While contractors were moving in £3 million-worth of new furniture to Croydon Council’s palatial new offices over the past week, Mike Fisher, the leader of the Conservative-run council behind the building of the £140 million edifice to local authority vanity, has been issuing an edict to his councillors at the Town Hall that there will be no games of musical chairs, as some local Tories seek to save their political skins.
Worries over a number of defections by members of Croydon Conservatives to UKIP have in part forced Fisher to delay his party’s ward selections for next year’s Town Hall elections. He wants to avoid the risk of current councillors, if deselected ahead of next May’s elections, deciding to jump from his sinking ship.
Fisher has even held a secret meeting with a local representative of UKIP.
UKIP has never had a councillor on Croydon Council, but with their party running at around 20 per cent in national opinion polls and with local elections next year on May 22, the same day as the European parliament vote in which UKIP usually out-performs itself, Fisher and his group have genuine reasons to be cautious as they face assault from both sides of the political spectrum.
Three Tory councillors defecting to UKIP in nearby Merton have already caused consternation among Fisher and his Conservative colleagues across south London. Fisher’s fear is that it might happen here.
The chairman of Croydon’s UKIP organisation, Peter Staveley, confirmed to Inside Croydon that he has been in contact with Fisher, and that several former Croydon Tories have signed up as UKIP members with his party in recent weeks.
And while some senior Conservative Croydon councillors are expected to retire ahead of the 2014 elections, local Tory leader Fisher, who has been in charge of Croydon Town Hall for seven years, has issued an edict to those in his group who might be eyeing a “safer” ward next year that they are forbidden from moving.
Labour in Croydon has been staging its selection meetings over the past month, with a number of councillors failing to get the approval of their local ward membership to go forward as candidates next year. Tonight, Thornton Heath ward, a safe Labour area, will select its three candidates from a short-list of five current councillors, two candidates seeking nomination after being rejected in the wards that they currently represent.
Yet while Fisher’s more loyal cronies have crowed about the misfortunes of some of their fellow councillors from the Labour side of the Town Hall chamber, the absence of any candidate selections by the Tories signals deeper problems within their group.
According to the Daily Torygraph, polls conducted in the run-up to UKIP’s local election surge in May this year suggested that 60 per cent of its supporters had voted Conservative in 2010. And a survey released last month by the Tory party donor and noted tax avoider, Lord Cashcroft, who has strong links to Croydon Conservatives, indicated that almost a quarter of those who picked David Cameron’s party at the last election would today vote UKIP.
To avoid any demoralising defections to UKIP from among his councillors, Fisher is expected to delay any local council candidate selections in his party until after November 22 – any councillor resignations within six months of the council election date of May 22 will not prompt a by-election.
In 2005, one Conservative councillor, Audrey-Marie Yates, felt so disgusted by the bullying treatment that she received in the selection process from a member of the current ruling administration at Croydon Council that she resigned just before the six-month cut-off date, forcing a hurried by-election in Fairfield ward.
Fisher will want avoid disaffection among some of the longer serving councillors among his group, as he considers bringing in more hard-line, more right-wing activists.
Yates’s departure in 2005 damaged the local Conservatives’ reputation for fair treatment of women from minority ethnic communities. The Tories locally had gone to great lengths to include candidates from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. At one point, the Tories even got a councillor elected in Fairfield ward who held an Indian, rather than a UK passport.
In the case of Yates, the Jamaican-born politician’s election in 2002 was feted by black and Asian rights organisation Operation Black Vote. But she said she felt she was driven out of the Conservative party by its own members. “As the only African-Caribbean woman councillor, and one of two black councillors in the group, the party was very eager and happy to use my profile to demonstrate its inclusiveness: on the doorsteps, to the media and, in particular, the black press,” Yates said.
“After three-and-a-half years of unstinting commitment to my duties as a councillor, especially in a ward seen as marginal, I have been left bitterly disappointed by my recent experience in the local party who did not support my efforts.” The implications in Yates’s statement are clear.
Fisher, then the leader of the opposition group on the council, dismissed Yates as unwilling to do enough to canvass voters. Clearly, it is not an error of judgement he is eager to repeat.
- Five into three won’t go in Thornton Heath selection race
- Candidate accuses Tories of running dirty tricks campaign
- Gray day for “rising star”, as Smith loses selection battle
- Woodside Labour councillor Jewitt fails to win selection
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source that is actually based in the heart of the borough – averaging 44,000 page views per month, Jan-Jun 2013
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