After a long and sleepless night, our political editor WALTER CONXITE sifts through the wreckage of the General Election, and what it might mean for Croydon, and Sutton
The fourth General Election since 2010 is significant because it is the first in a decade to deliver a government with a working majority – and after the coalition, fudge and paralysis of the past nine years or so, there’s some that suggest that a parliament that can actually get things done is preferable to the alternative.
A former senior Tory cabinet member, one of those who has stood down from Westminster before yesterday’s election, was at a private lunch recently at which they told of their heart-felt and utter relief at no longer being a Member of Parliament.
“The first five years were alright, really enjoyable, it felt like we were getting things done,” they said of the period from 2010, when they served in David Cameron’s austerity coalition.
“But after 2016, things just got progressively worse. There was a nastiness, and our legislative process just ground to a halt. It was dreadful.”
Having an 80-seat majority changes all that for Boris Johnson.
Brexit, oven-ready or otherwise, will get done, and by the end of next month. Given the Scottish Nationalists’ successes yesterday, after Britain leaves one union, it might not be so long until another union, that of the United Kingdom, comes to an end, too. The election results in Northern Ireland are noteworthy, too: for the first time in history, the province has elected more republicans than unionists. That friction-less border somewhere in the middle of the Irish Sea has clearly not gone down well.
All of which will impact Croydon in some way. It’s just too soon to know exactly how.
But there are also localised issues where, because of what was in the Conservative manifesto or has been in discussion before, we can say may be on its way.
As the National Education Union warned before the election, Croydon’s schools are horribly under-funded after a decade of austerity, with some poised to lose more than £1,000 per pupil per year.
Some headteachers have already resorted to cancelling half a day’s teaching per week because there is not the money in their budgets to pay a full teaching staff.
Tory spending plans do include an increase in education funding, but not enough to keep up with inflation, which includes staff salaries and pensions.
Adult social care and children’s services
The latest Ofsted re-inspection was in October, but their report was delayed until after the election – it may be published next week. If there is no recommendation for Croydon to take back control of its own department, there will be mounting pressure on the council’s leadership – including CEO Jo Negrini and council leader Tony Newman – to consider their positions for failing to fix a dire position in which at least three children died when in the council’s care.
All of which is against the backdrop of a decade in which the council has been stripped of 70 per cent of its annual funding from Whitehall.
Clearly, you cannot take away all of the assets which provide support for society and expect things to continue as before.
Even Gideon Osborne, the architect of austerity, has recently admitted it was entirely unnecessary. Might Boris Johnson’s speech on Friday morning, where he talked of being a “One Nation” party (it’s a Disraeli reference: Google it) be some sort of signal that the government purse strings are about to be loosened in an effort to repair some of the terrible damage caused?
The hard-pressed, hard-working staff at Croydon Council will have to hope so. There will be a Budget early in the New Year.
Mayday and St Helier
The quarter-century battle to save St Helier Hospital from being downgraded looks as if it is about to come to an end – with ramifications for Croydon’s Mayday, too.
St Helier, and Epsom Hospital, are among the list of 40 “new” hospitals promised by the Conservatives (they actually mean six).
But the £500million “new” facility will, in fact, see St Helier lose its A&E and maternity units.
And that means more workload for the already full stressed Mayday in Croydon.
The NHS in south-west London have been looking at axing one, or even two, of five hospitals in the area – these included Mayday – for the past three years. There is nothing to stop them doing that now.
Bonnie Craven, the losing Labour candidate in Sutton and Cheam, said she was “furious” with the returned Tory MP, Paul Scully, on election night. “It is patently clear there is no new hospital. What is going to happen is that we will lose both of our fully acute hospitals in the next year and it is going to cost lives,” Craven said.
And Brexit will not solve the NHS’s dire recruitment problem, with doctors, nurses and other staff from EU nations either deterred from coming to Britain, or opting to return home. The Conservatives inadvertently admitted there is an NHS staffing crisis when they announced plans for 40,000 “new” nurses, which included simply persuading 19,000 nurses not to leave the service.
Boris Johnson’s toxic gift to Croydon.
Westfield and Hammerson announced a “review” of their plans for Croydon in February, as a result of “Brexit uncertainty” and the state of the retail market. Ten months later, and there remains silence on when, or whether, they will ever start work on the £1.4billion regeneration scheme.
