Croydon Central’s MP, Sarah Jones, discussed her views on a range of issues including crime, regeneration, legislation surrounding protests, and education.

During my interview with Ms Jones, she labelled Conservative cuts to policing since 2010 as “foolish”, while also giving her perspective on the divide between private and state education, regeneration in Croydon, and council spending. Ms Jones also expressed her support for Labour’s Croydon Mayoral candidate, Val Shawcross, for the upcoming election. Furthermore, she discussed her work around the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, as the Shadow Minister for Policing and the Fire Service.


Knife Crime

Ms Jones discussed her work which attempted to reduce the levels of crime, particularly as the Founder of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Knife Crime & Violence Reduction. She has worked to find solutions to reduce violence against women and girls, as well as antisocial behaviour on the streets. Sarah Jones says that while campaigning for the 2017 General Election, “crime came up on the doorstep a lot”. She recounts talking to a young man who criticised the lack of politicians’ actions on knife crime, and in particular on youth provision. Harrowingly, the same man was murdered a few months after Ms Jones was elected. She says that knife crime had reached “epidemic levels” in 2017, after rising since 2014.

While chairing the APPG on Knife Crime for three years, Ms Jones was part of some research on why crime was rising. The APPG found that the number of children being excluded from school was linked to the likelihood that they would become involved in crime in the future. They also found a correlation between areas with the largest cuts to youth services and areas with the fastest rising knife crime. Additionally, they explored the “public health approach to tackling knife crime” in a way where knife crime would be treated like a disease that spreads. Furthermore, Ms Jones said the group learnt from Scotland’s work, where they have reduced the number of murders, and talked to people in Chicago and New York who managed to cut the number of gun-related deaths. The APPG’s work led to the introduction of Violence Reduction Units across the country, funded by the Mayor of London and the Home Office, which aimed to give children “aspirations, jobs, and skills”.

Ms Jones criticised the cut to the number of police by 20,000 since 2010, claiming the cut led to an increase in crime. She said it was “foolish” to cut police because “crime went up”, and that the government has “failed utterly to keep people safe”. She said that Labour has been calling for an increase in police officers for a long time, while the government was claiming there was no correlation between the number of police officers and crime levels, even though “their own Home Office research said there was”. When I asked her about the progress made by the current government by recruiting 10,000 police officers, she argued that the government has no plan to bring the numbers of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) back up – after being cut by 50%. Ms Jones believes PCSOs are crucial in crime reduction, as they build relations with people. Alongside the cut to police officer numbers, she also said that the number of prosecutions has “collapsed”, due to a justice system in “chaos”. After a rise in crime by 14% in the last year, Ms Jones argues the work done to reduce knife crime is not “anywhere near enough”.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

As the shadow policing minister, Ms Jones has led Labour’s approach on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. In this bill, the government are aiming to widen police powers to impose conditions on certain protests and ensure protests do not interfere with the livelihoods of regular people.

The government claims that after scenes of Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion protestors causing a “disproportionate impact” on the majority of people, it would be indefensible not to widen the measures the police have to stop such disruptive protests. However, Ms Jones argued that there is a “delicate balance between the right to protest and the right for people to go about their lives”.

Ms Jones claimed the government was “criminalising peaceful protest”, which she says is a very “dangerous” prospect. She believes the government has “gone too far”, tipping the balance. Ms Jones opposes the government’s proposed restrictions on noisy protests, as she argues the purpose of a protest is to be loud. She believes there is already enough legislation in place to stop protests from being dangerous – except ones targeted at stopping access to healthcare (such as anti-vax protestors), which is to be outlawed under new plans. Also, she says Labour support the government on longer sentencing for people who disrupt the motorway in a dangerous way. Furthermore, the MP referred to the bravery of protestors in Russia, which has been celebrated by the government, while the proposed legislation will “undermine our own rights to peaceful protests”. Ms Jones also claimed that the “police didn’t ask” for much of the bill, including the noisy protest restrictions.

The number of assaults on police officers and other emergency workers has been rising recently, and Ms Jones has called for longer sentences for people who assault emergency workers. This has been accepted by the government, after an original “pushback” according to Ms Jones. She believes that “there is a pattern that this government have followed that goes beyond what you would normally describe as conservatism”, such as the government “taking people’s rights…whether it’s the elections bill, or the right to protest, or their investigation into the judiciary”. She believes the government is taking power into their own hands, and not giving it to the other structures of democracy – which she described as “dangerous”. She added that the UK’s image internationally has been undermined by the government's “choices around Brexit”.

Alongside this, Ms Jones believes that the narrative set by the government in this bill contradicts that of Dominic Raab’s proposals for a UK bill of rights – which would give free speech a legal trump card. She argues that the “government likes to engender conflict of ideas to pull attention away from the big issues”, describing these political tactics as “Trumpian”. Ms Jones argued issues such as political correctness and cancel culture – which the new UK Bill of Rights is aimed to stop – are “concepted” by the government, because “it suits them”. However, she acknowledges there have been, and always will be “difficult issues about how we debate things and respect each other” – while arguing the “polarising” nature of social media makes one “fall in the government’s trap” of making cancel culture seem like a massive problem. However, various polls have suggested that cancel culture and political correctness does impact a majority of people – including in education, and in police institutions.

Regeneration in Croydon

After the failure of the Westfield project, Sarah Jones says “we can’t do anything”, as the leasehold was sold to Westfield (which was bought by Unibail-Rodamco) and Hammerson. For the residents of Croydon, anger has been rising at the lack of action, and living near an empty shopping centre. The original plan to build the largest shopping centre in Europe now seems unlikely to ever come to Croydon, after the pandemic has changed shopping routines.

