Forget all the other open days, picnics and windmills this Jubilee weekend. The real hot ticket for Croydon society is the local Tory party’s summer garden party. And the best thing about it? It is not even being held in Croydon.
Thanks to the kind hospitality of Nicky and Richard Ottaway, Croydon’s Conservatives can escape their own borough and party to their hearts’ content at the Croydon South MP’s palatial £1 million-plus home on Snatts Hill, Bletchingley.
And why shouldn’t they? After all, much of the house and its gardens were paid for by the British public, when “Tricky Dicky” Ottaway was playing the MPs’ expenses system for all it was worth. To the tune of £85,000, it has been reported.
Ottaway entered parliament in 1992, just as house prices were in a slump after the housing market had suffered a blow under the Tory Chancellor Norman Lamont and his Treasury sidekick, a gauche Old Etonian by the name of David “Dave” Cameron.
With MPs from across the United Kingdom travelling to Westminster and needing somewhere to live during the week, the parliamentary system at that time provided very generous allowances for “second homes”. With Croydon South being just a half-hour train ride from Victoria and the House of Commons nearby, most reasonable people might think that Ottaway could live in his constituency and commute to work each day, just like thousands of others from Croydon. Not our Dicky, though.
At his parliamentary candidate selection meeting, the former Royal Navy officer and qualified solicitor told Croydon Conservatives that he would do the honourable and proper thing and live in his constituency. But once elected, Ottaway instead chose to live in verdant Bletchingley rather than going through the indignity of finding a home alongside his Croydon South
And with all those juicy MPs’ allowances available to him, he also designated the Bletchingley house as his “second home” within his personal property portfolio that included two central London apartments and a bijou place en France.
Of course, the MPs’ expenses scandal three years ago has put an end to many of the generous allowances and loopholes which the likes of Ottaway unwittingly used to their financial advantage.
At the time Ottaway was said by the local party’s agent to have apologised “for his part in allowing an indefensible system of allowances to develop. He shares the local party’s view that MPs should act honestly and decently. We expect MPs to live by the same rules and standards as those they wish to represent. No MP is above the law”. Losing that sort of access to public money must have been a real fag for Dicky.
So this weekend, Richard and the lovely Nicky – who for a long time was on his publicly funded House of Commons payroll as a parliamentary assistant – will be throwing open the doors of their country “second” home for members of the Croydon Conservatives, provided that they buy a very reasonably priced ticket, of course. All proceeds to the local party’s coffers, naturally.
As the chilled Chablis and Pimm’s flows, expect the cream of Croydon society to be there, plus Mike Fisher, the leader of Croydon Council, Dudley and Margaret Mead (some suggest that the hit 1970s TV series Terry and June was based on Croydon’s leading husband and wife double act), and others, all eager to glimpse how the other half lives.
Once inside the impressive gates of chez Ottaway on Rabies Heath Road, the party goers will be able to stroll the extensive lawns that were manicured immaculately all at public expense (on around 50 occasions, as it happens), and they can view the hog shed that was fixed with some cash generously paid from the public purse. As the evening closes in, they might be illuminated by one of the light bulbs that Dicky claimed 60 quid for.
It needs to be stated that Ottaway did manage to pay back £50 he had claimed – in error, clearly – for repairing the wheel of a tractor that is used to maintain the estate, which enjoys fabulous views over the North Downs.
A larger sum that Ottaway paid back was £4,050 that he had claimed for half the price of a special bed that just had to be bought from Harrod’s (apparently, Reeve’s furniture store in Croydon was out of stock at the time). Claiming for a whole bed was a bit toppy in the context of the MP’s diminutive stature.
This year’s Croydon Tories’ party is to be held ostensibly to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. One presumes that the bunting will be appropriately discrete in the context of the select neighbourhood.
The annual parties at the exquisite and exclusive location are part of the duty that the Ottaways must perform – perhaps through gritted teeth – to keep local Tory party members sweet and to raise money for the Croydon party’s coffers. They might even have to admit those members who were so naive as to suggest that Ottaway should stand down after he was exposed in the expenses furore.
The ravages of time and general disillusionment with all political parties have had their impact on Croydon Conservatives’ budgets, as membership numbers fall and more mundane party events have to be cancelled through lack of interest. The Conservatives have secured economies of scale by merging their three Croydon party associations under the well-organised Tory agent Ian Parker, but this weekend remains an important fund-raising occasion in the annual calendar.
So if raffle tickets and auctions of House of Commons whisky bottles signed by David Cameron fail to raise the target amounts, here’s some ideas for ways to boost the party income at the party:
- how about offering a £10 ticket for entry to the hog shed?
- £25 ticket for a ride on the repaired tractor
- £50 for a picture for that half of that £9,100 Harrod’s bed
- £100 for a picture of the whole bed
- £250 for a picture of Ottaway on the said bed
- and £1,000 of the MP on the bed in full naval dress uniform.
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