WALTER CRONXITE, having been refused an invite by the Conservative Party to attend yesterday’s rally for their London Mayoral candidate, reports on a day of embarrassments on St Patrick’s Day for Zac Goldsmith
It’s fair to say that Tory MP Zac Goldsmith will have better weeks in his campaign to become the successor to Boris Johnson as an Old Etonian millionaire running City Hall.There was the blunder over Croydon residents’ email addressses being blurted into the interweb by one of Goldsmith’s campaign minions, for which he issued a not-very-grovelling apology.
But addressing correspondence is clearly a bit of an issue for the #BackZacAndCrack team at the moment, since it was also revealed yesterday that they had been sending letters to one “Kenneth Livingstone” to seek Labour’s former London Mayor’s support. As if…
Separately, these two balls-ups might be dismissed as unfortunate errors. Taken together, they amount to a degree of imbecility within the Goldsmith campaign which reflects very poorly on its leader, and raises serious questions about his capabilities of being a leader for London.
But there’s a more sinister aspect to the Goldsmith campaign, which has plumbed depths which many civilised people hoped had been eradicated from mainstream politics in Britain decades ago, as the Tories seek to exploit distrust between London minority communities against Labour’s Mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan.
As Adam Bienkov reported yesterday, Goldsmith “has sent out leaflets warning ethnic minority Londoners that a vote for Sadiq Khan could put their family jewellery at risk … One letter sent by Goldsmith to British Tamils living in London, suggests a vote for the Labour candidate could lead to a new ‘wealth tax on family jewellery’.”Goldsmith’s leaflet went on to suggest, falsely, that Labour is “beginning to adopt policies that will mean higher taxes on your family and your family’s heirlooms and belongings.”
It requires a certain desperate degree of shamelessness to try to play the race card in such a manner.
But maybe Goldsmith was finally shamed when a disability charity of which he was patron, Richmond AID, disowned him.
In a statement, the charity said: “Richmond AID recently wrote to Zac Goldsmith with regard to his recent decision to vote for cuts to ESA and can confirm he has now stepped down as a patron.”
Perhaps that’s what persuaded Goldsmith to agree to meet members of Sutton and Croydon Disabled People Against Cuts – DPAC – after his “secret” rally at Clyde Hall yesterday evening.
At short notice, a handful of DPAC protestors gathered outside Clyde Hall, after being tipped off about the Goldsmith rally’s location by Inside Croydon.
But if DPAC embarrassed the bejeezus out of Goldsmith on St Patrick’s Day, a number of Croydon Conservatives went to great lengths to avoid coming into contact with the small gaggle of scruffy urchins with a disability rights banner.
Tories can be funny creatures when trying to avoid being seen going to a Tory meeting.
Some crossed the road and pretended to admire the architecture before darting back across into the safety of the glorified village hall. Others shrugged apologetically to no one in particular. Some kept their eyes straight ahead, marching purposefully before executing a sharp left turn into the green zone of the car park. One group even disguised themselves as public school sixth formers (complete with blazers and school matron) on a field trip. None looked old enough vote, yet en bloc they all got tickets for the meeting. Lucky them.The first to acknowledge the DPAC protestors was Goldsmith himself, promising to give them 15 minutes afterwards as he had 100 people waiting inside.
“We accepted this offer as he probably thought we’d get cold and go home before the end,” one of the campaigners told Inside Croydon. Then nothing happened, at least outside, for a while.
Eventually, there was a very restrained ripple of applause and people began to drift out, seemingly much less afraid of the crowd outside (are four a crowd?).
An extremely polite and well-spoken man-child came out to assure that Zac hadn’t forgotten and would the protestors like to wait inside. The polite, well-spoken man-child launched into his well-practised spiel about being inspired by Zac at the last election and how he never thought he would be interested in others but now he cared about the future of London. Or some such gubbins.
So one of the DPAC group started to tell the man-child about the suicides caused by the benefit system, not being able to feed yourself or clothe your children, the complete lack of dignity afforded disabled people. The poor mite panicked, having never had a hostile audience for his speech and said somewhat randomly, “I fully understand your plight. My mother was a school teacher.” Maybe he went home to practise the empathy part of his young politician handbook.
True to his word,Goldsmith gave the campaigners a few minutes. But strictly no cameras or recording. “The no recording rule was probably as well, as the three of us who stayed ran rings around him and his five aides and security men,” one said.
“His well-rehearsed defences and deflections really didn’t cope well out in the light of proper debate.”
Goldsmith claimed to have written to someone about ATOS. ATOS ran work capability assessments for the Department of Work and Pensions – a system under which the DWP’s own figures showed that 2,380 people died between 2011 and 2014 after being found fit for work through disability benefit assessments.
He didn’t seem to understand that it’s the underlying system that’s at fault, nor did he know that ATOS had resigned from the contract last year. Now, it’s Maximus who are doing a similarly poor job.
“I explained how my partner has supported 40 people at tribunals and appeals this year so far and has won all 40 of them,” one of the protestors said. “Some of those people had gone without any benefits for up to nine months waiting for a decision to be overturned.
“His security guys kept coughing and saying ‘we really have to go now Zac’ after every sentence and he looked extremely uncomfortable, so we barely had time to explain how his government’s handling of Access to Work had left lots of British Sign Language signers actually facing the dole.
“Or how the Freedom Pass needs to be 24-hour, so that disabled people could use it to go to work. Or how the closure of ticket offices at railway stations, as proposed in Croydon and Sutton, impacts unfairly on wheelchair users.
“Or how having chemotherapy doesn’t mean you don’t want to work. But I think we did.
“There really is no positive spin you can put on the reforms when talking to the disabled.”
And so a group of people who Croydon Tories denied the opportunity of listening to an unmediated Goldsmith speech had at least had a chance to speak to the Mayoral candidate directly. Will it persuade him to do the right thing the next time he gets whipped in the Commons to withdraw funding from some of the most vulnerable in society? What do you think?
Oddly, no one spotted gaffe-prone Gav Barwell, the Croydon Central Tory MP, at this event in his constituency. Maybe he didn’t get a ticket.
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