People have waited for more than ten years, and the Whitgift Shopping Centre has become increasingly desolate. Since the project was announced, tenants have been forced to leave the Whitgift Centre – leaving it in an even worse condition. In 2017, Sarah Jones said the project was the “one piece of the jigsaw left” for Croydon. In 2019, she said she was assured by retail bosses that they were “absolutely committed” to finishing the project. At the same time, she spoke to the Chancellor at the time Phillip Hammond to ensure the project received support from the government if needed. I asked Ms Jones whether these assurances were false hope. She responded by blaming the leaseholders for abandoning their original plans and says, “Croydon council and other developers cannot do anything while they hold the rights to the land”.

When asked whether the current state of the Whitgift Centre is adequate for the people of Croydon, she answered: “no, it is not a pleasant place to go”. She says the leaseholders are “planning something new”. The plan will only involve a small area compared to the original plans, and have “a mix of leisure, housing, shops and restaurants”. The change is due to the shift in consumer habits around shopping, Ms Jones claims. However, the new plans are unlikely to be seen anytime soon – with the lengthy process of obtaining planning permission still not started. Ms Jones says, in the short term, she is encouraging Westfield to utilise the space for small pop-up shops and restaurants, to make shopping a better experience in the short term. The project was meant to spark regeneration and development across Croydon, but Ms Jones argues the surrounding growth has come already – and the centre is left empty. She describes the current situation of Croydon as a “doughnut” as there is a “hole” in regeneration in the centre of the town.

For now, Croydon has to watch and wait, without any real direction for the future.

Croydon Council

After issuing a Section 114 in 2020, Croydon Council have reportedly had more accounting issues. The finances of the council have been in turmoil, and significant cuts to council services have been implemented – only to the detriment of the residents of Croydon. Despite this, Croydon has the one of the highest council tax rates in Greater London.

Ms Jones says that the council’s financial problems have “deep roots”, including cuts in government funding to Croydon Council since 2010, and the high levels of poverty. Furthermore, she argues that Croydon is “an outer-London borough with inner-London costs”. Also, she says Croydon houses many refugees, and “doesn’t get paid what it costs”. Croydon Council was told to find commercial investments by the government – in response to the Section 114 notice. For example, the council invested in the freehold of the Colonnades centre – which Ms Jones says, “has done quite well and is making money”. However, the council also bought the Croydon Park Hotel which has now been sold again at a loss of £5million to the council. Ms Jones stated the problem behind this investment as the pandemic, despite a report saying that the council refused to lower rent for the hotel, forcing it to close. Tony Newman, the former council leader, has been blamed for the disastrous outcomes of the Croydon Park Hotel investment, and has been suspended from the Labour party, pending an inquiry.

The council have also regenerated Fairfield Halls – Ms Jones describes the venue as a “massive asset that Croydon has”. She said the regeneration of Fairfield Halls was “a good thing”, while acknowledging that “bad decisions were made”. A report has found “financial and legal failings” occurred during the refurbishment of Fairfield Halls.

These problems surrounding council spending have frustrated many Croydon residents. While Ms Jones admits the Labour-run council made mistakes, she defends the council by saying they had the “right intentions”. Ms Jones says that “finances have been brought to a point where they are even”, after a positive 18 months, when Hamida Ali has been the leader of the council.

I asked Ms Jones why one should vote for the Labour candidate in the Croydon Mayoral Election on 5th May, when there has been a drop in standards of council-run services, and high council taxes – under a Labour-run council since 2014. To this, she responded by arguing that council taxes have risen at roughly the same rate across all London boroughs, and the drop in services has been caused by a lack of government funding. Ms Jones also argued that Croydon gets less money per person from the government compared to other boroughs, such as Lambeth. She also mentioned that Val Shawcross has a track record of delivering for the people, including the introduction of the trams in Croydon when she was the council leader.


All the MPs of the Croydon Central constituency since 2005 have been educated at an independent school. Andrew Pelling, Gavin Barwell and Sarah Jones have all been educated at John Whitgift Foundation schools.

This fact arguably illustrates the significant divide between state and private education. The constituency has been represented by Whitgift foundation alumni for over 17 years – highlighting the disproportionate representation of private schools in politics, while over 93% of students in the UK are educated at state schools.

I asked Ms Jones whether this disproportionate representation limits the effectiveness of change to benefit all. She responded “absolutely”, while criticising the reduction in funding going into state schools over the last 12 years, leading to a widening of the divide between state and private education. As her eldest son studied at Trinity School (also part of the John Whitgift Foundation), and her three younger children are all studying at state schools, she says “you can tell the difference, and it is not fair.” Ms Jones says she “feels very uncomfortable about the fact that me, Gavin and Andrew were all educated from the Whitgift Foundation, not even just private schools”. However, she continued to say that she did break some barriers, being the first women MP for any of the three Croydon constituencies but doing so by “going through the private system”.

Ms Jones says the solution to this problem is to “put more money into our state education”. Additionally, she says the solution is not to “bin off the private sector”, but to make state schools as good as them, so people want to go there. Keir Starmer has said previously that Labour would remove the charitable status for private schools.

She believes that Croydon has some “really great” state schools, while still being considerably behind private schools. Due to the grammar school system still being in place in Bromley and Sutton, she thinks education is almost “broken up by class” – with the upper class going to private schools, middle going to grammar and lower going to state. She says this separation of education by class is “not something you want to see”, and that everyone should be able to go to their local school which provides a high-quality education.


I interviewed Sarah Jones, the MP for Croydon Central, on Tuesday 5th April 2022, at her constituency office.