Croydon’s Conservatives shy away from Mayoral control

A Conservative government minister is in favour of it, as is a local MP. It might save Croydon Council £1 million per year, and give in-built control at the Town Hall to the Tories. So why won’t Mike Fisher’s council move to introduce an elected mayor? ANDREW PELLING  reports

Greg Clark MP, the decentralisation and cities minister – yes, we really do have a government minister with that title – has this week come out strongly in favour of directly elected mayors in an article for the influential conservativehome blog.

In his article, the minister welcomes Liverpool’s decision to have a directly elected mayor from May, saying, “By the end of this year, nearly all of England’s biggest cities could have directly elected mayors – and if they do, it will be one of the most important of this Government’s legacies.”

Greg Clark: Gavin Barwell’s boss

Clark adds, “As Conservatives, we should warmly welcome this resurgence in local democracy.”

This article – which would never have been written without the explicit approval of Clark’s Conservative bosses – is especially relevant to Croydon because one of the junior MPs working with Clark on this policy is Croydon Central’s Gavin Barwell.

Clark may well be the MP for Tunbridge Wells, but he is not the kind of Tory who would
sign himself off as “disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”. He’s one of those pragmatic Conservatives seeking the impossible holy grail of One Nation Toryism.

The idea of directly elected mayors has keen supporters in the form of Tony Blair, who introduced them, and in Michael Heseltine. After all of Heseltine’s work in Liverpool seeking re-generation there (as opposed to the “managed decline” favoured by Margaret Thatcher, and which some see as being practised in Croydon in 2012), he will be especially pleased that Liverpool City Council has agreed to a directly elected Mayor. This will likely be Liverpool’s current Leader, the larger than life Jo Anderson.

Clark argues that the ability of directly elected mayors to stand up to government can come from their direct electoral mandate. “Power doesn’t just come from an Act of Parliament giving a council permission to do something. Real political power comes from a direct democratic mandate,” Clark writes.

Barwell is also an enthusiast for directly elected mayors, and not just because it does well to agree with the boss.

Barwell has previously supported a directly elected mayor for Croydon, but both he and Mike Fisher were beaten back by Conservative traditionalists who support the system of councillors and an inner sanctum of a “cabinet” which now exists, meaning that 60 of Croydon’s 70 elected councillors have virtually no influence, and certainly no power.

The real decision making is left to just 10 hand-picked councillors, who often meet in private to decide on matters like building an incinerator next to Croydon or taking on a huge financial risks with a private equity company in the property market.

With a directly elected mayor, at least you could pin the blame on one person for such awful decisions and vote him or her out of office, regardless of their political party.

A directly elected mayor would even be in the Croydon Conservatives’ electoral interests, since they do sometimes lose council elections while they still having the most votes across the borough.

Labour has never beaten the Conservatives in Croydon in the overall popular vote in council elections because of the large Tory majorities in the deep south of the borough. In 2002 the Conservatives “lost” the council election by 37 seats to 32 (with one Lib-Dem) despite winning 45.4 per cent of the vote to Labour’s 37.9 per cent.

In 1998, there was an even wider “win” for the Tories of 48.1 per cent to 35.2 per cent of the vote, yet the Tories ended up with seven seats fewer than Labour.

Dudley Mead: Don’t panic!

There were whispers a year ago that the idea was being looked at again, though Dudley Mead, the former leader of Croydon’s Tories, now Fisher’s deputy, recently denied all knowledge of ever advocating the policy when he was questioned on the matter at last month’s public questions at the Town Hall.

So why do the Tories not pick up the advice of their minister and their MP?

Vested interest perhaps? You could axe 45 of Croydon’s councillors straight off, saving at least a £1million a year from the hard-pressed council budget.

Perhaps Croydon’s Tories realise that they lack a Jo Anderson or even Boris Johnson-like figure to be their inspired mayoral leader.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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