Political editor WALTER CRONXITE tracks the activities of Croydon’s Town Hall and Westminster elites over a weekend where the fate of the nation appeared ever more precarious, in some part thanks to the ill-judged interventions of sometime MP Gavin Barwell
It had been a tumultuous week in Westminster politics, as Theresa Mayhem’s attempt to save the Conservative Party from its death pact over Brexit saw her move ever closer to becoming an ex-Prime Minister.
Then, on Saturday, more than a million people were on the streets of the capital calling for a vote on the terms of Britain leaving the EU.
But several Croydon and Sutton politicians were notable by their absence.
Jamie Audsley, the Labour Croydon councillor and aspiring candidate for the London Assembly, was ostentatious in his being elsewhere. His well-flagged absence, travelling the trains and buses of south-west London to discover what an inadequate service they often provide (a daily experience well-known by many of the people Audsley seeks to represent), was almost Corbyn-like.
Many Corbyn activists take the view that the million marchers represented the middle classes who are not Labour’s core vote, so they boycotted the march. Who’d want to rub shoulders with Chuka Umunna and Tom Watson anyway? Others suggest that as it was a referendum which got us into this mess in the first place, a second referendum (or a third, to those who remember 1975) is entirely undesirable in what was once, in the years before David Cameron, supposedly a parliamentary democracy.
As Labour’s NEC Youth rep Lara McNeill said on the Labourlist website, they dismiss the People’s Vote as “an astroturf campaign with connections to that very Establishment that bestow it with a media presence that is disproportionate to its real importance”.
They see the ambiguous Labour Party policy, agreed at last year’s party conference, as seeking a Brexit that respects working class Leave voters and puts Labour’s middle class supporters firmly in their place by providing for a referendum only if all else fails.
“It is these hearts and minds that Labour must win over to form the next government,” McNeill wrote.
“Any attempt by our party to overturn the referendum result will signal to millions that we take the concerns of the liberal middle classes more seriously than the social class we were founded to represent.”
Audsley will be very aware that the selection of Labour’s London Assembly candidates for 2020’s elections is now controlled by a Momentum-run London region, and that going to the People’s Vote march would have damaged his prospects. Audsley describes himself as a “Democratic Socialist and Corbynomics supporter”. Notably, though, not as a Corbynista.
He was not alone in his studied absentia. Croydon Central Labour managed to organise a CLP meeting for Saturday, in a direct clash with the People’s Vote march, making it impossible for members to be in two places at the same time. Croydon Central is also controlled by members of the Corbyn-supporting Momentum group.
A smattering of Croydon North and Croydon South Labour activists were pictured with Steve Reed OBE on the march, including councillors Clive Fraser (South Norwood), Louisa Woodley (New Addington South), Nina Degrads (Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood), Andrew Pelling (Waddon), Karen Jewitt (Thornton Heath) and the newly elected Leila Ben-Hassel (Norbury and Pollards Hill).
But the Croydon Labour leadership – such as Tony Newman, his best mate Paul Scott and deputy leader Alison Butler – who usually are so quick to post selfies of themselves out and about, this time were notable by their absence.
Amid this weekend of politicians’ posturing and positioning, even further away from the action in central London was Chris Philp, Croydon South’s Tory MP. He opted to campaign for the local elections in… Winchester. And Worthing. But not in Waddon, or anywhere else in his own constituency.
He might need to pay closer attention to the residents in his own constituency, where by 11am today, 11,119 had signed the Parliamentary petition calling for Article 50 – the document which triggered Britain’s departure from the EU – to be revoked.
Philp’s constituency majority is… 11,406.
Revoking Article 50 would delay, indefinitely, the Brexit process, something anathema to the likes of the Farages, Boris Johnsons and Kate Hoeys of this world.
