Croydon Central Labour Party is currently in the process of selecting its candidate to oppose me at the next General Election. It’s shaping up to be an interesting contest.
One of the people who has thrown their hat into the ring is an old friend of mine, Sarah Jones. She was interviewed on Croydon Radio the other day and had a few choice words to say about me (“He’s gone down the traditional Oxbridge, Conservative Central Office, into Parliament, job for the boys” and “I am not entirely sure what you could say he has done for the people of Croydon” – if you want to listen for yourself, the relevant quotes are about 25 minutes 30 seconds into the programme). I can understand why she’s done so - she clearly needs to try to reassure Labour members in Croydon Central that the fact that we’ve known each other for 25 years won’t lead to her pulling her punches. However my friendly advice would be that the particular attacks she makes contains several strategic errors.
Let’s start with “He’s gone down the traditional Oxbridge, Conservative Central Office, into Parliament, job for the boys”. It’s certainly true that I went to Cambridge – I’m not ashamed of that and it tells you something about today’s Labour Party that anyone would think I should be. It’s also true that I worked in politics before becoming an MP. If Labour select a candidate who hasn’t been to a top university and then worked in politics, they could certainly contrast that candidate’s background with mine. But this is not an attack that Sarah can credibly make – she went to an elite Russell Group university and then went on to work for a Labour MP. And in the context of the Labour selection, it’s an error for her to raise it – if Labour members decide they want to make this case, it would lead them to select someone other than her.
Her suggestion that my selection in Croydon Central is an example of “job for the boys” is another strategic error. The national Conservative Party had no say whatsoever in my selection. Over 100 people applied, the local party did the shortlisting, conducted the interviews and made the final decision. The only intervention from the national party was to insist that there had to be an equal number of male and female candidates at each stage of the process. In short, I was selected on merit. And with Labour having decided to ban any men from applying to be their candidate, this is a claim that whoever they end up selecting will not be able to make.
What about her other attack, the suggestion that I haven’t done anything for Croydon in my three years as an MP? This is a strategic error on several levels.
First, because one of Sarah’s chief backers for the Labour nomination, Cllr Tim Godfrey, has had the good grace to admit that I am an “effective, energetic MP”. And he’s not alone. Plenty of other local Labour councillors and Labour MPs have said complimentary things about my work.
Second, because it clearly isn’t true. Here are just a few of the things I have done:
- got the Mental Health Discrimination Act on the statute book;
- got the Government to introduce Lillian’s Law to tackle drug driving;
- helped to bring Westfield and Hammerson to the town;
- along with others, successfully lobbied for changes to the system for allocating Metropolitan Police resources across London that will see Croydon get a larger share of the budget;
- got Croydon more funding for new school places than any council in the country over the next two years;
- secured £23 million from the Government and Boris to regenerate Croydon in the wake of the riots;
- helped to set up two Job Clubs;
- along with others, convinced the Council not to close the Pop In Centre in New Addington;
- secured funding to rebuild the Quest Academy;
- along with others, successfully campaigned for the Council not to extend parking restrictions in Addiscombe, Park Hill and South Croydon;
- established a team of volunteers who help to keep our parks and open spaces clean; and
- along with others, successfully campaigned to keep Shirley Library open.
But the third - and most important – reason why this criticism is a strategic error is because it isn’t what the electorate think. Surveys show that I have a positive approval rating even among core Labour supporters. If you make an attack on a political opponent that the public don’t believe, you only damage yourself. I would never have said, for example, that my predecessor Andrew Pelling didn’t do anything for Croydon. If Labour are going to win Croydon Central at the next Election, they are going to have to convince people to vote Labour despite me being a good local MP, just as I had to convince people to vote for me despite Andrew being a good MP.
As I said, I understand why Sarah feels the needs to attack me but as a friend my advice would be that this isn’t the way to do it.