The political posturing and positioning over the European referendum extends to Croydon’s two Conservative MPs, who appear to be split much like Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet.
As one Westminster pundit has observed, the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union on June 23 has become a de facto Tory leadership campaign, with the likes of cabinet member Michael Gove and London Mayor Boris Johnson keeping Cameron dangling over which way they will go in the EU hokey-cokey.
And so it is with Gavin Barwell and Chris Philp, the Tory members for Croydon Central and Croydon South, neither of whom wanted to declare which way they would turn before Cameron completed his negotiations in Brussels.
With one, Barwell, being a career politician, and the other, Philp, a millionaire property developer, it is unsurprising that their decisions ultimately reflect their own personal interests.For now, Philp is stalling. Still.
Though yesterday he did give an indication of sorts, quoting a Eurovision Song Contest winner (Bucks Fizz, 1981, since you ask), so maybe he might yet lean towards “Stay”.
“Still making my mind up,” Philp said in response to Inside Croydon.
“Need to read the full deal and listen to PM in Parliament on Monday. Arguments very finely balanced in my view.”
Or maybe he’s waiting to see which way Boris Johnson jumps. As a Westminster new boy Philp won’t want to blot his copy book by getting on the wrong side of a potential next Tory leader, after all.
That the battle lines within the Tory Party have already been drawn is demonstrated amply by Cameron, who has managed to label Eurosceptics in his own cabinet as “suspicious”, “misleading” and lazy. And that’s just in the first 24 hours since he fired the referendum starting gun.
Cameron’s loyal party whip Barwell’s position, given his slavish devotion, ought not be a surprise, and yesterday he published a typically dissembling outline of why he is siding with the Prime Minister and will be supporting the Stay campaign.
Barwell hardly makes an enthusiastic case for the deal brokered by his boss in Brussels, though. “Despite David Cameron’s best efforts, the EU will still be far from perfect. The world wouldn’t end if we left it. But I believe that we will be more prosperous, more secure and have more influence in the world if we remain in the EU,” Barwell wrote.Then, Barwell turned a little nasty: “If you’re undecided, I’ll leave you with one final thought: look at the politicians on either side of the argument. The Prime Minister and all three of his surviving predecessors – John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – believe we should remain in the EU. And on the night the Prime Minister announced his deal, who were the main speakers at the Leave rally? Nigel Farage and George Galloway. Which of these two groups of politicians do you think has the better grasp of what’s best for Britain?”
How is that misleading? It’s in what Barwell doesn’t tell you.
Yes, Farage and Galloway ought to discredit any campaign with which they are associated. But what Barwell hasn’t mentioned is the names of his senior party colleagues who are now also part of the Leave campaign: Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith, John Whittingdale, Theresa Villiers and Priti Patel. And probably Boris Johnson, too.
Last year, some of these very people were out on the streets of Croydon helping Barwell to get re-elected. He wasn’t questioning their “grasp of what’s best for Britain” then.
“It’s difficult finding yourself at odds with people you normally agree with,” Barwell the chameleon whines. Poor thing. Perhaps if he ever gave the impression that he actually believed in something, rather than spouted whatever was most expedient to furthering his own political career, he might actually gain some respect.
For instance, what about those Croydon Central floating voters who want Britain to leave the EU, whose crosses in the ballot box last May might have been decisive in Barwell’s excruciatingly close 165-vote victory? What was he telling them about Brexit on the doorstep just eight months ago? Barwell promised that they’d get a referendum, rather than admitting what position he would take. Barwell couldn’t risk alienating any wavering UKIPpers, after all.Tories and referendums are what got us here in the first place. Conservative leader Ted Heath won the 1970 General Election on the promise that he would stage a referendum before Britain would join what was then the EEC. Then Heath signed the Treaty, the six became nine, and there was no referendum. Labour’s Harold Wilson put that right in 1975, but by then the question to the people had significantly changed: “Leave or Stay?” is different from “Join?”
And that’s what we face again in 2016, and again Big Business and the Establishment is swinging strongly behind the Europhile position.
At this point, perhaps we should mention Croydon’s third MP, Steve Reed OBE. As a devoted Blairite, it’s fair to assume that Reed will be for Stay, probably regardless of the views of his Constituency Labour Party in Croydon North, where its rapidly growing membership is finding that their Progress MP is out of step with many of their views.
At a grassroots level, some Croydon activists have been organising ahead of the referendum, though not always successfully.
The Stronger In campaign appointed a local organiser in Croydon South at the beginning of the month who quit the role within a fortnight. Someone now has to re-distribute the campaign’s stock of use-once-and-throw-away T-shirts.
The Brexit campaign’s activist recruitment has been little better, with Gareth Streeter, the Tories’ failed “local” candidate in Ashburton ward in 2014 and who then fought, and lost, in a Yorkshire seat at last year’s General Election, is back and busying himself.
With Streeter’s track record at elections, it is maybe not the most auspicious of appointments. Or maybe Tory councillor Mario Creatura could organise a petition to help out?
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