Philp’s father has been an active member of UKIP. His Tory MP son had always appeared to be a reluctant, or convenient, Remainer. Now, with possible political preferment at stake in what is left of the parliamentary Conservative Party, Philp firmly toes Theresa Mayhem’s line and speaks of the benefits of Leave. Which puts him out of step with his constituents, or 13per cent of the Croydon South electorate, at least.
Philp’s Croydon South constituency has the largest number of signatories to the Article 50 petition among the Croydon parliamentary seats. Croydon North had 11,026 (at 11am today), and Sarah Jones’s Croydon Central constituency had 8,850. Jones won the seat for Labour in 2017 with a 5,652 majority.
By 11am today, the petition had attracted 5.42million signatures (the progress of the Article 50 petition, constituency by constituency, can be tracked by clicking here).
Confirmed Brexiteer Mario Creatura, part of Mayhem’s team in Downing Street which has taken much of the blame for the seemingly intractable mess they have caused over Brexit, spent part of the weekend out canvassing in Addiscombe along with a very small number of members from the old, wet wing of the Conservative Party – the Tory Reform Group.
As well as his full-time job as a Whitehall “special” advisor, running the Prime Minister’s Twitter account, Creatura is also a Coulsdon councillor. Creatura, who recently moved to a new home in swanky Park Hill, may soon come to depend somewhat heavily on his £18,000 council “allowances”, if Mayhem is ousted from No10, perhaps as soon as this week, as was being widely predicted in the Sunday newspapers.
Creatura, of course, was bag-carrier to Gavin Barwell when he was a Croydon MP, and he owes his current job and loyalties to Barwell, whom he has replaced as the Conservatives’ chosen candidate for the Croydon Central constituency in the event of another General Election. But that close association to Barwell, and Mayhem, is unlikely to do Creatura’s mid-term political ambitions much good at all.
For while the Prime Minister has been eviscerated by all sides over the course of the weekend, as she faced a showdown with her own cabinet and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Reform Group at Chequers yesterday, much of the blame for the worsening political crisis has been placed with her advisers, in particular gaffe-prone Barwell.
The Prime Minister, by the middle of last week, desperately needed to win over the support of MPs from all parties for her Brexit deal. Her £1billion bung to the DUP was not enough: that had been made clear in two resounding defeats in the House of Commons, and by a clever, poker-playing Speaker John Bercoe with a well-thumbed copy of Erskine May and a trump card up his sleeve, blocking her having a third “meaningful” vote.
But when Mayhem gave her televised address to the nation last Wednesday, instead of holding out an olive branch to wavering MPs, she announced that she wanted to set the people against parliament. “I am on your side,” Mayhem said, reading from a script that had been carefully prepared with the advice of Barwell and her communications director, Robbie Gibb.
The anger, and repercussions, in Westminster political circles, especially Tory ones, could render Barwell persona non grata for some time to come.
As Tim Shipman, the Sunday Times political editor, wrote yesterday of the aftermath to Wednesday’s TV speech, “The reaction was swift and brutal.
“Lisa Nandy, a Labour MP who the [Conservative] chief whip [Julian Smith] had been wooing for months, branded the speech ‘disgraceful’. Others warned that May would have blood on her hands if her ‘parliament v the people’ theme led to violence. ‘Unlike her, we don’t all have police protection officers wandering around with us,’ said one Eurosceptic. ‘We are alone on train platforms.’
“Gavin Barwell, May’s chief of staff, was seen in parliament’s Portcullis House shortly after the broadcast. ‘He looked like he was expecting people to come up to him and congratulate him and quite quickly he was surrounded by MPs saying: “What an earth have you done?”…
“Most furious was Julian Smith who got a copy of the speech only ‘when it was too late to change it’. Smith was already at loggerheads with Barwell and now he went to war with Robbie Gibb, the director of communications, who oversaw the writing of the speech. One source said: ‘The chief and Barwell are no longer speaking to each other’.”
For Gavin Barwell, just as with the Brexit Britain he and his political party have done so much to help to create, there really may be no way back.
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