WALTER CRONXITE uncovers a Tory astroturfing exercise which has hand-picked the audience for a bogus housing ‘debate’ with the local MP
Loyal Croydon Tory supporters of the government minister, Gavin Barwell, have adopted the ticketing practices of United Airlines ahead of what is supposed to be a “debate” on housing policy this week.
Either that, or the housing minister is scared of actually being questioned about government policy by anyone who is not recognised as a card-carrying member of the “We Luv Gav” fan club.
Barwell, the housing minister and MP for Croydon Central, is supposed to be speaking at the Croydon Conference Centre on Thursday evening at an event entitled “How do we solve Croydon’s housing crisis?”
The event is organised by Robert Ward, the busy Tory activist, under the guise of something that calls itself the Croydon Debate Club.
But much like United Airlines when it overbooks a flight, Ward has started to sling out ticket-holders for the Barwell event. Rather than allocate tickets on a first-come, first-served basis, Ward has announced that he has decided to allocate seats at the 100-plus capacity venue on Surrey Street “to our supporters”.
Emails to previously accepted ticket-holders have been going out from Ward this week, in some cases less than 72 hours before the event. Some ticket-holders who have been rejected had assumed that they had safely booked their place last month to hear the MP speak and question him. They hold acknowledgements from the online ticketing service Eventbrite which clearly state that it is a confirmation and “Here are your tickets”.
But Ward has decided differently.
“Please note we will not be admitting anyone without tickets so there is no point in coming to the event in the hope of getting in without,” Ward warned anyone who might have had thoughts of turning up and challenging the government minister.
The tone of Ward’s email is a good deal frostier than the clearly insincere “All are welcome!” message in the event’s publicity.
“You may already have received an automated email from EventBrite but I would like also to explain the cancellation of your tickets,” Ward wrote in his email.
“The meeting has been over-subscribed and we have had to prioritise our allocation of tickets. We have decided to give preference to our supporters who have attended previous events so unfortunately you have not been lucky this time. My apologies for your disappointment and I hope you will be able to attend a future event.
“Please let me know if you wish to join our mailing list,” Ward adds, in classic Barwellian data-scraping style. All those email addresses come in handy at election time…
According to one senior Katharine Street source, “The hand-picked nature of Barwell’s audience this week underlines that the Croydon ‘Debate’ Club is a barely disguised front for the Croydon Conservatives.
“It’s been obvious from the start that this is their latest astroturfing operation, established to promote their cause ahead of the local elections next year while having the appearance of being a genuinely community-run organisation. It is nothing of the sort.”
Ward has previously collaborated closely with Barwell’s former parliamentary aide, now Coulsdon councillor, Mario Creatura.
With Barwell’s housing white paper having been roundly trashed since its publication earlier this year, and the Westfield redevelopment, which he helped to instigate, causing long-term development blight to many businesses in Croydon town centre, it is fair to assume that there are a number of areas in which the minister might be subject to closer scrutiny than his departmental assistants have dared risked subjecting him.
“This is the way the Establishment likes to control the agenda,” one disappointed ticket-holder told Inside Croydon. “They like to keep it in the family.
“Last month, Barwell had no problem travelling to the South of France to meet property speculators and talk to them, with their free drinks in hand. Then, he told developers that if they had a ‘problem’ with local authorities, they just had to come and see him. Cosy.
“Yet now, people from his home town of Croydon are being denied an opportunity to question him on his responsibilities for planning, housing and London.
“What’s he afraid of?”
It is not known whether Robert Ward, who was accused by one Croydon councillor last week of “casual racism” over remarks about the Shrublands attack, has ever worked for United Airlines. By the time of publication, neither he nor Gavin Barwell had responded to Inside Croydon‘s questions.
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