The Croydon branch of the National Union of Teachers hosted a meeting for prospective parliamentary candidates on Wednesday 21 April. The speakers were sitting local MP, Andrew Pelling (Independent), and his Labour, Tory and Green challengers, a member of the Communist Party of Britain and Jill Mountford of the AWL.
Andrew Pelling, a former Tory, appears to have moved some way to the left since the last general election. He came out strongly against cuts and for more state intervention in the economy. He also stole the thunder of the CPB speaker when he announced that he has signed the People’s Charter — a good indication of how vacuous and populist that document is. Indeed populism was the message — he mentioned a need for “straight talking” a lot, and it was a somewhat bizarre sight seeing a man who is essentially a Tory toff reading a copy of Solidarity and nodding appreciatively to himself.
The Tory candidate was unable to defend his party's positions on Academies and the abolition of national pay bargaining for teachers, which made him unpopular in the room, although when asked about immigration he gave a surprisingly liberal response.
The Green speaker won some applause when she attacked the oppressive nature of school assessment as opposed to just being against SATS, as all the candidates seemed to vaguely indicate they were (!), but she was much less convincing in reply to a question about the links between social inequality and class divisions.
The Labour candidate made a number of dreadful contributions, including one in which he appeared to blame people who took out sub-prime mortgages for the economic crisis, and one on immigration which was so incoherent it was impossible to tell what his position on the issue actually is. He was also heckled by local trade unionists when he claimed to be against cuts to Croydon College. The Tory was at least honest enough to say that if he supported a Tory budget which indicated cuts he wouldn't then pretend to campaign on a local level against them.
Jill Mountford attacked the Labour candidate's attitude to the crisis and was able to put forward socialist answers to questions from the floor on immigration, the BNP and cuts to services and her contributions were well received.
It was refreshing to attend a vibrant union-hosted political meeting with a range of mainstream and left viewpoints, where genuine debate was able to flourish on local, educational and big political issues. It would be very positive if more union branches organised such events.