The Croydon South Conservatives’ selection panel tonight dealt a devastating blow to the leader of their local party when florid-faced Mike Fisher was left off the short-list for selection as their parliamentary candidate.
The decision could also seriously hinder the Croydon Conservatives over the next six months, as Fisher attempts to lead them to a third successive victory in Town Hall elections. With the executive panel that made the final cut “consisting heavily of local councillors” (and Anne Piles), their decision may also hint darkly at some serious divisions within the party at the Town Hall.
Fisher was the only Croydon Conservative councillor to make it through to the 15-strong long-list, but according to reports, tonight he discovered that, in X Factor terms, he wasn’t good enough to make it through to judges’ houses.
He is in good company. Also given the boot tonight by Croydon South’s executive panel was Boris Johnson’s deputy mayor at City Hall, Kit Malthouse and one of David Cameron’s chiefs of staff, Oliver Dowden.
The Tories in Croydon South are selecting the prospective candidate for the constituency because Tricky Dicky Ottaway, the arch-expenses claimer and MP for the area since 1992, is to stand down at the next election. In 2010, he had a 15,000-vote majority, making Croydon South one of the safest Tory seats in London.
Reports suggested that making it on to the short-list are three women, two of them lawyers, including one who was “close friends” with Gavin Barwell, now Croydon Central’s MP, when they were students at Cambridge, plus someone who has doled out loadsamoney to the Conservative party but who last weekend was rejected at an open primary in Kent.
The three women on the short-list also confirm what was suggested here last week, that Tory Central Office is keen to help address the Conservatives’ dreadful gender imbalance at Westminster.
According to our mole, on the short-list for Tuesday’s final selection meeting is Charlotte Vere, the head of the Gals’ School Association, barrister Suella Fernandes, who had been working local ward meetings assiduously, Lucy Frazer QC, and entrepreneur Chris Philp.
In Inside Croydon’s own polling over the past week, Philp managed to amass the grand total of a single vote – or much less than 1 per cent of all votes cast.
Fisher topped the poll with just under 22 per cent – probably as the result of wishful thinking from local Labour supporters – with Dr Rachel Joyce a strong second with 20 per cent.
Croydon Tories have presented themselves with a bit of a hypocrisy pickle: after criticising Labour candidate selections at parliamentary and ward level over the past year, now their own members have rejected all local candidates. Just like Ottaway, the next Tory MP will have all the appearances of having been parachuted in.
None of the four on the short-list have any strong association with Croydon, apart from the over-weaning personal ambition to have a safe seat for life.
Three of them have stood for the Conservatives in parliamentary elections before, and have all lost, Vere notably trailing in third behind the Greens and Labour in Brighton in 2010.
The short-list blows a hole in what has been dubbed Croydon Tories’ “Royston Vasey” strategy, of discrediting anyone who is not local, something which is believed to have been devised by campaign “genius” Barwell when pushing a Croydon resident against Streatham resident Steve Reed in last year’s Croydon North by-election. Reed retained the seat for Labour.
On Twitter, Barwell had already begun his arse-covering exercise given the 14-to-1 composition of the Croydon South long-list. On Friday, he wrote: “They have a year and a half to move here and get to know it” (meaning the area).
It’s a nice idea, though it somewhat overlooks the facts that when Ottaway was parachuted in to Croydon in 1992 he gave a solemn commitment to live in the constituency which he has never honoured. And Barwell, who has had more than three years to move since being elected to parliament, still chooses not to live in his own constituency.
Barwell sought to recover his #areyoulocal position by claiming that he has “always said being local important but not the only test and that will be my approach on Tuesday”. Tuesday will be when the final four go before the Croydon Conservative Association and be subject to a members’ vote.
Tonight, Barwell confirmed our mole’s reports when he said he was “sad for my friend Mike Fisher”, claiming he was “very impressed” with the four on the short-list.
Having soundly rejected all other local candidates from among the Conservatives’ councillors in Katharine Street as being just not good enough, today’s decision will be seen by many as underlining Fisher’s own poor political judgement.
By putting himself forward so eagerly, he created a Catch 22 situation for the selection panel and Croydon South members: pick him as the candidate to run for parliament in 2015, and it makes him appear flaky as leader of the Conservatives going in to the 2014 local elections.
But worse, by failing to be selected, the councillor for Shirley ward has rendered himself a lame duck leader, rejected by the Croydon South panel as not being up to the job as their local MP, and therefore by extension… Labour councillors were quick to proclaim as much tonight.
More intriguing was that the panel making the decision today included several of Shirley ward councillor Fisher’s colleagues from among the Conservative group at the Town Hall. Their next cabinet meeting will be awkward.
Red faces all round then.
- Crick’s criticisms on selections have resonance in Croydon
- Twickenham councillor gets late call in Croydon selection race
- Paxman and Brand unmask deep distrust with local politicians
Coming to Croydon
- Aurora Orchestra with Samuel West perform Britten and Auden: Nov 10
- The Kings of Summer: Nov 11
- St Giles School open morning: Nov 13
- Secret Love at the Ashcroft Theatre: Nov 14
- Summer in February: Nov 18
- Much Ado About Nothing: Nov 25
- Future Tech City: Nov 30
- Comedy in Music show: Dec 1
- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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