Joseph Lee is a property professional. He stood as a Conservative candidate in Addiscombe East ward, Croydon, in the local elections in May. Cllr Jeet Bains is a councillor in Croydon and a management consultant.
Labour’s Sadiq Khan doesn’t exactly have a reputation for listening. In fact his ‘hands-over-ears’ approach is a common complaint amongst charities, campaigners – and even Labour-controlled councils. However, following months of hard work, grit and resilience, a grass-roots community campaign, spearheaded by Conservative activists on the outskirts of Croydon, has managed to cut through the bureaucracy and raise alarm bells at City Hall.
Addiscombe in Croydon is a vibrant borough suburb, home to a diverse mix of people in terms of age, occupation, and background. In August 2016, Blackhorse Lane Bridge – a crucial piece of infrastructure that serves as a gateway to the north of Croydon and central London – was closed to vehicle access by Croydon Council and Transport for London for an undefined period. One year later, nothing had changed. It was time for local Conservatives to act.
As soon as we started talking to local residents about it, the scale of anger became clear. Since the closure of the bridge, traffic congestion had reached crisis levels during rush hour, affecting commuters, local businesses, and families taking their children to school. The knock-on effect to the neighbouring bridge and local tram stop meant that frustrations were also growing in the wider community.
Our campaign effectively had four main elements:
It wasn’t long before the local Labour party started agitating. The Labour MP wrote to residents and expressed her displeasure. The Council started to recognise the seriousness of the issue but passed the buck to the Mayor. Our London Assembly Member, Steve O’Connell, quizzed the Mayor personally although, hilariously, the primary response of Labour-controlled City Hall was to pass the buck straight back to the Labour-controlled Council. Crucially, however, we got Mayor Khan to state on the record that this wasn’t good enough and that he will be taking a personal interest in this.
Finally, TfL and the Council wrote to residents acknowledging the concern and promising action. A new date was set for the reopening and the job of the campaign is now to hold the various Labour-controlled bodies to account.
The campaign was designed with the primary purpose of representing residents and serving the community. However, it also brought political results. In this year’s council elections, we won a council seat in the Addiscombe East ward by just eight votes – one of the few Conservative gains in London.
This campaign was hard work over a number of months and there is no transferable formula that will work for everyone. However, for anyone thinking about planning a similar campaign we would recommend the following:
We all know that when Labour is in control, listening is not exactly top of their agenda. But as we have shown in a small corner of Croydon, when we tap into the anger of residents, craft an effective campaign, and pursue it with resilience, it is possible to create real and lasting change in our communities.