Anyone who has read Gavin Barwell’s book on fighting marginal seats knows how deeply embedded in Croydon politics he is. Having grown up there, he was a local councillor in the borough from 1998 until 2010, when he became MP for Croydon Central. His local knowledge and enthusiasm for the area were fundamental to his seven years representing Croydon in Parliament, and he has retained his local links since losing his seat and becoming Chief of Staff at 10 Downing Street.
As his book makes clear, his campaigning was always founded firmly on working closely with the activist base of the local Conservative federation. It contains a range of advice on raising morale and being sure to thank volunteers, and it’s clear he went out of his way to get to know Croydon Conservatives in vast personal detail. He even thanks many of them by name in the process of telling his story.
Given that Croydon Tories have been the firm foundation and certain constant in Barwell’s political life for more than 20 years, I was surprised to see an anonymous Twitter account post what purported to be evidence of angry words from the former MP to a group of local activists.
However, I’ve since been able to verify that the following comment was indeed recently sent by Barwell to the Croydon Conservatives WhatsApp group:
We don’t have the full conversation, or the ins and outs of what was said by whom to whom and about whom, including the particular individual whom it appears provoked this message. No doubt readers will have all sorts of views on the Prime Minister, her Chief of Staff, and the question of whether a Conservative member’s loyalty to party should equate to loyalty to its leader or not.
But that’s really beside the point. Rather, this is a vivid illustration of quite how the tensions and frustrations of the current situation are severely testing relationships between different elements of the Conservative Party.