Phil Thomas, one of the “big beasts” of local Croydon politics for the past decade and the architect of the Conservatives’ 2006 Town Hall election win, is moving from the borough and will not be seeking re-election in 2014.
“He’s the first rat to leave the sinking ship,” one senior figure in Katharine Street told Inside Croydon.
Thomas’s departure has already prompted speculation about other senior Tories who might opt not to contest the next local elections, which are likely to be held in spring 2014, alongside that year’s European elections.
“He’s leaving because he doesn’t fancy four years in opposition,” said the Town Hall source, who asked not to be named because of Thomas’s reputation as an intimidatory figure.
Thomas’s plans were mentioned at this week’s full council meeting, and the councillor for Selsdon and Ballards ward did not deny that he intends to emigrate to the United States. “He’s not the only cowboy on this council,” one of Thomas’s Labour opponents suggested. Despite being an avid reader of Inside Croydon‘s coverage of all aspects of local matters, Thomas has not replied to our emails seeking a comment.
Selsdon resident Thomas has carried considerable weight within Croydon Conservatives since he was first elected on to the council in 2002. As the cabinet member for highways and environmental services for the past six years, in 2010 he oversaw the near-doubling of the charges on residents’ parking permits – a hidden Council Tax surcharge. Yet “Two Permits” Thomas gets his parking charges waived by the council on both his and his wife’s cars (provided, of course, that they are being used on official business).
Thomas has worked as a teacher “at a large comprehensive in Surrey,” according to his official party biography, the lengthy school holidays having given him plenty of time to manage his party’s council election campaigns.
He is known to have spent part of last summer in Arizona, working with the the Christian right on aspects of their elections, and it is thought that it is some aspect of Tea party politics that is seeing him move abroad.
It seems unlikely that Thomas’s departure will prompt a ward by-election, however. Provided he visits Croydon once every six months or so, he can retain his council seat, and perhaps will also continue to collect more than £10,000 in Council Tax-funded “allowances”.
His departure will mean that for 18 months, the residents of Selsdon and Ballards will have to get by with just two-thirds of their council representatives, in Dudley Mead and Sara Bashford, both of them cabinet members.
With Croydon’s roads in such a bad state of repair and its streets so badly cleaned, Thomas’s boss on the council, Mike Fisher, must seek someone else to take on the highways and environment brief; Thomas, surely, will not continue to be paid the full £40,000-plus paid to cabinet members.
At least one other long-standing Tory councillor is understood to have decided not to stand again in 2014, while several others in wards targeted by Labour must be counting down to those next elections.
Several of the older Conservatives, including David Osland in Coulsdon West, Purley’s Graham Bass, or Dudley and Margaret Mead, the Terry and June of Croydon politics, might do the decent thing and retire, but too many within the Tory group seem to regard councillors’ generous allowances as a subsidy for their pensions.
When, a few years ago, the Croydon Conservative Association was asked to consider a mandatory retirement age for councillors, they rejected the cut-off date as “too young”. The retirement age suggested was 80.
Meanwhile, younger councillors in key wards look like they will face compulsory redundancies. “I’ve still got 18 months left!” Simon Hoar, the Conservative cabinet member from Waddon ward, declared in extraordinary fashion on Monday evening, demonstrating zero confidence in Fisher or his party to retain control of the Town Hall when the voters are given the choice.
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