|Community First - but Labour have selected candidates who live elsewhere|
National polling has indicated a sharp post-budget bounce for the Conservatives, a factor which leaves the local elections in the London borough of Croydon too close to call. The Conservatives and Labour are locked in a bitter battle in the upwardly mobile New Addington ward, with issues such as Council Tax and local candidates being key issues on the agenda of local people.
The ward, once considered safe territory for Labour, was rocked at the last election when Conservative candidate Tony Pearson was elected in a surprise victory. Such an outcome should have immediately set alarm bells ringing amongst Labour strategists who could, and should have ensured local candidates were put forward for 2014. The Conservatives, seeing the opportunity to take two seats from Labour in its home turf have selected local New Addington residents Lara Fish and Tony Pearson again.
The sense of panic is the Labour campaign can be seen with the relentless arrival of Shadow Cabinet Ministers in New Addington, with Chuka Umunna, Rachel Reeves and even Alan Johnson making guest appearances in the ward. But Labour have struggled to justify the credibility of its candidates, choosing representatives who live in Thornton Heath and Shirley. In a tight-knit local community, the line “Not living in New Addington, but able to stand up for New Addington” is seen as an insult to local people.
Under the leadership of Tony Newman, the local Labour Party has also toxified its once loved working class brand, by launching a string of vicious attacks against Tony Pearson, despite the fact that he is known and well-liked in New Addington. In one post, an article on a Labour supporting blog had a photograph of Pearson next to the word ‘Pillock’ attacking his job. Another alleged Labour trainer claimed on Twitter that New Addington was ‘a hole’.
It is a strategy that more respectable, decent Labour Party members such as Gerry Ryan and Stuart Collins would never either endorse of encourage, but under Tony Newman negative, personal campaigning has become central to the Croydon Labour Party’s approach to politics. Mr Newman has been asked several times to condemn or distance himself from the muck throwing, but robustly defended it on live radio.
Ask anyone in the Council chamber or the town hall who has found themselves on the receiving end of Croydon Labour’s smear campaign or on the Inside Croydon blog and they will tell you just how nasty and rotten the once respected local party has become.
But residents in New Addington are not fools and regard the smearing of one of their own as an insult to their community and their town. Croydon Labour have the wrong strategy, the wrong candidates and the wrong leader, and voters will punish them heavily for it on May 22.