Black swans, splits and boundaries make for uncertain times

Expect the unexpected, warns WALTER CRONXITE, in the third part of his gaze into the political crystal ball on the prospects for 2019

Ready to split: Streatham MP Chuka Umunna

As Labour in London, including Croydon, sails serenely towards 2019 with positive prospects seemingly at every turn, it is worth considering that there could be “black swan events” that alter that outlook utterly.

The phrase “black swan” is generally accepted to have been coined by the Roman poet Juvenal, at a time when swans were thought to come in just one colour – white. Something entirely unexpected can, and often does, turn up.

And in Croydon, apart from appointing people to be the borough’s mayors, these are uncertain political times.

In addition to the prospect of a snap General Election, there are a handful of scenarios for 2019 which could change things drastically, nationally and locally.

  • Another EU referendum could destabilise the current Croydon CON-LAB duopoly.
  • Westfield Croydon: due to begin on-site work in September 2019, yet more delays in a £1.4billion project can only have damaging consequences for the Town Hall administration.
  • Any further adverse reports from Ofsted on Croydon’s failing children’s services department – in special measures since 2017 – or other parts of the council’s education service, such as SEND, will heap huge pressure on the Town Hall leadership.
  • A delay to Brexit would see a European election on May 23 in Croydon. This is such an “unforeseen eventuality” that the Electoral Commission has already put money aside for exactly that.
  • A new referendum or European election might boost populist or centrist parties.
  • Over the borough boundary in Streatham, Chuka Umunna is said to be keen to launch a new political party. Depending on which type of voters a Umunna’s party appealed to, the uncertainty might give local Tories better electoral chances.

Already, the destabilising two years of post-referendum doubts and dispute have seen one minor party, UKIP, begin to fracture, with its Islamophobic leader, Gerard Batten, moving to the far right, while others are trying to distance themselves from him and his fascist mate, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon.

The London Assembly’s two UKIP members, Peter Whittle and David Kurten, have both quit the party and now sit at City Hall as something called the Brexit Alliance (do you think they focus-grouped the name?). A similar fracturing of the anti-EU right has happened in Croydon, too, where local UKIP chairman Dan Heaton and Mike Swadling have quit to set up their own party, the Croydon Constitutionalists, which they are trying to claim in non-partisan.

Gavin Barwell (centre), cheerily out canvassing with Tim Pollard and Croydon Tories. Might they back him to be Croydon’s elected mayor?

That all threatens to erode the right’s vote around the fringes, but it surely would not damage the Conservative vote as much as any Umunna-backed Labour splinter group.

Some predict that an Umunna split would fracture Jeremy Corbyn’s party in the same way that the SDP did to Labour in the early 1980s. The SDP, led by bourgeois centrists such as egotistical David Owen, Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams, lasted less than eight years, but helped to ensure Labour was out of power nationally for another 16.

At a more local level, an opinion poll carried out in May showed a majority of Croydon residents support the idea of a directly elected Mayor in Croydon.

Maybe that is the job that Gavin Barwell, the former Croydon Central Tory MP, might like once he is out of work when Theresa Mayhem is no longer Prime Minister and has no further need of his close advice as her Chief of Staff?

It was, of course, Barwell who was responsible for bringing Westfield to Croydon in 2012, in a deal brokered on behalf of his mates at the Whitgift Foundation, owners of the Whitgift Centre shopping mall, who were eager to boost their rental income from their commercial property. Nearly seven years on, and not a brick has been laid in what is now the £1.4billion scheme, but the development blight is all around for all to see.

The now French-owned Westfield and their “partners” in Croydon, Hammerson, having been given a second planning permission and with a huge chunk of the town centre CPO’d on their behalf, say that they will at last begin demolition work on site in the autumn of 2019, with completion hoped for by 2023.

Boundary changes would put Labour MP Sarah Jones’s seat in peril

The new supermall was supposed to have been open for business by 2017. Although an entirely commercial venture backed by the then Tory MP and Boris Johnson when London Mayor, Croydon’s Labour administration, under Tony Newman and his chief exec, Jo Negrini, has invested much political capital in the scheme.  Any further delays will put their judgement into question, yet again. And the landscape for high street retailing gets worse by the day…

Likewise, another issue in Croydon unresolved by its political leaders is the parlous state of the borough’s children’s services department, placed in special measures 18 months ago by Ofsted. Further visits by Ofsted inspectors to Croydon, for schools and the borough’s special educational needs department, are expected in 2019.

In neighbouring Bromley, when its “inadequate” children’s services department failed to show signs of improvement, the council leader did the decent thing and resigned. Will Newman follow suit? Or – as many on Katharine Street suggest – has he so far avoided replacing the hapless cabinet member responsible, Alisa Flemming, so that he has a scapegoat ready when required?

Meanwhile, sitting in the pocket of any continuing or renewed Conservative government are the gerrymandering boundary changes to the parliamentary constituencies, which reduce the number of Labour MPs in London and appear overwhelmingly favourable to the Tories.

If that could be got through the Commons, then under the boundaries as so far proposed, Sarah Jones would face a much tougher fight to retain her seat, with Croydon Central becoming Croydon South East and losing Labour-leaning parts of central Croydon and strongly Labour Woodside, swapped for voters in eminently Tory Selsdon and Sanderstead.

Based on the Queen Mary College University of London/YouGov poll, a General Election run under the proposed new parliamentary boundaries would see the revised Croydon South East seat won by the Conservatives with a majority of more than 4,500.

Mario Creatura, the Tories’ pick to contest Croydon Central next time, must hope that those boundary changes will come soon, and with them his own re-selection for the altered seat.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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1 Response to Black swans, splits and boundaries make for uncertain times

  1. sebastiantillinger7694 says:

    Very interesting and well written piece. You’ll disagree but I’d add the impact of the ‘bald-ego’ on Labour’s prospects locally.

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