So there we have it: the 2018 local elections campaign in Croydon is going to be a load of old rubbish.
Croydon Conservatives were out in force yesterday.
Well, 50 of them were, led by the Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, no less, enthusiastically tweeting pictures every time they discovered a dog turd in a park, fly-tipped beds or a pile of someone else’s rubbish. Or sometimes just random pictures of part of a lamp post. Barwell’s not known as gaffe-prone Gav for nothing, after all.
They even had a hashtag: #cleanupcroydon.
It’s all a bit pathetic, though.
It is clear that what remains of the Croydon Tories – they now have fewer than 1,000 members across the three parliamentary constituencies in the borough – has decided that the state of the borough’s streets will be the battleground for the 2018 Town Hall election, a major point of attack against Tony Newman’s Labour group’s time in office.
Just as Labour made the “fly-tipping epidemic” their focus of attack for the 2014 local elections.
And yes, there are a lot of people out there who behave anti-socially, even illegally, and who are dumping rubbish on the streets.
But for the local election campaign to come down to this, time and again, really shows quite how little to offer the duopoly which occupies Croydon Town Hall has, and how devoid of ideas they have become.
It also shows how much reduced the power of local authorities has become, especially after it has been stripped of so much of its funding by central government – particularly the Tory-led government of the past six years.
It was, after all, the Tories when they were last in power at Croydon Town Hall who cancelled the weekly bins collection to save money because of Gideon Osborne’s first round of austerity cuts. They also took away the free collection of bulk items – like mattresses, beds and fridges – to “save money”, but which have ended up costing the Council Tax-payer even more because the council then has to go round the borough every day of the year clearing up the fly-tipped mattresses, beds and fridges.
This Labour-run council, since it took over in 2014, has cancelled free green waste collections because of a lack of funding from central government. This, too, is pennywise and pound foolish, not least because it forgoes an important opportunity for residents, and the council, to recycle and compost the green waste.
Politically, there’s a bit of a problem with this latest Tory social media campaign.
Because apart from photographing them and posting them on to the interweb, the Conservatives aren’t doing anything else about the piles of rubbish, like picking it up or actually, well… cleaning up Croydon.
Indeed, in his first flush of enthusiasm when elected as an MP, as a thinly disguised effort to “get down with the kids” and sign up some new members for the local party – before all that nastiness about booze and sex and bullying among the Tories’ youth wing – Barwell, backed up by Sara “Book Token” Bashford and his gobby fac totum Mario Creatura, organised clear-up teams on sites within his Croydon Central constituency.
But that was when there was a Tory-run council, and there was lots to clean up. Especially in wards where career politician Barwell felt he needed extra votes to maintain his political career.
This latest effort is looking at Labour-held council wards, such as Waddon and, perhaps surprisingly, Bensham Manor, where the Labour’s deputy leader, Alison Butler, is a councillor.
The piles of rubbish which have been highlighted by the local Conservatives most recently are being cleared up by the council with some efficiency. A recent leaflet from Chris Philp, the MP for Croydon South, highlighted that they’d “discovered” 51 fly-tips in one ward, Waddon, in one day.
What devious Philp failed to mention to the residents in his leaflet is that more than 90 per cent of those were cleaned up by the council in less than 48 hours after they’d been reported.
So, in that respect, the council is at least doing its job.
It is not the council which is dumping the rubbish, after all.
And there’s the rub… because nothing appears to be deterring fly-tippers.
Labour has tried slogans and T-shirts, they’ve even had a hashtag of their own. And they have had some success with getting under-performing contractors, Veolia, to clear up fly-tips. But all at some cost.
They have dragged dozens of offenders through the courts – though there’s a touch of desperation about how they have begun to add convictions for people dropping cigarette butts or chewing gum on the pavement into their press releases about the number of fly-tipping cases.
But that’s the extent of the political discourse in Croydon in 2016. There’s rubbish on the streets. No one likes it. The council cleans it up. The council might clean it up quicker, or prosecute more offenders, but it doesn’t have the financial resources for more CCTV cameras or enforcement officers.
Barwell didn’t mention anything in his tweets yesterday about lobbying the government, of which he is part, for more money for all this.
It’s all a bit tired and dull and, dare we say it, a bit rubbish really.
Of course, there’s a huge, smelly pile of old rubbish in the centre of Croydon that’s been festering for five years. But gaffe-prone Gav’s not going to mention the undeveloped Whitgift Centre, because he was the one who claimed credit for bringing Westfield to Croydon in the first place.
And Labour’s not going to attack the Tories for their part in creating the blight in the town centre, because Newman, Butler and their controlling clique dare not antagonise Westfield. And anyway, they too have bet the house on the promised “regeneration”, and appear to have little to offer as any alternative.
And that’s all a bit rubbish, too.
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