analysis of the election shows some interesting facts. In 2010 Andrew Pelling stood as an independent Tory and received 3239 votes probably from voters who did not like the way he was treated by Cameron and by well wishers. Barwell’s 2015 vote increased by 3096 from 2010 probably from Pelling’s 2010 supporters. In 2010, the late Gerry Ryan polled 16,688 for Labour and Sarah Jones increased Labour’s voted by another 5,900. Sarah Jones’ Labour campaign slashed Barwell’s combined majority of some 6,000 to 165. Sarah Jones’s increased Labour vote was due to Labour’s sustained door to door campaign and re-engaging with the traditional Labour electorate.
    Walter is also correct regarding future cuts. If Clegg is to be believed and the Lib/Dems were a brake to the Tory cuts, then given the brake is off, the future looks bleak except for the wealthy and privileged.

  4. Pingback: General Election 2015: Learning from hyperlocal sites across the UK | David Higgerson

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