Desperately devious: Barwell appeals to women of Addiscombe

Just how desperate are things for the Conservatives in Croydon?

The Barwell begging letter: has the MP made unauthorised use of parliamentary symbols to add importance to his Conservative party recruitment drive?

The Barwell begging letter: has the MP made unauthorised use of parliamentary symbols to add importance to his Conservative party recruitment drive?

Croydon Central MP “Gary Barlow” has been sending out these letters to his constituents – we understand mostly to women – asking someone, anyone, to come forward and volunteer to stand for election as a local councillor.

It is now September. The local elections are in May next year. There’s more than a touch a last-minute after-thought about this. Even an element of panic for Croydon Tories.

This letter would never have been sent if the Conservatives in Croydon – the group that has had control of the Town Hall for nearly eight years – had plenty of members, many of them keen and eager to be active on the streets campaigning for what they believe in. Clearly, that is not the case.

Lack of party members is not a problem just for the local Tories. You’d have as much chance of finding a stuffed dodo on North End as meeting a paid-up member of the LibDems in Croydon. UKIP has already declared that it expects to be running one candidate in each of the borough’s 24 wards next May. The Greens are probably in a similar position, and may find it challenging to field 70 candidates as they did in 2010. And Labour, too, has wards which would struggle to put out a football team made up of members. The political parties have failed to engage the people of Croydon.

The Tories even offered cash money to hire a recruitment officer last year. That, clearly, has had miserable results.

Fawlty-esque: "Don't mention the Tories"

Fawlty-esque: “Don’t mention the Tories”

“Gav”, as his friends (both of them) like to call him, is very careful in the letter to avoid any mention whatsoever of the Conservative party. That really would turn people off. There’s a touch of Basil Fawlty to this: “DON’T! MENTION! THE! TORIES!”

It is similar to his devious approach when he ran the parliamentary by-election campaign in Croydon North last year, where Barwell went to great lengths not to mention that his candidate was, in fact, a Conservative.

“I don’t want political activists whose first loyalty is to their party,” Barwell writes in his letter, when every word in that deceiving letter shrieks out his own loyalty to his own career as a professional politician.

If you read the small print at the bottom, there’s the tell-tale declaration that this letter comes via Ian Parker, himself a councillor and the loyal agent for the Croydon Tories, who took the rap in the law courts for Barwell and expenses-claimer Richard Ottaway when they failed to declare properly their election expenses in 2010.

Let’s hope that Parker remembers to include the cost of printing these letters in the Addiscombe ward election expenses.

For this is a most political appeal for “non-political” people to come forward.

It is also ripe with sly deceits, the sort of sleight of facts which David Callam has warned about this week.

“I want the people who are elected to live here in Addiscombe…” Gav writes, carefully suggesting with the use of “here” that he is somehow “one of us”, some sort of man of the people who lives on the same street as the unfortunate recipients of this letter.

Except, in his latest bravura act of arch hypocrisy, he does not.

Barwell does not live in Addiscombe. He does not even live in Croydon Central, his own constituency, but in Sanderstead, the place where he scuttled away to on the night of the Croydon riots two years ago, as he has admitted, watching in his rear-view mirror as the smoke and flames rose above our town.

Barwell: devious and deceptive letter

Gavin Barwell: devious and deceptive letter

Even the heading on Barwell’s letter is dodgy. “From the Constituency Office” it says, quite properly, underneath the crowned portcullis emblem of the House of Commons. This, surely, is there to add gravitas and importance, to make the recipients of the letter feel as if they have had a personal invitation from their MP.

And this is where Barwell could have bent the rules once again.

Barwell has managed to collect warnings from the Information Commissioner over his unauthorised use of the names and addresses of those who sign up to receive his constituency emails. On this occasion, it is believed he has relied on the electoral register for the addresses. So some poor schmuck in his office has had to spend the summer going through the names, line by line… And to think that Barwell’s office staff are paid out of our taxes, so that he can get them to do this party political work.

Using the electoral register is perfectly legal. But what may be in breach of the strict House of Commons rules over the use of its headed paper, devices and logos is the portcullis emblem on the letter. “It’s a royal emblem,” a Commons official told Inside Croydon this morning. “The rules about its use are very strict, and limited to parliamentary activity.”

In fact, had Barwell bothered to get one of his state-funded flunkies to check for him, they would have found the parliamentary rules quite clear:

“The principal emblem of the House is the Crowned Portcullis. It is a royal badge and its use by the House has been formally authorised by licence granted by Her Majesty the Queen. The designs and symbols of the House should not be used for purposes to which such authentication is inappropriate, or where there is a risk that their use might wrongly be regarded, or represented, as having the authority of the House.”

We added the italics, coz that’s the important bit.

Might Barwell’s letter “wrongly be regarded, or represented, as having the authority of the House”? A copy of Gav’s letter to the women of Addiscombe has been sent to the Serjeant at Arms at the Palace of Westminster for his comments.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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