Robert Ward Councillor for Selsdon and Addington Village, was first returned in local Croydon elections in 2018. He is a former engineer, decision analyst, and project manager. Robert wrote extensively for the now defunct Croydon Citizen, and is now writing for Conservative Home.
Robert thanks for your time.
Tell us a bit about your background.
My father was an electrician and my mother a school secretary. I’m the first in my family to go to university, or even be educated beyond the age of fifteen, thanks to the Butler Education Act of 1944, an expression by the way of One Nation Conservatism that transformed the education of the working class.
My father was a life-long blue-collar Conservative but like many young people, I was more left wing. I went to every political group at university except the Conservatives. I wasn’t committed to any ideology; I was just curious. I got to listen to Harold Wilson, Roy Jenkins and the less well-known Paul Foot of the International Socialists, the forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party.
I started work as a railway signal engineer but job prospects in the UK were poor at the time so I took a job working for a French company in the Middle East. I later joined Shell and an American oil company living and working in many countries, coming back to the UK when my children got older. It was only after I was made redundant that I took a serious look at politics.
We first came to know you as a writer for the Croydon Citizen. How did you get involved, and please tell us a bit about writing for it?
I was frustrated that so much of what I saw in the media was left-wing biased. There was no balance. Conservatives care as much as any, perhaps more, about equality of opportunity, helping the disadvantaged and generally making the world a better place. Yet the material online was all written from a left-wing point of view, advocating left-wing solutions, many of which have failed over and over again but still were being put forward for yet another try, doomed to failure. Working people pay the price.
I wanted to redress that balance and also present reasoned arguments on policies about which I had no preconceived idea and had not made up my mind. Some of my articles were less good than others, partly because I tried to produce something on a regular basis, but I’m very glad I did it. The Croydon Citizen, and Tom Black in particular, were very helpful.
We certainly feel Croydon misses the Citizen. What do you think is the future for local journalism here in Croydon?
I agree. This is a tough question. Journalism costs money and people don’t want to pay, and there is only so much advertising revenue. The Croydon Citizen gave it as good a try as it was possible to do and it didn’t work. People think more globally and seem to follow celebrities in large numbers via social media. Political discussion is a minority pursuit especially given the continuing left-wing media bias even though the majority of the population does not share that view. I am not optimistic.
You also set up the Croydon Debate Club. How did that come about?
Although the Croydon Citizen was a great way to present a different message, I thought that constructive face to face discussion could be stimulating and rewarding and that was equally missing. I therefore set up the Debate Club. I tried different venues and formats. The audience varied from maybe ten people to more than fifty. A celebrity speaker at a central Croydon location on a mid-week evening was the most successful. Getting a good speaker and finding an interesting subject was the challenge.
You had a famous meeting where Gavin Barwell spoke, and there were disturbances outside. Do you have any memories from that event?
That was an interesting evening. I remember you came along and were a great help, for which thank you again (Editor’s Note: Mike Swadling of this parish was accosted by and argued with a couple of thugs who tried to shutdown the meeting). Gavin was obviously a big draw, but up until that point the Debate Club had not attracted any extremists. I used Eventbrite to control attendance and I immediately saw with this meeting that there were some different names and a suspicious pattern of booking. I did a bit of internet research and found that both the far left and the far right had booked tickets, and not just one or two.
I decided to withdraw their tickets and did so with what I thought was a reasonably polite email. Both responded with abuse. I asked the local police to patrol the area on the day. Some protestors showed up. I think they were anarchists. Gavin and the audience all took it in their stride, although I didn’t get to participate as well as I would have liked because I was concerned about getting Gavin safely in and out of the meeting. Good fun in hindsight, but rather stressful on the day.
You are now a councillor for Selsdon and Addington Village. What are the major challenges or opportunities for your ward?
I am very fortunate to have been elected to represent Selsdon and Addington Village. It is a strong community with great assets. The green spaces and the High Street are the most obvious. The opportunity is to strengthen what is already there and build connections between groups to enable coherent action. Croydon Council wants every area of Croydon to have a Community Plan and I think that is exactly right. I have been pushing this forward as fast as I can. It will be the basis of what we do going forward. My vision is to see more local people working in local jobs and shopping in their local High Street. The long-term disruption of central Croydon, whether Westfield does or does not happen, is an opportunity for Selsdon.
You live tweet from Council meetings and sometimes seem less than impressed. How do you find the chamber?
I was never very impressed with Council meetings as an outsider. My opinion hasn’t changed, and now I have to sit through it all. Councillors are not happy either so there has been a recent review of governance. This won’t be a game-changer but it will I think be an improvement.
Has anything surprised you since becoming a councillor?
Say it softly but my biggest surprise was that a good number of the Labour Councillors are decent intelligent people who want similar things to me, albeit via a different route. The committee that I chair is genuinely cross-party. We all want the best for Croydon’s children and are determined to do all we can to achieve that.
You have written for Conservative Home about Climate Change and the council’s committee. What do you think of the committee and what as a country we should be doing on climate change?
Climate change is the big issue of our time. I have been relatively quiet about it because I don’t like to express an opinion on a complex subject till I have acquired a decent level of knowledge. I’ve been working on that on and off for close to a year and I am now confident enough to express an opinion. I expect to write again on the subject, along with others.
The UK government has taken a leading role internationally, something for which it does not get enough credit. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the issue has been hijacked by the usual far left suspects as a trojan horse for their anti-capitalist ambitions. Locally I am supportive of real action by the Council to make a measurable difference, but the Labour Council has set up a group that is unrepresentative of public opinion. I am concerned that it will just be used by Labour and others to give some pseudo-legitimacy for their usual complaining about the government whilst they themselves do little or nothing to make a difference on the Council’s carbon emissions.
Writing at a time of Coronavirus it’s difficult to see ahead but what would you like to see from the new Government over the next few years?
We need to get through the pandemic and come out the other side positively. Right now we have an invisible enemy to fight. Economy and other matters are rightly taking a back seat. But we are building up an even bigger debt mountain than we had already. Who knows where the economy might go? The government needs to lead us in bouncing back. I think Boris is the man to do that. He has done a great job so far and I think that will continue.
Brexit must be delivered. I thought that on balance Brexit was the right choice but was not dogmatic. I thought we would be fine whether we stayed in or left, although I had been concerned on the direction the EU was taking for some years. Once the decision was taken then it had to be delivered. I was disappointed that some MPs did all they could to prevent it. I think we will see the upside quite soon if the government takes advantage of the opportunity.
I would particularly like the tide to be turned on the erosion of free speech. No platforming, especially at universities, is very concerning. As we have already talked about, I believe constructive and robust dialogue leads to improved understanding and better solutions. Suppressing free speech hurts us all.
Robert can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/moguloilman