WALTER CRONXITE, our political editor, asks the burning question of the General Election campaign in Croydon: is gaffe-prone Gavin scared of fucking up? Or is he just frit?
Gavin Barwell, the Conservative MP for Croydon Central since 2010, has pulled out of a debate on education with Labour’s General Election candidate, Sarah Jones, which he’d agreed to take part in.
The Education Question Time event, being organised by Croydon teachers and to be staged at St Andrew’s High School next Wednesday evening, May 24, had had its date fixed to suit the Tory candidate.
But it has now been confirmed by the organisers that Barwell’s office has claimed, feebly, that he is “double-booked”. Like a career politician can’t manage his diary…
The Tories’ work experience candidate standing in Croydon North, Samuel Kasumu, is expected to fill-in at the education debate for Barwell. Kasumu has been delivering leaflets enthusiastically in Barwell’s constituency since being introduced as the person prepared to do what no Croydon Tory councillor was willing to do, nor deemed capable of doing – that is, run a competent campaign against Steve Reed OBE, in the certain knowledge that they will lose by tens of thousands of votes.
The Croydon education debate is to be chaired by Philipa Harvey, a local primary school teacher who was the president of the National Union of Teachers in 2016, and as well as Jones, its panel will also include a local headteacher, a parent and a pupil. But no Tory MP.
Barwell’s premature withdrawal follows his being ridiculed for turning up on Channel 4 News but refusing to debate with candidates from other political parties.
“It looks like he’s been got at by the Tory campaign manager,” one observer of the Croydon political scene said today.
“Lynton Crosby, the Aussie pit bull who is running the Tory campaign, must have told him not to go up alongside candidates from other parties because it risks making him look bad.”
In his book on the last General Election, How To Turn A Tory Seat Into A Marginal (and yes, we do know that’s not what Barwell called it, but we think our title is much more accurate), Barwell admitted that in 2015 he had tried to avoid engaging with Jones as much as possible. “If I got drawn into responding to whatever she was saying, it would simply make it a bigger story, helping her to build name recognition,” he said. The same is being applied two years on.
Barwell’s ducking the education debate, with an audience expected to comprise of more than 100 teachers, parents and eager sixth-formers, comes in a week where questions have started to be asked about whether he retains the confidence of Tory leader Theresa Mayhem, and whether, should he manage to be re-elected, he will still hang on to his ministerial positions after June 8.
At the weekend, when the Tories made an announcement on housing policy, Barwell was by-passed, even though it is supposed to be his brief.
Barwell claimed, somewhat lamely, that he’d needed a stand-in (Brandon Lewis, his predecessor as housing minister) because he’d lost his voice.
Perhaps we should all be grateful for small mercies, though sadly Barwell’s claimed indisposition did not last very long, and yesterday he was back on the public airwaves, doing radio interviews.
In his book, Barwell describes the “rough ride” he got when attending the equivalent Croydon education debate in 2015. Then, he was asked what he would do if he lost the election, and his job. The career politician told an audience that he might become a teacher. Jones, to the audience’s delight, suggested that Barwell ought to get some teaching qualifications before going in front of a classroom.
If that recollection hangs heavily with Barwell, then the “catastrophic” cuts planned for school budgets under his Conservative Government is another strong reason why he probably feels better to duck the debate.
Letters have been going out in south London school bags recently asking parents for donations towards their children’s education because of Tory government cuts to school budgets. In Croydon, that could mean £20million of cuts by 2020, so that there will be £418 less to spend per pupil. It also could mean that 535 teachers’ jobs will be axed.
Research using Department for Education data confirms that schools with the poorest children face much greater cuts in funding per pupil under the Government’s National Funding Formula (NFF) proposals.
Analysis of DfE data published on the www.schoolcuts.org.uk website has already shown that 99 per cent of schools in England will receive less money per pupil in real terms even after the implementation of the proposed NFF.
The research has been done by the NUT and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). It uses the Government’s IDACI (income deprivation affecting children) Index. This shows that the primary schools with the most deprived pupils will lose £519 per pupil on average, while the most deprived secondary schools will lose £757 per pupil.
“These are disturbing figures of which no Government could be proud,” Kevin Courtney, the NUT’s general secretary, has said. “Wilfully pressing ahead with funding changes that would disadvantage the poorest pupils without finding additional funding would be scandalous.
“The Public Accounts Committee called the Government’s belief that schools can make such savings from their budgets a ‘collective delusion.’ They are right. Money has to be found for our schools. Failure to do so will be catastrophic for society.”
No wonder Barwell’s frit of facing an audience full of angry teachers and anxious parents. Looks like his new mate Kasumu is being handed a tough apprenticeship.
- The Croydon election education debate is at St Andrew’s High School, Waynflete Ave, CR0 4BH next Wednesday, May 24, starting at 7pm (doors 6.30pm). Register here to book your place. Bookings under the name “Barwell” are still being accepted.
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