KEN LEE, our politics reporter, has found that the Tory campaign in Croydon Central has been less than truthful, again
In the final days of the election campaign, and gaffe-prone Gavin Barwell has resorted to a tried and trusted tactic to try to get re-elected: lying.
Just as he did in 2015, the career Tory politician has overseen the distribution of thousands of letters around the Croydon Central constituency. Made to look as if they have been hand-written, they begin with the salutation, “Dear Neighbour”.
Except they are not really from a neighbour, but from Tory Party shills and officials. And they’re not very neighbourly, either.
Inside Croydon has been made aware of at least three versions of the letter, which have been signed off variously by someone who works for the Conservative Party at London Councils, another is from a failed Tory parliamentary candidate, and the third is from a former official in a supposedly apolitical residents’ association.
In the first two cases, these important details are withheld from the communication sent on behalf of Barwell, who has been MP for the constituency since 2010 and on polling day tomorrow is defending a 165-vote majority from 2015.
Inside Croydon has received several complaints that the political party imprint – which all election literature has to carry by law – is so positioned and in such tiny print on these bogus letters as to be almost unreadable. This is the only thing about the letters which identifies it as a piece of political propaganda from the Conservative Party.
The letters – what Barwell sees as an endorsement of his time as an MP – are straight out of his campaign playbook, which the former Tory Central Office senior staffer enshrined in his election memoir, How I Turned A Tory Seat Into A Marginal.
One letter purports to be “signed” by Gareth Streeter, who himself was roundly rejected by the Croydon electorate in 2014 when he failed to be elected as a local councillor.
This version of the “Dear Neighbour” letter begins with a bald lie, with Streeter claiming, falsely, “I have lived in our community for a long time”.
Streeter actually left the Croydon area around 2014, shortly after he was selected as a Conservative parliamentary candid oop north, in Rother Valley.
He didn’t fare so well there, either, losing 5 per cent of his party’s vote share and seeing the Tories finish only third. His parliamentary ambition thwarted, Streeter has moved back to Croydon after that 2015 election – so hardly “a long time”.
Streeter tells another porkie in the very next sentence. “One of my golden rules is that I don’t talk religion or politics with friends or neighbours,” Streeter claims in the letter.
“He must save it just for the doorstep when out canvassing then,” a resident who knows Streeter told Inside Croydon.
“He’s notorious for it, it is almost the stuff of local legend: Streeter bores for England about religion and politics. He knows nothing else.”
Another resident unfortunate enough to have received the Streeter letter makes an important complaint: “It’s interesting that the chair of governors at Oasis Shirley Park doesn’t mention anywhere in his letter about the school potentially losing 12 teaching posts under cuts proposed by Barwell’s government.
“I’m very disappointed that a school governor would try to abuse that position to try to influence votes.”
Another of the letters is “signed” by Dave King. At least he is a bit more open when he states that he was chairman of the Monks Orchard Residents’ Association. Such a politicised letter entirely compromises a residents’ association that likes to boast that it is “non-party political”.
King makes points to the electorate in Shirley that could put a dent in Labour’s efforts to win Croydon Central from Barwell. King is critical of political mess that has been created by Paul Scott, the Labour councillor who chairs the council planning committee. Scott may cost Sarah Jones, the Labour parliamentary candidate, an important few hundred votes in Shirley.
The Evening Standard gave an example of a voter switching to Barwell over the ham-fisted approach of the Scott to planning in Shirley. “On the Lawdon estate in Shirley, where Mr Barwell is canvassing, house-building rather than the lack of it is influencing some voters.
“Andrew Walmsley, 67, a retired minicab driver, says that he voted Liberal Democrat at the last election, but will back the Tories this time because of Mr Barwell’s record in opposing ‘horrible’ housing plans for nearby Shirley Oaks. ‘It would destroy the whole area. I will vote for you because of that,’ Walmsley told Barwell.”
King urges Shirley voters to go the polls for Barwell because of the controversial high-density Brick by Brick housing schemes, the loss of Metropolitan Open Land and intensification of development at Shirley Library and Shirley roundabout.
Of course, as the Tory housing minister, Barwell is meant to be building more houses, but that is conveniently overlooked in this “Dear Neighbour” letter, as Barwell mines a rich vein of votes by appealing to local Nimbyism and capitalising on the borough-wide anger at the arrogant approach of Scott to local planning controversies.
In the event that Barwell manages to cling on to his seat once again, then Labour Councillor Scott probably deserves a pat on the back from the Tory team.
But Barwell’s campaign manager is not alone in having read his boss’s election playbook. So, too, has Sarah Jones’s agent for the Labour campaign.
This weekend, households in the constituency found on their door mats yet another version of a homespun, “hand-written” Dear Neighbour letter.
This, though, had none of the hidden agendas and undeclared interests of Barwell’s Tory letters: it came from the Labour candidate, Jones, herself. Unlike Barwell, Jones does actually live in the constituency.
Even for Barwell, putting his own name to a Dear Neighbour letter all the way from Sanderstead might be stretching the truth of the matter too far.
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Certainly there are more than 3 versions of this letter. I also have a letter from a Bharat Shah who claims to be my neighbour (he apparently lives on the Whitgift estate, and I live in Parkhill) & recommending that I vote for Gavin Barwell. Nowhere on the paper is the Conservative party mentioned by name- though there is info about the printer.
If the Conservative Party isn’t mentioned on the letter, I would suggest reporting this to the (acting) returning officer at Croydon Council, Jo Negrini.
Oh, the imprint is there, Malcolm. You just need a magnifying glass to be able to read it easily