Attention-seeking mayor deserves the Advertiser’s criticism

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Eddy Arram, presiding over a full council meeting for the last time, this week managed to do something which many believed was impossible: getting the editors of Inside Croydon and the Croydon Sadvertiser to agree, at least on one topic.

Arram being called “dopey” and “irrelevant”, though, are mild when it comes to describing the council’s conduct, says DAVID CALLAM

Croydon Mayor: Eddy Arram: so unimportant, even the Croydon Advertiser does not bother to report his activities. How dare they!

Eddy Arram: so unimportant, even the Croydon Advertiser does not bother to report his activities. How dare they!

The Croydon Advertiser damages the town.

That, apparently, is the view of the mayor, Councillor Eddy Arram.

And it’s twaddle.

The mayor’s view is the latest in a long line of utterances from people at Croydon Council who should know better, but whose solution to the problem of the town’s dreadful public image is always to shoot the messenger.

In my time at the Advertiser, it was publicity given to weekend punch-ups or worse that fuelled the council’s ire. And yet, it was the council that had created the circumstances that made such random violence more likely.

Senior council officers developed a policy to encourage a night-time economy. They wanted a wide range of evening activities to ensure that the town didn’t close for the day when shop and office workers went home.

Many local authorities wanted something similar, but others hedged their enthusiasm with licensing restrictions to create a balance, even though it took more time to achieve.

Unfortunately, Croydon adopted the line of least resistance: allowing lots of vertical drinking establishments, places where you were encouraged just to stand and imbibe, each vying with others for custom on the basis of price – Happy Hours, 2-4-1 and other forms of promotion.

The result was inevitable: if you mix testosterone-filled young men with aggressive dance music, copious amounts of alcohol and scantily-clad young women, then violence will follow as surely as night follows day.

When that happened, and the Advertiser reported it, the council blamed the newspaper for bad-mouthing the town. Inside Croydon has received similar treatment from the council’s press office and members of the town’s Glee Club tendency for taking the authority to task over various issues.

There was a view in the Advertiser newsroom that the council seriously considered that the newspaper was only there to serve the council, and that any critical report was seen as betrayal.

Both major political parties complained that the paper was batting for the other side.

I remember attending a meeting in the Mayor’s Parlour to be greeted by the then leader of the council, Sir Peter (now Lord) Bowness, with the phrase: “Oh look! Labour Weekly has arrived.”

I also recall a Labour administration at the Town Hall cancelling advertising with the newspaper in an attempt to make it come to heel. Fortunately, at that time, the editor and proprietor were strong enough to resist such intimidation.

Eddy Arram's favourite local newspaper: Perhaps the Sadvertiser  is just going through a bad spell

Eddy Arram’s favourite local newspaper: Perhaps the Sadvertiser is just going through a bad spell

Over many years Croydon Council has chosen to present itself as a wonderful example of a perfect administration operating in the best of all possible worlds.

My fellow journalists regularly talked about council media releases as propaganda: the council’s then monthly, now quarterly, council publication was habitually called Pravda long before local government minister Eric Pickles began his campaign against “Town Hall Pravdas” (mainly directed at Labour-run councils’ newspapers).

I recall a terminally testy Advertiser sub-editor berating junior reporters for taking council press releases at face value. Much to the junior’s embarrassment, he would declaim to the assembled company that he wasn’t sure whether the offending hack was naive, or lazy, or both.

I have issues with the way the Advertiser covered some stories during my time with the paper: in particular, its use of indistinct CCTV images to accompany front page crime stories. Such dissent should not come as any surprise. Every self-respecting journalist questions his or her editor’s judgement at times.

Overall I would strongly commend a sceptical attitude to the actions, or inaction, of Croydon Council.

If the council’s decision-making process was more intellectually rigorous and less driven by petty party political considerations, there would be less cause for criticism.

I’ve never met the present editor of the Advertiser, Glenn Ebrey. I’m told that on the night of the council meeting, Ebrey used his Twitter account to brand the mayor as “dopey” and “irrelevant”.

I have heard councillors and council officers called much worse in the relative privacy of the newsroom. But I do think it unwise for the editor of the town’s local paper to state such things publicly.

Ebrey’s comments came when his newspaper did not have a reporter present at the Town Hall to report on the meeting. In future, he might find it more effective to report the mayor’s and councillors’ conduct  and let the readers draw their own conclusions.

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3 Responses to Attention-seeking mayor deserves the Advertiser’s criticism

  1. This article is spoilt in my opinion by the last 3 paragraphs. I have no problem with the Editor of the Advertiser expressing a view about the Mayor, especially in view of the Mayor’s behaviour over the past year. Also if the Council wishes to ensure reporters are present for all of its meetings, it should cut out the waffle, childish behaviour and excessive length.

  2. David is so right!

    Every meeting that I go to at the Council rapidly descends into infantile, offensive behaviour. People’s questions are not listened to attentively, and reflectively – no effort is made to really consider what is in the best interests of Croydon. I always leave so frustrated.

    On Wednesday night many people from Croydon went over to Sutton to argue against the incinerator. I left really impressed by the quality of debate; the effort that was made to listen to people and reflect on their views; the way the room was set up to ensure that the meeting could function as a democratic forum: everyone was on the same level; the seating was in the round; large screens were used to enhance understanding; and every effort was made to make comments audible.

    Come June 2014 any new administration has to relocate Council meetings to a venue that serves its purpose; if necessary use school building around the borough, but we have to have a functional democracy that truly represents the interests of the people of Croydon and no longer resembles something out of “Lord of the Flies”.

  3. The bear pit in Croydon Council chamber that Charlotte describes is similar to scenes I have witnessed over the years from the press gallery – some of them with the other lot in charge.

    So I am heartened by her description of democratic proceedings in Sutton. It seems a better way of doing business is possible.

    Croydon will need a fundamental shake-up if it is to abandon its juvenile delinquent ways in favour of an adult form of local government.

    I have never understood why such a wonderfully diverse borough has remained so starkly divided politically. It was solid Tory for donkey’s years before flip-flopping between Tory and Labour.

    At one time the Lib Dems brought neighbourhood politics to Croham Ward and made a strong showing, but it all petered out before they ever won a seat.

    We have never had a hung council: maybe the need to negotiate a programme issue by issue would force elected members to face challenges pragmatically rather than ideologically.

    It will be interesting to see whether the electorate is ready for a change this time next year, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

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