Brennan retirement signals shift at Sutton Town Hall

ANDREW PELLING reports on significant developments across the borough boundary in Sutton

With the political destinies of Sutton and Croydon growing closer with the proposed creation of two hybrid Sutton and Croydon parliamentary seats, it pays to keep abreast of developments to the west.

This is especially important with Sutton Council having the final say on planning permission for an incinerator on Croydon’s door step in Beddington Lane.

So the announcement of the retirement of Sean Brennan as leader of Sutton Council after almost 10 years points to a prospective change in the peaceful, perhaps even blissfully somnolent, atmosphere that typifies local politics in Sutton. But for a three-year interlude, for 26 years under Liberal control, Sutton Council has been run by two men: Irish-born Brennan and former Sutton and Cheam Liberal MP Graham Tope.

Sean Brennan: this charming man

Brennan has followed in the mould of Lord Tope in being so emollient that opponents have long found it hard to find fault with a council that enjoys high satisfaction scores from its residents. Sutton Council has less social deprivation challenges than Croydon, but it receives a better grant from central government, thus making it a less challenging task to deliver local services.

With Brennan standing down, Sutton Council is to return to the more transparent and open committee system that allows all councillors to play a role in local affairs. A move to be welcomed.

With a change to what is quite a demanding style of governance in terms of additional demands on leading councillors’ time, it is expected that both Brennan and Tope will stand down from their Sutton Central seats in two years’ time.

Sutton’s consensual style of politics looks likely to be changed for a more confrontational approach familiar to our loyal reader in Croydon. Ruth Dombey, Brennan’s deputy leader, who is likely to succeed to the top post, has a reputation for being antagonistic.

Dombey’s appointment would lead to a question as to whom will now take on her previous role as the LibDems’ chief campaign organiser in Sutton. Dombey’s skills in this area will be much missed with the Liberal Democrat national polling numbers on the floor.

Sutton LibDem's deputy leader Ruth Dombey: more confrontational?

Thanks to Dombey’s work, Sutton Liberal Democrats have proven to be very effective in resisting polling trends even when their party nationally has been struggling, although following the ConDem coalition at Westminster, the party’s local activists now face their toughest challenge for decades.

Yet earlier this year, there was an extraordinarily successful by-election in Worcester Park for the LibDems with a further swing towards them from the heady days of the 2010 “I agree with Nick” General Election.

The LibDem vote held up well in Sutton during the debacle that was the 2008 Paddick London Mayoral campaign. The 2006 local elections, by contrast, was a very poor result for both the LibDems and Dombey, with the Conservatives making large strides forward, so she may be glad to be out of the campaigning limelight before the further electoral challenges ahead.

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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
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