Amid more accusations of “dirty” campaigning ahead of Thursday’s Town Hall elections, formal complaints have already been filed with the Electoral Commission over alleged abuse of public office by some of the most senior employees at Croydon Council.
With the outcome of the council election in Croydon “too close to call” according to the pollsters, the slightest advantage could make a significant difference. With the two major political parties working with restricted budgets and under strict election spending rules, being able to campaign using extra resources could be a major boost for one side or another which could influence the outcome of the election.
Whatever politics they may have in private, council employees are expected to behave as neutral and separate from the political process, and public money is not supposed to be used to favour any political party. Inside Croydon has already reported apparent breaches of that neutrality by none other than Nathan Elvery, the council’s interim CEO who is also the returning officer on Thursday, the official responsible for seeing that all is above board with the management of the election in Croydon.
Entrepreneurial Elvery’s appointment as the borough’s CEO, with its accompanying £200,000-plus salary, is still subject to confirmation. Whether he gets the job may depend on which party wins the election.
Formally, the period of “election purdah” began at Croydon Council a month ago, restricting the nature of statements and press releases issued from the council to avoid favouring the incumbent political party. In Croydon, the Tories have held control of the Town Hall since 2006.
But simple comparison of the Croydon Conservatives’ own website and statements appearing on the publicly funded Croydon Council website show that they are… virtually identical.
April 3 – Croydon Conservatives published an article on their website about falling unemployment. It starts by saying:
“The steady increase in the number of people in Croydon finding work is continuing. The latest figures published in the Labour Market Bulletin show that, compared to a year ago, the number of people claiming jobseekers allowance (JSA) has fallen by 2,855 – a drop of 28% from February 2013’s total of 10,130, to 7,275.”
Blunder-prone Vidhi Mohan, the Tory cabinet member whose generous council “allowances” of £43,339 per year depend upon his being re-elected in Fairfield ward, has this quote attributed to him: “The Pathways to Employment initiative is really taking off, and is providing a huge boost, both to Croydon residents and the local economy.”
April 21 – Well into the council purdah period now, and a news agency which distributes press releases to local newspapers runs the following from Croydon Council:
“Thousands of Croydon people have been wiped off the jobless list over the past 14 months. The latest Labour Market Bulletin shows that, month by month, between February 2013 and March 2014, the number of people claiming job seekers allowance (JSA) in Croydon has taken a sustained tumble.” Look familiar?
Consider now the following quote, attributed to Croydon Council interim CEO Nathan Elvery and issued in an official Croydon Council press release issued during the election purdah period (when councillors and cabinet members are forbidden by law from providing such commentary): “The combination of the Pathways to Employment initiative and the massive infrastructure work currently going on is providing a huge boost, both to Croydon residents and the local economy.”
A “huge boost”. To “Croydon residents and the local economy”. It’s almost as if Tory Councillor Vidhi Mohan had said it himself. Thing is, he probably did.
April 17 – Croydon Council issues an official press release which is picked up by churnalists on local papers as a “good news” story about school places. Nathan Elvery crops up again to say: “Parents of 4,530 of Croydon’s children will be delighted to learn over the next few days, if they haven’t already, their children will be going to one of their three favoured schools. This is fantastic news for everyone and shows how our focus on building new school places is paying off for the benefit of local people.”
Of itself, the quote blurs the edges of what should be a straightforward statement of fact by a public official, and reads very much like an endorsement of the policy of one political party.
But what’s this? On the very same day, the Croydon Conservatives publish a press release of their own about school places, which is put forward as a reason to vote for them on May 22. This time, it is another Tory council cabinet member, Tim Pollard, who is quoted: “Parents of over 4,50 [sic – the local Tories can’t even manage to cut and paste effectively] Croydon children will be very pleased to learn that their children will be going to one of their three favoured schools. This is fantastic news for pupils and parents and shows how our focus on building new school places is paying off for the benefit of local children.”
“Delighted” becomes “very pleased”, “benefit of local people” becomes “benefit of local children”. But to all other purposes, it is Elvery and Pollard speaking as of one voice. How cosy for them.
When the remarkable similarities between the graphics used in Croydon’s annual Council Tax mail-out to residents and graphics used in local Tory election leaflets were pointed out, the Borough Solicitor, Julie Belvir, who works closely to CEO Elvery, suggested that as the council’s publicity work was not subject to copyright, it was simply a case of the Tories copying the council material.
Unabashed, this practice of council officials and the council press office distributing barely disguised Tory propaganda continued into this election month, even to the point of Elvery and Tory councillors both perverting official crime statistics in exactly the same misleading manner.
April 23 – On the official Croydon Council website, Nathan Elvery is quoted as saying: “New statistics show Croydon has become a safer place over the past year, with 3,000 fewer offences reported in the borough compared to the previous twelve months.”
May 1 – On the party political Croydon Conservatives website, Waddon councillor Simon Hoar has his image superimposed over a picture of Kenley Police Station; clearly the local Tories haven’t yet woken up to the fact that Kenley is one of the valuable community police stations closed by Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
The article on the Tory political website begins: “New statistics show Croydon has become a safer place over the past year, with 3,000 fewer offences reported in the borough compared to the previous twelve months.” This is not published as a quote, simply Conservative editorialisation. Yet these are exactly the same words used by Nathan Elvery. Uncanny.
The crime committed by both public servant Elvery and his political puppet-master Hoar is that of omission. Because a simple check of the official statistics from the Metropolitan Police show worrying increases in violent crime in Croydon in the 12 months to March 2014, with domestic crime up 15 per cent and the number of rapes up by 32 per cent. These statistics indicate the opposite of what Elvery and Hoar claimed, that Croydon had become a “safer place”.
Funny how neither Hoar nor Elvery mentioned that.
Such close alignment with his political masters and his efforts to speak on their behalf during election purdah, though, must put Elvery’s status as a truly unbiased returning officer for Thursday’s elections under extreme doubt.
Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:
- Policy analysis 1: The incinerator
- Policy analysis 2: Hammersfield
- Tories accused of ‘lies on a grand scale’ on Council Tax
- Polls predict Croydon Council will be split down the middle
- Conservatives snub hustings as sham candidates exposed
- Threat of UKIP forces Tories to press the panic button
- Council allowances and local politicians’ secret consensus
- The list of candidates for the May 22 local elections
Coming to Croydon
- Coulsdon East local election hustings, May 19
- St Giles’ primary school open morning, May 21
- David Lean Cinema: The Rocket, May 22
- Songs From The Ledge, Spread Eagle Theatre, May 23
- Greek Myths: stories and mask-making, May 27
- Howard Marks: Scholar, Smuggler, Prisoner, Scribe, May 29
- David Lean Cinema: Dallas Buyers Club, May 29
- Tales from Ancient Greece, Upper Norwood Library, May 29
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, May 31
- Stitch Pitch quilting workshop, Upper Norwood Library, June 2
- Croydon Tech City “summit”, June 6
- An Improvised Murder, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 7
- Lakes Playground Action Group fun day, June 14
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, June 15
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- Warnings to the Curious, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 27
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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