The Brexit “uncertainty” may about to be resolved, but the parlous state of the high street shows no sign of improvement. We are about to witness another Christmas in which online sales have increased at the expense of all those expensively fitted-out and rented high street shops. Why would anyone want to build a massive supermall that no one is prepared to pay to trade from?
It is worth re-stating: this is a private property developers’ scheme, over which Croydon Council and London Mayor have limited direct influence.
Nevertheless, there has been a woeful lack of leadership from the local authority over this scheme, as council chief exec Jo Negrini and council leader Tony Newman have preferred to play as cheerleaders for Westfield. It is long overdue for the borough’s three MPs to come together and force the developers to, to put in brusquely, take a shit or get off the pot.
They should be putting a date in their diaries for the first week of January now, and they owe it to their constituents to provide a proper report on the discussions, and not hide behind the “commercial confidentiality” bullshit of the developers.
And in the second week in January, they can then meet with Negrini and Newman to get them to divulge what their “Plan B” for the town centre might be.
There’s no prospect of any change on Right To Buy now before 2025, which means that there is even less incentive for Negrini, Newman and their planning enforcer, Paul Scott, to provide any real council homes at social rent.
But there was a strong sense during the election campaign that there has been a change of mood over Brick by Brick, the council’s loss-making house-builder, and the rapacious activities of private developers around the borough.
Planning issues cost Sarah Jones a significant number of votes in New Addington and Shirley, while Steve Reed lost support in Crystal Palace, and long-term Labour voters in the south of the borough also deserted the party because of the well-deserved reputation of Scott as the developers’ friend.
Of course, there is a housing crisis. But Brick by Brick’s £600,000 homes for private sale are assuredly not the answer to it. Reed and Jones need to act now to get Scott and Newman to acknowledge that fact and to alter their approach before too much political – and development – damage is done.
Croydon and Sutton’s MPs
Carshalton and Wallington has a new MP in Elliot Colburn, while the deeply uncharismatic Tom Brake must find himself a new career. He has suggested it may lay in transport or the environment. Oh, how the anti-incinerator campaigners laughed when they heard that. Of course, Brake does not have the usual option for failed LibDem politicians, of snaffling a cushy sinecure in Brussels.
With a bigger majority, Boris Johnson has more MPs to consider for government jobs, which could be bad news for Chris Philp, who admitted before the election in our Under The Flyover podcast that he might prove to be the shortest-lived junior minister in recent political history.
The reverse is true for Sarah Jones and Steve Reed. In a much-reduced Parliamentary Labour Party, with a few shadow cabinet stars losing their seats and Jeremy Corbyn about to stand down, promotions could soon be on the way for Croydon’s centrist MPs.
Jones has in any case impressed in her first couple of years in Parliament, while Reed is secure enough in his seat and close enough to his Progress colleagues (oh, how amusing it was to hear Alan Johnson railing on Friday morning against Momentum as a “party-within-the-party”) that he may anticipate a promotion, too.
For all political parties, attention immediately turns to the London elections, in little more than four months’ time. Yep, our councillors will be spending yet more time as very well-paid leaflet deliverers.
The Tories, Greens and LibDems all have their candidates in place. Labour does not.
Internal wrangles have seen the Momentum clique which has taken control of London region delay the ratification of selections. No selection meeting has been held to pick a candidate for Croydon and Sutton, which in a well-run party would have been subject to a campaign as a target seat throughout 2019.
This all points to Neil Garratt, Sutton Conservatives’ very own Father Jack, becoming a London Assembly Member in May almost by default.
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London since 2016, must be sitting back and looking at recent events and thanking his lucky stars that he opted out of the Westminster crucible when he did. That the Conservatives have selected, in Shaun Bailey, a Mayoral candidate lacking in nous and intellect could see them condemned to third, or even fourth, place in the Mayor race, now that ex-Tory MP Rory Stewart has entered the contest.
After the shambles of his hand-picked candidate for the Fairfield ward by-election, when he helped choose a leading member of a cult-like church which is subject to investigation for fraud and a range of abuse allegations, his own General Election campaign in Croydon Central quickly unravelled. Croydon’s Tories were exposed as having a much-reduced corps of reliable activists.
Lurid allegations from Creatura’s past will not have helped, regardless of his unconvincing denials.
After such a display of political ineptitude, the words of one of Creatura’s party colleagues rang true: “He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy.”
It should be some time before any other Conservative constituency touches Creatura with a barge pole.
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