It was Enoch Powell who said that all political careers end in failure. In the case of Croydon councillor Clare Hilley, that failure has just come a little sooner than she might have hoped.
The Waddon Tory will not be standing for re-election next May, after less than five years in local politics.
Waddon ward will be key to which party controls the Town Hall after next year’s elections. Croydon’s most marginal ward, Waddon is top of Labour’s targets for May 2014. Some in Katharine Street are viewing Hilley’s decision not to stand as an early admission of defeat by the Conservatives.
“We know Inside Croydon will want to say something about rats leaving sinking ships,” one Town Hall source told us on condition of anonymity (“Mike’ll explode if he finds out”), “but in truth, there’s a few of us who have been uncomfortable with some of the things Clare, and her husband, have been doing. So her decision not to stand won’t cause much grief.”
Ward selections by the local Conservatives are on-going, but it seems likely that veteran community worker Tony Harris and cabinet member Simon “I’m Cheap But I’m Not Free” Hoar will be standing again for the Tories, this time with Sophie Khan on the ticket with them – as indicated by the latest In Touch leaflet distributed to residents.
Labour has selected local campaigners Joy Prince and Robert Canning, together with former Conservative MP Andrew Pelling in their bid to re-take the ward, which their party lost to the Tories at the 2006 local elections.
Hilley, who is 29, was regarded as a high-flyer in the Conservative party when she was elected as a Waddon ward councillor in a by-election in 2009 – she was a leading light in the small pool of the Tory youth wing, and her appearance (albeit sometimes in an embarrassingly drunken state) on reality television show Castaway gave her more than a local profile.
But despite her attempts to keep herself in the public eye – for instance by releasing pictures from her 2010 wedding to Steven George to the local newspapers in return for a bit of favourable coverage – Hilley was less comfortable when her general conduct in public office came in for closer scrutiny.
Hilley appears to have struggled to cope with the surgery workload of a London borough councillor while trying to hold down a job for a West End-based construction PR firm Hard Hat, where her “contacts” within a local council are hawked to clients.
When the potential conflicts of interest with her day-job were exposed by Inside Croydon, Hilley was soon removed from positions on the borough’s planning and strategic planning committees, which were making key decisions on construction projects some of which involved Hard Hat clients.
That Hilley was also exposed for sending out a letter to a potential employer – from her official Croydon Council email address – boasting of her “planning expertise” was a further embarrassment for the former rising star of the Croydon Tories. Publicly, no disciplinary action was ever taken against Hilley by the council nor her party, though her woeful lack of political judgement had been highlighted once again.
The antics of Hilley’s husband, who now works for the right-wing “think” tank Parliament Street, have also illustrated how the couple’s ambitions far exceeded their political abilities.
Shortly after the 2011 riots in Croydon and across the country had exposed raw nerve ends in many communities, Steven George published an overtly racist post on a self-promoting political website he edited. He was forced to issue a grovelling apology soon after. But the Conservative party, nationally nor locally, took no disciplinary action.
For some in the local Tory party, George’s continued use of social media to try to settle personal scores has been seen as too often embarrassing and something of a liability.
Residents in Waddon, though, long ago noticed a difference between the helpful hard work of former deputy mayor Harris in ward issues and more dilettante approach of Hilley, for whom local politics was either a vanity project or just a stepping stone to other, more important things.
“Tony is basically always on top of his constituency work and is a dead-straight chap, in contrast to Hilley who is all talk and no actual delivery,” one local said. “Often, she just does not answer e-mails or come out to Waddon and help.”
Hilley did answer Inside Croydon’s email today, however.
“I decided not to re-stand over the summer as an opportunity has arisen that will take my husband and I [sic] outside Croydon,” she said.
“I have enjoyed representing Waddon and am proud of our record of delivering the leisure centre and improving the parks.”
Hilley made no comment about the 2010 election leaflet which she, Hoar and Harris delivered which promised to oppose the building of a waste incinerator in or near to Croydon. Hilley and the rest of the Conservatives at the Town Hall in due course voted for the Beddington Lane incinerator.
Hilley did add, “I don’t know why I am even replying to you as you always write lies about me and I have been advised not to respond to you.”
Hilley and her husband have in the past challenged Inside Croydon over our coverage of their activities, even retaining the services of the expensive libel lawyers Carter Fuck. Our defence was that our reports were all founded firmly on fact. Hilley and her expensive lawyers abandoned their case.
Hilley and her mates’ continued bleatings about “smears” remain without foundation.
A bit like Hilley’s political career.
Coming to Croydon
- Much Ado About Nothing: Nov 25
- Sex in the Cronx, Nov 26-29
- Future Tech City: Nov 30
- Follow in the footsteps of Pirie: Dec 1
- Comedy in Music show: Dec 1
- Heathfield House Christmas Bazaar: Dec 1
- The Lives of Stanley Halls community entertainment: Dec 4
- Cinema Ruskin: Dec 21
- 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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- Posh, intolerant Nick Boles is a danger to the Conservative Party (blogs.spectator.co.uk)
- Conservative party: heading south (theguardian.com)
- Property giants have a £1bn vision for the regeneration of Croydon (theguardian.com)