With one week to go until polling day in the borough’s five council by-elections, and Croydon Tories have played their joker.
Councillor Scott Roche was out on the streets of New Addington North, one of the wards where a council by-election is being held on May 6, and revealed the Tories’ not-so-secret weapon as they try to win the seat from Labour.
They are wrapping their candidate, Lara Fish, in the flag. Specifically, the flag of St George.
The leaflet that Roche showed off in his virtue-signalling campaign selfie is oddly different from the campaign leaflets which the councilor’s party has produced for the last week of campaigning in the other four wards with by-elections.
But then New Addington North is the only ward by-election which has a candidate from the British National Party (“local people first”, whatever that’s supposed to mean) on the ballot paper.
There’s no sign of the Cross of St George, or any other flags, on the Tory election literature which was being distributed to disinterested residents in true-blue Kenley this week, where the Conservative candidate is Ola Kolade.
The same can be said of the leaflets prominently displayed by Conservative councillors and candidates in other wards where by-elections are being held next Thursday: South Norwood, Woodside and Park Hill and Whitgift.
But none of those wards have overtly far-right racist parties putting up a candidate and potentially taking votes away from the Conservatives.
New Addington North, however, does.
The by-election in New Addington North has been called following the resignation from the council of Labour’s Simon Hall. Hall was the council’s cabinet member for finance for nearly seven years, presiding over the failed housing company, Brick by Brick and dodgy multi-million-pound council “investments” in retail parks and failing hotels, all leading to Croydon Council’s financial collapse last November.
Residents in New Addington are likely to be among the worst hit by the withdrawal of public services and support following the council’s financial crisis.
Crass mismanagement of large-scale infrastructure projects, such as the New Addington Leisure Centre and the abandonment of the long-established amateur boxing club – all presided over by another New Addington Labour councillor, the hapless Ollie “Butt Plug” Lewis – have also been a cause of simmering resentment in the area.
The imposition of ugly over-developments by Brick by Brick, seen as “the slumification of New Addington”, has done nothing to endear Labour to the people they are supposed to represent.
And of all the council wards being contested next week, New Addington North is the one seemingly most likely to change hands.
The Conservatives held a council seat in the neighbouring New Addington ward until 2014.
The Tories’ New Addington North candidate, Fish, a member of the local branch of the British Legion, undoubtedly regards herself as some kind of patriot. But is she any more patriotic than her colleague candidates in Park Hill? Or Kenley? Or Woodside or South Norwood?
Probably not. But in the fight for votes, the Tories, and Fish, are prepared to court the votes of anyone if they think it will get them over the line.
Parties of the far-right have in the past polled very well in New Addington. As recently as 2014, in the same ward (but then called Fieldway), the BNP received 27.2 per cent of the vote, while UKIP got 7.4 per cent.
That was something of a high-water mark. There’s no UKIP candidates at all this time round, while in 2018, the far-right’s combined tally in the ward came to just 7.4 per cent.
Labour activists claim that, on the doorstep, the promises of votes for their candidate, Kola Agboola (whose own campaign literature make much of the fact that he is from New Addington, but little else) is holding up well.
Fish and the Conservatives would need a swing of more than 20 per cent to win the seat – the sort of result that, if played out across the whole borough in 2022’s local elections, would see the Tories in control of the Town Hall with 48 councillors to Labour’s 22.
Key to the outcome next Thursday could be turnout, with fewer than 1-in-3 voters expected to bother to cast their votes. A low turn-out might play into Conservative hands.
It was Samuel Johnson who penned the line that, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
In Croydon in 2021, pandering to the far right might just be the penultimate refuge of scoundrels.
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