“Speak softly and carry a big stick,” was the foreign policy of US President Teddy Roosevelt more than a hundred years ago.
“Don’t make an effing threat unless you’re prepared to carry it out,” was the more forthright message which Charlie Richardson used to spit into the faces of his victims when the notorious south London gangster of the 1960s was about to detach one appendage or another from their owner.
So it is that Croydon Council’s hard-line “Don’t Mess With Croydon” policy on fly-tipping, with posters around the borough threatening enforcement action and fines for offenders, is all looking a bit of a sorry mess this morning after the Evening Boris splashed pictures across the paper and its website of a “Grand Canyon of rubbish” dumped on Ashburton playing fields.
The council’s new campaign was the main plank of policy which got Labour elected to the Town Hall in May. A PR disaster such as the Standard’s coverage today is not helped when Croydon Labour’s deputy leader, Stuart Collins, the cabinet member in charge of slogans and T-shirts, has spent much of the weekend plastering himself over social media showing him flogging those “Don’t Mess” T-shirts.
“There’s everything from broken toilets to piles of office furniture all dumped in big mounds,” the Standard quotes one dog-walker.
“It’s like the Grand Canyon of rubbish and mess that you can walk through.”
Travellers get the blame for the Ashburton mess, though there doesn’t appear, yet, to be any direct proof of who was responsible. A group had parked up on the site last week (how did they get access?) and they were promptly moved on by council officials. The pictures published online yesterday and by the Standard today show the park after the travellers left, which alone may be a bit too circumstantial to secure a prosecution in the courts.
“The Council will write to all local residents calling for witnesses,” Collins said today. “If we can prove it they will pay.” And if the council can’t prove it..?
Today’s newspaper reports demonstrate an interesting quirk of local media coverage of Croydon.
The Evening Boris, especially when Veronica Wadley was its editor, was never much interested in the then Tory-controlled borough, despite the piles of rubbish dumped routinely around our parks, streets and open spaces, never mind the multitude of other short-comings of the council’s activity. Wadley was given a cushty job by the Mayor of London soon after Boris Johnson was re-elected in 2012. Coincidentally, of course.
So why is London’s evening paper so interested in this single instance of fly-tipping? Certainly, the local Tory MP, gaffe-prone Gavin Barwell, and his state-funded gobby factotum, Coulsdon’s new councillor Mario Creatura, were quick to seize on it for political capital.
“Why weren’t travellers made to clean up/arrested?” Barwell wrote on Twitter today. “Makes mockery of council’s Don’t Mess with #Croydon campaign.”
The Purley Way playing fields have also been dumped upon in the past fortnight, and shortly after a visit from some travellers, too. But that instance has not been so widely reported.
That may be because Purley Way isn’t in Barwell’s Croydon Central constituency. Croydon Central is regarded as a marginal at next year’s General Election. When the Conservatives lost control of the council in May, it was the loss to Labour of Ashburton ward for the first time in history which swung it against the Tories. And Ashburton is the scene of the “Grand Canyon” tip.
There is little doubt that the Ashburton incident is a spectacular set-back for Croydon Labour, and one mainly of their own making. Having spent more than a year criticising the Tory council for failing to keep our streets clean or to bring prosecutions (in 2012-2013, Conservative-run Croydon successfully prosecuted just 1 per cent of fly-tipping cases reported to the council), the new Labour council acted in great haste to publicise its new hard-line approach to anyone who dared “Mess With Croydon”.
What they failed to do, however, was first get in place the mechanisms and manpower to ensure that they could improve the situation and deliver on their promises, and the threats.
After a couple of inquiries from Inside Croydon, Collins has now responded about how many council workers are assigned to the matter. According to Collins, the department responsible has been run-down under the Tories and was working with just two-thirds of the staff it was supposed to have. Eight staff have been recruited and are due in post by the end of September.
Will these extra staff be enough to transform the previous 1 per cent prosecution rate for fly-tipping offences? Time will tell, though Charlie Richardson probably wouldn’t have started bandying around threats before he was fully tooled up.
And no one ever messed with Charlie.
- Actions will speak louder than words in Wild West Croydon
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Coming to Croydon
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 20
- David Lean Cinema: Stop The Pounding Heart, Aug 21
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 27
- David Lean Cinema: Frank, Aug 28
- Upper Norwood Library well-being groups, Aug 30
- David Lean Cinema: The Two Faces of January, Sep 4
- David Lean Cinema: Fading Giglolo, Sep 6
- Thornton Heath Festival, Sep 7
- Stop the Incinerator Quiz Night, Sep 8
- David Lean Cinema: Camille Claudel, Sep 11
- Warlingham rugby dinner with international Richard Hill, Sep 12
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- David Lean Cinema: Chef, Sep 18
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- Open House London weekend, Sep 20-21
- David Lean Cinema: A Night At The Cinema in 1914, Sep 22
- David Lean Cinema: Jimmy’s Hall, Sep 25
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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