Gloves are off in Croydon North byelection

The gloves were off last night as candidates in the Croydon North byelection slugged it out at a hustings in Thornton Heath.

As a Liberal Democrat I’m backing Marisha Ray to become the MP following the death of veteran Labour MP Malcolm Wicks.

Croydon North would normally be regarded as a safe Labour seat, although the Liberals used to be strong there many moons ago.

Marisha was the only woman on a six man panel so it was inevitable that the debate would take on a macho nature.

And so it proved. As a consequence I don’t think even the most yellow-spectacled observer could say the Lib Dems won on the night.

It was more of a slugfest between Labour’s Steve Reed and Respect candidate Lee Jasper.

Thankfully the final result will probably not be swayed too much by the hustings meeting, not least because a large proportion of the audience were already supporters of one candidate or another.

The bookies Labrokes and William Hill have now made Jasper second-favourite alongside Andy Stranack of the Conservatives, but this may be more of a reflection of the ‘air war’ in the media.

By contrast, Marisha has been out of the headlines but conducting a quietly effective ‘ground war’ with a lot of knocking on doors. And, as experienced political campaigners will tell you, that’s what really counts.

Last night Jasper and Reed spent much of the time trading insults, perhaps a reflection on the fact that Labour now recognise they face a real threat in a seat they must have previously assumed was a shoe-in.

Reed’s record as Lambeth council leader came under much scrutiny but the Labour man hit back accusing Jasper of seeking to divide the population along race lines, a charge that has previously been made by the Croydon Advertiser.

Jasper countered by saying Reed had presided over a rise in gangs and youth unemployment in Brixton, and that lack of action had led to the “loss of lives.”

A report in The Voice earlier this month highlighted the concerns of the UNISON trade union that job cuts in Lambeth “will hit black workers hardest of all”.

In the same paper, Reed then took offence over comments by Respect leader George Galloway criticising Labour for picking ‘a white guy’ in one of the capital’s most diverse constituencies.

Writing in the Huffington Post yesterday Richard Sudan identified the fact that Respect have become a force to be reckoned with in the byelection, which is due to take place on 29th November. He wrote:

“In what is increasingly being viewed as a choice between New Labour and Respect candidate Lee Jasper, many people sense that the tide may be beginning to turn.

“David Lammy, Chuka Umunna, Diane Abbott, and Sadiq Khan hitting the streets to campaign for Croydon North, which was said to be in the bag for Labour, is an indication that Labour know they’re on the run in what they thought would be a walk in the park.

“Its also a sure sign that Lee Jasper’s message is starting to resonate with people, and that Labour are worried. They probably should be. That’s what many people are starting to say, and that’s indeed how it looks.

“That’s not to say that making an impact in this election will be an easy task for the Respect Party – but its possible – and with each day looks more and more likely.”

The Tories haven’t given up hope, though. Yesterday the London mayor Boris Johnson spent much of the day meeting local shop-keepers with Andy Stranack, their candidate.

It is difficult to predict how the result will go, but I wouldn’t write-off the Lib Dems at all.

Marisha, a former leading Islington councillor, has been effective in drawing attention to the contrast between the neglected Croydon North compared to the more prosperous areas in the south of the Tory-controlled borough.

The Croydon Advertiser has published a report of the event (click here).

Here’s an audio recording of the event. It’s two and a half hours long, but worth a listen!

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

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