KEN TOWL broke a Ramadan fast with two out of Croydon’s three MPs and two Mayors (one all togged up). He just couldn’t really hear much of what they had to say
The acoustics aren’t great in the Braithwaite Hall, venue for this year’s Croydon’s ceremonial Mayor’s charity Iftar dinner and, quite frankly, not all of the speakers were that good either. So please forgive me if I give a less than comprehensive account of the speeches.
It was a charity event, and I ought to be kind, so I list here the beneficiaries of the evening, should you wish to donate to them: Croydon Sickle Cell and Thalassemia Support Group;
ACLT, Thornton Heath (a bone marrow, organ and blood donation charity) and Waggy Tails. They are all worthwhile charities and deserving of your support, despite any cynicism we might have about politicians who might like to associate themselves with good causes. Should you wish to support them, follow the links and press “donate”.
Braithwaite Hall is the wood-panelled and stained-glass windowed centre of the old Katharine Street council offices. Few Croydon residents are familiar with its hallowed insides but it is where the great and the good of the borough used to meet and put the world to rights. More recently, it has become an (under-used) venue for jazz concerts by the likes of Stan Tracey, or cabaret from the CODA amdram group, or charity dinners, such as last night’s.
The event started at 6.30pm, giving us a little under an hour and a half to hear the speeches before the sunset at 7.56pm that would signal the moment of iftar in Croydon on April 13, 2023.
It turned out not to be quite long enough, which would be unfortunate for Croydon South MP Chris Philp.
But first we had the ceremonial Mayor Alisa Flemming to entertain us. I use the word loosely. What I heard was entertaining enough, but much of Councillor Flemming’s content was inaudible. I caught something along the lines of, “Lots of friendly faces here… lots of old dance partners… local charities… issues around isolation.”
When she sat down, it became apparent that the speech was over. There was a smattering of polite applause. Next, it was executive Mayor Jason Perry’s turn to mumble a few words in his characteristic monotone. I made notes of what I heard: “Many in the borough facing financial difficulties… mumble… hardship fund… mumble… foodbanks… born and bred in Croydon… mumble, mumble… reliant people in Croydon… the best of ourselves.”
Perry, too, sat down to show that he had finished speaking, and received the same desultory applause.
Then came Umit Goker of the Dialogue Society, an organisation that promotes inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue and understanding, the co-hosts of the evening’s event, who had invited Inside Croydon to attend.
Goker spoke rather movingly (and audibly) about the importance of compassion for the poor.
“The person who fills his stomach while his neighbour is hungry has not tasted the reality of faith in God… Empathy for others is an obligation for the wealthy,” he said.
I could not help but look across to Jason Perry, the £82,000 per year Mayor, and wonder if he felt any empathy at all for struggling Croydon residents faced with his 15per cent Council Tax hike.
Just as Goker finished his speech, in walked the police and fire minister, Chris Philp and, in his shadow, almost in step with him, the shadow minister for the police and fire, Sarah Jones.
A class above the local politicians, Jones gave a version of her usual speech, but made herself heard and managed to demonstrate convincingly the empathy to which Goker referred. She mentioned her cost of living leaflet – she always does these days – but she went further, suggesting that we needed more than individual acts of kindness to create a good society, that Margaret Thatcher had been wrong to say that there was no such thing as society.
Jones, as she often does, spoke of her time working for Mo Molam, but it felt especially relevant around this 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement to refer to Mowlam’s assertion that people of different views could find common ground.
Jones’ timing was impeccable. She finished speaking just before 7.56, when the assembled multitudes, some of them not having eaten since the early hours, began to spoon their soup into their mouths.
Chris Philp is used to speaking in the chamber of the House of Commons where very little soup is slurped. So as fasts were broken and little quiet convivial chats started up, the minister for policing and fire did his best to deliver what sounded like his stock offering to the halal rubber chicken circuit: “Northern Ireland, like Sarah said, Joe Biden… community pulling together… supporting the NHS… the global community, Ukraine in its hour of need… most important is our national community, the United Kingdom… we are all citizens of this great country… we can walk tall in the world.”
When Philp sat down, a few people clapped, presumably those who had finished their soup.
And what of the third Croydon MP, Steve Reed? There was no sign of the man who had just doubled down on his support for the Labour Party attack ad that he had retweeted on April 6, the one that had featured a picture of a man of South Asian origin who, it claimed, did not “think adults convicted of sexually assaulting children should go to prison”. No sign of the man who said that Conservatives let paedophiles off. I would like to think that he was just a little bit embarrassed. I mean, a decent person would be, wouldn’t they?
So it was all over bar the rather excellent main course of lamb and chicken and rice and then sticky baklava and the promised game of kahoot (if you don’t know, ask any schoolkid).
I did not stay for the kahoot; there’s only so much fun I can take in one evening. Still, it was all for a good cause.
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Ken has my empathy for the sojourn he undertood on our behalf to keep us informed. My respect for enduing self serving monologues and effectively reporting them back.
My admiration for not falling asleep.
But honestly you passed up on a good game of kahoot which after the backlava was the sweetest part of the evening?
Wish I had known who you were!
I was the person who shouted to the mayor that we could not hear her, but it got no better as the speeches droned on!
Food and company was good.
I hadn’t heard of iftar before, so assumed from this piece it was a kind of soup. I know know it’s evening breakfast at the end of Ramadan. So much to learn from IC!