It appears that there may be at least 300 career politicians among the Conservative party, all desperate to get a state-paid job for life.
So overwhelming has been the response for applications to be the Tory candidate in ultra-safe Croydon South that the party locally has had to appoint a panel of four to sift through the applicants before handing a more manageable number of candidates to the selection panel of local members.
And heading this pre-selection gruesome foursome is Robert Askey, who brings with him the experience of a Conservative who the last time he stood for public elected office masterminded a 10.5 per cent swing against the Tories in his ward at the 2010 council elections.
The current MP for Croydon South, Richard Ottaway, or Lord Bletchingley as we are sure he will soon become, is now 68 and is retiring at the next general election, which was a condition of his being re-selected four years ago, following his lucrative part in the MPs’ expenses scandal.
At the 2010 General Election, keen expenses claimant Ottaway ably demonstrated quite how rock-solid safe the Croydon South seat is.
Despite making outrageous expenses claims – for a second home, when he is supposedly a London MP; to pay his wife as a parliamentary assistant; for a special bed from Harrod’s; and for the upkeep of his garden at his palatial £1 million country house on Snatts Hill, outside Croydon – Ottaway never suffered serious disciplinary action (while others MPs faced criminal prosecution).
Instead, Ottaway was re-selected by the members of the Croydon South Conservative Party, who apparently condoned Ottaway’s avaricious pocket-lining. And then, in May 2010, more people in Croydon South voted for him than had done so in 2005 – so much for the “public outrage” over the MPs’ expenses scandal that had been exposed by the Daily Telegraph just a year earlier.
Now, with London Mayor Boris Johnson ruling himself out of consideration to succeed Ottaway as the MP for Croydon South, around 300 Tories – around half of all of those on the Conservative party’s list of approved candidates – have eagerly put themselves forward for this juicy chance to jump on the Westminster gravy train. What can go wrong with a seat with a 15,000-vote majority? Whoever gets selected by Croydon Tories seems guaranteed a £66,000 per year (plus exes, naturally) job for life.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if half the candidates’ list have applied,” said Clare Hilley, councillor for Waddon ward in Croydon South, and one of those who was tipped to apply, “as it’s one of the safest Tory seats in London.”
And given the task of sorting the Tory goats from the Conservative sheep among the applicants is Robert Askey, or “Arthur”, as he known in local party circles.
Since losing his seat at Croydon Town Hall in 2010, the fresh-faced primary school teacher has been promoted without trace, to become the chairman of the Croydon Conservative Federation. Now in his 30s, when he was a councillor Arthur served a brief term as the Mayor of Croydon, the youngest in the borough’s history, taking over in 2009 following the sudden death in office of Councillor Jonathan Driver.
As mayor Askey, a councillor for Upper Norwood, quickly developed a reputation for being petulant, discourteous and partisan, setting a trend that has been followed since.
And when local residents went to Askey to seek assurances over the future of the Upper Norwood Joint Library, he told them, “The library is safe in Conservative hands.” So how did that work out then?
His behaviour was punished by the electorate when Askey presided over the Conservative vote plunging by close to half to a 23.9 per cent share. So obviously he’s the perfect choice to supervise preliminary selection for a safe Tory seat.
In reality, it may just be that Askey has been appointed to the four-person panel because he is known to be a weak figure, easily manipulated by others behind the scenes at the Tory HQ on the Brighton Road in Purley. Because leading the charge for nomination for the Croydon South seat is florid-faced Mike Fisher, the leader of the Conservative group at the Town Hall which has managed to run up a £1 billion debt since taking charge in 2006.
Two of Fisher’s most trusted bunglers on the council are also thought to have applied: Simon “Cheap But He’s Not Free” Hoar, the part-time delivery boy for incinerator operators Viridor and sometime Waddon councillor; and Vidhi Mohan, the councillor for Fairfield ward who in his role as council cabinet member has directed much of the Riot Recovery fund spending into his ward.
Some who have applied from outside Croydon – something of which Croydon South resident Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, would usually condemn – look to offer more impressive CVs, such as the gaffe-prone Oliver Dowden, David Cameron’s political adviser, who clearly will have the backing of No10 behind him (if only to get him out of Downing Street).
Previously failed parliamentary candidates such as Charlotte Vere, the exec director of the Gals’ Schools Federation – who finished a poor third at Brighton Pavilion in 2010 – and the Sorbonne-educated barrister Suella Fernandes – who in 2005 finished nearly 16,000 votes behind Keith Vaz in Leicester East – are among those who are known to applied in Croydon South.
Fernandes, from a wealthy north London Asian family, has already been meeting Tory members in Croham. Described as a “model Conservative”, Fernandes, 33, has said in the past, “I’ve never had to struggle.”
Sounds perfectly suited, then, as the Tory candidate for Croydon South.
Coming to Croydon
- Tea at Five at the Spread Eagle: Oct 2-4
- Minster’s musical celebration for Silver Sunday: Oct 6
- Rent at the Secombe Theatre: Oct 9-12
- Debate the future of arts in Croydon: Oct 10
- Stanley Lives – open day in South Norwood: Oct 12
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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