ANDREW PELLING reports on the latest complaints about council rules being broken
Eddy Arram’s term as Croydon’s Mayor has attracted further stern criticism from political opponents who are annoyed at the inclusion of three pictures of the Ashburton councillor wearing his chain of office brazenly on the front of a four-page leaflet on behalf of the local Conservative party.
There are even rumblings of disquiet from within the ranks of Conservative councillors over Arram’s conduct.
Meanwhile UKIP has accused the Tory party hack, who receives a state-funded salary for working in the office of a local MP, as having “a major conflict of interest”.
The Conservatives’ “Croydon Council Summer Special” (an odd title, since the political rag is not from Croydon Council) shows the supposedly politically neutral Mayor posing with two Conservative councillors from Coulsdon East.
This latest abuse by the Conservatives of the Mayor’s position can only further undermine the Mayor’s diminishing authority at Town Hall meetings, where even the Redhill Sadvertiser has accused Arram of behaving in a biased manner.
Croydon Council says that good practice requires that, “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 Conservatives are well aware of these guidelines. Croydon’s Tories used to expect any of their councillors who became Mayor to abstain from party political activity for their year of office. That is clearly being ignored in the case of Arram, whose day job is as a constituency assistant for Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell, a post from which Arram has refused to take leave of absence in order to serve as the borough’s mayor.
Mike Fisher, the leader of the Conservative group at the Town Hall, has been heard to remark that making Arram Mayor was the best way to silence his eccentric aggressively partisan outbursts in council meetings.
This ruse has backfired, loudly and quickly, as Arram’s mayoralty looks to be in difficulties.
Disquiet has been expressed among Conservative backbench councillors about the cancellation of the annual Croydon civic service at Croydon Minster – apparently at the whim of Mayor Arram. The multi-faith civic service prays for wise judgement by our civic leaders, and it is looking increasingly as if they need all the help that they can get.
When Tim Pollard, Croydon Tories’ deputy leader who is in charge of communications, was asked for a comment on Arram’s blatant breach of council rules by appearing in the party political newspaper, the best he could offer was, “I prefer not to comment” – hardly the ringing endorsement that might be expected of his party’s members’ conduct.
Privately, Labour are livid about the misuse of the Mayoralty.
Publicly, Tony Newman told Inside Croydon: “It is deeply disappointing to see the Mayor of Croydon being used for electoral purposes.
“Croydon residents look to the Mayor of Croydon as the first citizen of the borough, not a mouthpiece for whichever political party the Mayor happens to represent.”
Newman hints that Labour see the political neutrality of the Mayoralty as being permanently damaged, with long-term implications after the recent abuse of the office.
He talks of “an end to generations of both Labour and Tory administrations in Croydon agreeing not to politicise the Croydon mayoralty”.
Newman has appealed to Arram to staunch the damage being done. “I hope that Councillor Arram will uphold the integrity of the Office of Mayor. The honourable course of action is for Councillor Arram to issue a public warning to his former Tory colleagues against using Croydon’s Mayoralty for party political purposes.
“If this does not happen, it will drag the Office of Mayor into disrepute.”
UKIP has no Croydon councillors at present, but they are concentrating their campaigning resources in a Conservative-held ward in the south of the borough.
“What is wrong is that the Conservatives have hijacked Councillor Arram’s mayoral work and in their leaflets implied that he is a ‘Croydon Conservative Mayor’ rather than the Mayor of Croydon,” said Peter Staveley, Croydon UKIP’s chairman.
“UKIP deplores this move. We are concerned that it will signal the beginning of the politicisation of the Mayoral Office and the end of the Mayor being purely ceremonial.”
Unlike Labour, UKIP are more open about their concern that Arram cannot possibly be politically neutral while having a day job working for the local Conservative MP. Not being on the council, UKIP can be more plain-speaking than the silent councillors, Conservative and Labour, who may not have wanted to cause offence in the council chamber.
Staveley says Arram should never have accepted the Mayor’s job. “One of the roles of the ceremonial Mayor is to act as the chairman at meetings of the full council and as such it is his job to act fairly between all the political groups. To help ensure fairness in the past the Mayor has removed himself from all public political activity.
“We see his employment as an assistant to Gavin Barwell MP as a major conflict of interest. It is quite possible that Eddy Arram is writing letters during the day justifying decisions that the Croydon Conservatives will be making, only then to chair a meeting in the evening where a significant number of councillors are arguing against that decision.
“How can that be fair to the opposition and to Croydon’s residents?
“What is worse is that neither Councillor Arram’s mayoralty nor his employment with the local Conservative MP were unexpected events. Councillor Arram should have simply refused to accept his nomination to be the Mayor while he was employed by the local MP.”
UKIP is confident that in 2014, by targeting one ward in Croydon South, they will be successful in council elections that are likely to be staged within a month of the next European vote. UKIP hopes to ride a wave of anti-European feeling and concern over arrogance of Conservatives in power to see them gain a foothold in the Croydon Town Hall, where they might even hold the balance of power.
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