Boris’s farewell tour at the Fairfield goes out with a whimper

'C'mon plebs! What you got to say? What! What!' Boris Johnson's farewell tour gets underway in Croydon

‘C’mon plebs! What you got to say? What! What!’ Boris Johnson gets underway in Croydon

The hottest ticket in town? WALTER CRONXITE toddled along to the Fairfield Halls last night and found a faded star who had forgotten his lines

So that’s how eight years of Boris’s London reign ends – a public meeting in Croydon closes with a whole line of security heavies making sure no one actually speaks to Johnson, titters as meeting chairman Steve O’Connell announces that he has Mr Dick’s mislaid debit card, and the audience departs the poorly lit auditorium of the Fairfield Halls concert hall disappointed by a below par performance by a poorly briefed Mayor, irritated by political point scoring by non-Tory Assembly members and frustrated by a sense that politicians had spent the previous two hours doing what they are trained to do – not answer questions.

One audience member, Sue Kennett of Croydon, complained, to some applause, about how tiresome the party political point scoring was.

The audience filled only half the curtained-off concert hall. Many residents who came hoping to see the local council skewered on the closure for rebuilding of Fairfield and the building of homes and travellers’ sites in Shirley will have left downhearted by the only sparse applause when these questions were raised and by the nonplussed, confused Mayoral responses that in the end backed the local council.

Some of the questions, and the attendant Twitter chatter, seemed to be better orchestrated than the London Mozart Players (though some might say that that’s not so difficult). O’Connell tried to provide riders to each pointed local question, but it seemed that he had not had access to the Mayor to brief him on the political importance of the questions.

Johnson fumbled his way to backing the closure of the Fairfield Halls by saying that he would work with Croydon Council to keep the closure to a minimum and to protect jobs (no matter that he’ll be out of office by May, and the two-year refit doesn’t begin until July).

Johnson's adoring fans at the Fairfield Halls: they were in for a disappointing performance

Some of Johnson’s adoring fans: they were in for a disappointing performance

On housing, Johnson said that you can’t both ask for more homes and then oppose development, although he did suggest that all building should be done on brownfield sites; he was clearly gloriously ignorant of the draft Croydon Plan for building 651 homes on the green spaces surrounding the Shirley Oaks estate.

Johnson was careful not to say anything controversial about travellers, though Tom Copley and Fiona Twycross, Assembly Members sitting close by on stage, heard the Mayor being disparaging of the traveller lifestyle in a off-the-cuff aside that he never thought would be heard: “What have they got against bricks and mortar?” But then, this is the same Bullingdon Boris who laughed and joked while stepping over a homeless person on a previous visit to Croydon.

Johnson’s three-time promised tram extension to Crystal Palace – in 2008, 2012 and 2014 – was raised by disability campaigner Steve Aselford. Eight years after he made the first promise, Johnson last night said that he was looking at the business cases for both Sutton and Crystal Palace extensions, with Sutton being the better one so long as Sutton council allowed development along the line.

Steve O'Connell with London Mayor Boris Johnson promising a tram link to Crystal Palace in 2012 which has never been delivered

Steve O’Connell with Boris Johnson promising a tram link to Crystal Palace which has never been delivered

O’Connell – who is standing for re-election as an Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton and therefore is in need of a transport offer to tempt the voters – said that he is “totally committed” to both proposals. But then who cares about O’Connell’s commitments? He has not delivered in the past eight years and he has no executive power to deliver the extensions anyway, even if he is returned to City Hall.

The only blow that Johnson landed on Croydon’s Labour council came when he extravagantly decried it as “useless, spadded, desiccated” for seeing recycling rates drop from 42 per cent to 40 per cent in its first year in office. The youngsters in the press seats turned to their Greek-English-Greek dictionaries for help, but no one could find out what BoJo meant by “spadded”.

Talking of rubbish, Johnson went all absent-minded and could not recall that in 2013, he had approved the building of the Viridor incinerator at Beddington Lane. Air quality in London, he claimed apparently in all seriousness, is improving…

By contrast to the muted response to local issues, by far the biggest positive reactions from the audience came when a member of the public accused the Mayor of adopting his anti-EU stance for “political self-interest”, and later when Boris sparred with the Labour leader on the Assembly, Len Duvall.

Labour AM Joanne McCartney did better than her colleagues, having come well researched to talk of 46 police officer cuts and 141 PCSO cuts in Croydon since Johnson became Mayor, a period which, of course, includes the 2011 rioting. She also highlighted a 16 per cent increase in Croydon violent crime in the period of Johnson’s Mayoralty.

People's Question Time helped raise the profile of the usually subterranean Steve O'Connell

People’s Question Time helped raise the usually subterranean profile of Steve O’Connell

At least the event gave O’Connell the opportunity to keep reminding the audience a little clumsily of his name – a useful opportunity ahead of election time, provided the 400-or-so people in the audience don’t remember it and avoid putting their X on the ballot paper alongside the Tory’s name.

Audience members felt that he chaired the meeting well, fending off an openly party political question asking Johnson how good he thought Zac Goldsmith was, dealing patiently with eccentric off-beam audience questions and trying to fit in as many of his colleagues on the Assembly as he could, none of whom the audience had really come to hear.

O’Connell did, though, make one serious factual error when the 59-year-old claimed not to look old enough to have been able to vote in 1975, the last time Britain held a referendum on Europe. He sided then with the “outers”, so at least he has remained consistent in one respect: he announced to the audience last night that he favours Brexit.

From his position on the far left of the stage, the local councillor for Kenley ward struggled to see the audience to his left, such was the poor lighting in the stuffy hall.

It all seems very timely, both that the good burghers of Croydon are going to renew these tired old Halls and that we’ll soon see a new Mayor, replacing the jaded Johnson, who clearly got bored with being Mayor of London long ago.


About insidecroydon

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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2016 London elections, Boris Johnson, Croydon Council, Fairfield Halls, Housing, London Assembly, London-wide issues, Mayor of London, Steve O'Connell, Tom Copley, Zac Goldsmith MP and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Boris’s farewell tour at the Fairfield goes out with a whimper

  1. Boris described Croydon’s Labour Council as “spavined”. It means lame and decrepit.

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  2. baw30s says:

    My recollection is that Steve O’Connell said that he did indeed vote to leave the EEC in 1975 and that (as stated in the article) he believes that he was right to support exit both then and now.

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  3. Thanks for the detailed report of the Johnson Travelling Roadshow at Fairfield last night.

    We had tickets but decided not to go because the website warned of crowds and suggested people arrive at 6 – for a 7 start – in order to be sure of getting a seat. Instead we went to see “Hangman” a direct feed from the Royal Court. Its an ingenious piece of very, very noir humour that may not be to everyone’s taste and about which I am still in two minds … unlike Boris and his minions, another piece of truly noir humour, about which I am certainly of one mind.

    With all the wondrous advantages of hindsight, I think we made the right choice. A question and response session when you have only a few more ineffective months left in office? What a futile gesture, one whose only benefit may have been to allow some hot air to escape from the pressure cooker but nothing more.

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  4. sed30 says:

    Reblogged this on sed30's Blog.

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