No neutral ground when it comes to the mayor’s “day job”

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Is the role of mayor of the borough being politicised by the paid assistant of a Tory MP? By ANDREW PELLING

Being chosen as the mayor of your home town can be the ultimate accolade after long public service. Mayor Eddy Arram had to wait 32 years.

Eddy Arram: Croydon’s first citizen

You might think, therefore, that the Ashburton councillor has been around the Town Hall long enough to know the rulebook inside-out. Mayor Arram should be well aware that politics are strictly off-limits. The mayor is a neutral representative of the whole borough, not any narrow party interest.

According to Croydon Council, “The role of the Mayor is a non-political one; he represents every section of the community.” When attending functions there are firm rules and protocols to follow. “He does not attend as a representative of the Council or any section of it,” the council’s rules state.

Mayors in past years typically observed this practice by abstaining entirely from party politics. They would not attend meetings of their political group on the council nor attend party political gatherings.

By doing so, mayors have been seen as an impartial chair of the council’s meetings, a very important role, looking after the interests of backbench members as much as powerful leading executive members.

Unfortunately, such standards began to slip. Labour expected mayors to attend their internal party meetings at the council, where the very agenda that the mayor was going to chair – supposedly neutrally – was choreographed. It was like Speaker Bercow sitting in on the briefing for David Cameron before taking his seat in the House of Commons for Prime Minister’s Question Time.

The abstention from party politics also emphasised that the mayor was at local events “as the first citizen of the borough”, as the council still claims.

Standards have fallen to a new low, however. Inside Croydon has received a tardy response from the council (is there any other kind?) to a question sent to the mayor’s office, which was immediately referred as a Freedom of Information request.

After more than a month to consult, confer and carefully consider their answer, Croydon was able to confirm that yes, Mayor Arram’s “day job”, as the council referred to it, is indeed working as the paid assistant of Conservative party politician Gavin Barwell MP. And therefore the council now claims that its own requirement for the mayor’s “role as ‘non political’ has no meaning”.

Lamely, the council officer who provided the (poorly) drafted response gave up all pretence that the mayor needs to keep to the non-political protocols: “In Croydon the Councillors are either conservative [sic] councillors or labour [sic] councillors. They are all politicians and party political figures.”

The blame is firmly put on the shoulders of the councillors, from both parties, for joining in a conspiracy of silence on the issue. “Cllr Arram’s ‘day job’ is declared and known to all councillors who were asked to vote on the election of the Mayor. Not one of them, Labour or Conservative raised an objection on these grounds.”

But can you really represent the whole community when you are sectional, partisan and party political?

It is not just Inside Croydon that noted the bias in Mayor Arram’s first, and floundering, performance at the Town Hall last week. Even the Redhill Sadvertiser‘s “Insider Column” – which is understood to be penned usually by the paper’s Town Hall reporter, Ian Austen – felt necessary to remark adversely on Arram’s performance.

Not normally noted for rocking the Croydon Establishment boat, the “Insider” dared suggest, “Cllr Arram’s own performance did not quite live up to the standard he was clearly expecting of others… The word ‘bias’ could be clearly heard on a couple of occasions, not a happy sentiment at the start of a mayoral year.”

Mayor Arram should take a year’s sabbatical from being a paid political employee and concentrate on being a full-time, unbiased mayor.

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4 Responses to No neutral ground when it comes to the mayor’s “day job”

  1. Why would councillors be expected to raise objections or cross-examine Cllr Arram before his appointment? Surely it is reasonable to expect Cllr Arram to conduct himself and his affairs in a proper manner, befitting the role of Mayor. Aren’t councillors supposed to declare any conflict of interest in any case, rather than wait to be caught out?

    ‘The Insider’ was right to expose Cllr Arram’s poor conduct in the council chamber that evening. Clear preference was given to Conservative speakers on the night. It was also extremely discourteous of Cllr Arram to mumble orders of procedure at residents in the public gallery but refuse to clarify when residents asked for this as they could not hear what the mayor had said.

  2. kagmi says:

    Just wanted to say I’m impressed with your tradition of the office of the mayor being apolitical. We have no such tradition in the U.S..

    Although we’re lucky that local government is in most places considered too small for the national parties to bother with–oh my, have there been cases of some famously corrupt big city mayors! The former mayor of Detroit, near where I live, was the son of a Congresswoman…he was also recently arrested on corruption charges.

    An office explicitly dedicated only to looking out for everyone’s best interests sounds so lovely.

    • There have been moves here towards elected mayors. Have you heard of Boris Johnson?

      Sadly, the office of borough mayor in Croydon is little more than “Buggin’s turn”, carved up internally among the councillors, a way of rewarding timeservers for their silence and party-line toeing over a lengthy period.

  3. I have always expressed a sadly controversial opinion about politically elected representatives: one job is enough. I say sadly because the practice is common on both sides of the fence.
    There are many unemployed people who could assist the MPs with their case work. They could be trained and would do an excellent job because they could concentrate on that job and that job alone.
    Croydon Council seems to have lost any sense of decency. It is now up top the residents to demand that it be restored.

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