2015 promises to be a great year for our town (if a slightly gruelling one for me personally!)
I am by nature one of life’s optimists, but even discounting for that it’s hard not to be hopeful about 2015.
There are already cranes up all over the town centre - Saffron Square, Taberner House, Cherry Orchard Road, even the Gateway site next to East Croydon that has lain vacant for my entire life. In February, we have the public inquiry to determine whether Croydon Council will be granted a Compulsory Purchase Order for the remaining parts of the Westfield/Hammerson site. The result is expected around July and if, as I hope and expect, it’s a yes then work can finally get underway.
And there is plenty of other good news in the pipeline:
- work should also get underway on the regeneration of Central Parade, New Addington;
- our schools and local NHS will be getting above-inflation increases in funding in April because this Government has changed the unfair systems for allocating funds between different parts of the country that it inherited from the previous Government;
- we’re waiting for a decision about funding for a new Accident & Emergency Department at Croydon University Hospital;
- we're negotiating a growth deal with the Government that should provide the funding for the extra infrastructure we need to support the regeneration of Croydon; and
- I hope the Council will bring some much-needed investment to Portland Road and listen to the hundreds of people who have signed my petition calling for a link from Cherry Orchard Road to the new northern entrance to East Croydon station.
Nationally, our economy is growing strongly - more strongly than any other advanced economy. It is creating jobs at a record rate - unemployment is falling faster than at any time since records began (here in Croydon Central, it’s halved since this Government came to office). The deficit - measured as a percentage of our national output - has been halved. Inflation is falling. And wages are finally rising faster than the rate of inflation.
These aren’t dry statistics. They mean that this time next year most of us will be better off; hundreds of thousands of people who are currently out of work will have a job and be able to provide for their families; and we will be a step closer to eliminating the deficit and getting back in the black.
Things aren’t perfect of course - there are still far too many people who don’t have a job or don’t get paid enough to have a decent quality of life. But on virtually every measure we are moving in the right direction. And on 7th May, we have an important choice to make. Do we stick with the long-term plan we are currently following or do change direction and elect a Labour Government that would be led by two people who were Gordon Brown’s chief advisers when he got us into the financial mess we are now recovering from?
I would be the first to admit that David Cameron and this Government aren’t perfect. Who is? Politics isn’t a search for perfection, but a choice between the alternatives on offer. Given the current make-up of the House of Commons and the nature of our electoral system, there are basically two choices - a Government led by David Cameron or a Government led by Ed Miliband. Whilst this Government may not be perfect, it is clearly better than the alternative on offer.
The opinion polls suggest most people share my judgement about who would make the best Prime Minister. But that doesn’t mean the General Election is a foregone conclusion - far from it. Some of those who don’t think Ed Miliband is up to being Prime Minister are life-long Labour voters for whom voting Conservative would be a big step. And the emergence of UKIP is another factor - some of the people who prefer David Cameron to Ed Miliband don’t think the Coalition Government has been Conservative enough and are tempted by UKIP. If enough of them switch their votes, Ed Miliband could still win on a relatively low share of the vote, particularly given the fact that our electoral system tends to work in Labour’s favour (their vote is more geographically concentrated so they tend to get more seats for a given share of the vote).
With the Election too close to call, 2015 is likely to be a significant year for me personally. If we win the Election, I might get a promotion either within or out of the Whips Office. If we lose, I might be an opposition frontbencher. In either scenario, I might get sacked and return to the backbenches. Or given I represent a marginal seat I might no longer be an MP and have to find a new challenge in life.
This uncertainty is the toughest thing about the job (although it only affects some MPs - though they would never say it publicly, those in safe seats know that whatever the national outcome they personally are going to be ok). Representing my home town in Parliament has been the greatest honour of my life and I’d like to continue doing it - there’s so much more to do to make Croydon the place it could be. Plus I have six people who work for me whose jobs are also on the line.
The first four and a bit months of 2015 therefore promise to be very gruelling ones as I try to combine being the best MP I can be, my duties as a Government Whip and my responsibilities as a husband and dad with trying to keep my job. That decision is in the hands of the 80,000 or so electors in Croydon Central and I take the slightly old-fashioned view that I ought to try to ask each one of them in person. To those I have already spoken to, thank you for the invariably warm welcome whatever your political views.
But enough about me. To all my constituents, a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015. I think this is going to be a great year for our town.