Mike Fisher, for eight years the leader of Croydon Council, was forced to quit as the head of the Tories at the Town Hall on Friday night, less than 72 hours after he was exposed as having secretly claimed an extra £10,000 in councillor allowances in the past year.
Fisher was to have faced a show-down meeting with senior figures from the local Conservative party, including his deputies Tim Pollard and Dudley Mead, and possibly David Osland, the controversial former senior Metropolitan Police officer tipped soon to be the new chairman of the Croydon Conservative Federation.
Nothing Fisher had done was illegal, but it had been condemned as being “doubly wrong” by his own party members. News of Fisher’s resignation was quickly followed by demands for him also to stand down as a councillor.
Fisher’s resignation quickly became all about trying to salvage the Tories’ campaign to get Gavin Barwell re-elected as MP for the marginal parliamentary seat of Croydon Central at next year’s General Election.
And so it was Barwell who was allowed the “privilege” of making the announcement, using his Twitter account just before 1am on Saturday with the tag “Breaking News” (does Barwell think he’s Rupert Murdoch?).
“I have spoken to Cllr Mike Fisher this evening & he has decided to resign as
#Croydon Conservative Group Leader,” tweeted Barwell, who had previously complained of suffering a sleepless night over what has become known as #WadGate since Fisher admitted that he had pocketed the extra cash.
“I decided I was going to need to take some of the money, which is what I did,” florid-faced Fisher had said, apparently without shame nor remorse when he was first caught red-handed by the council’s belated publication of the official accounts of its £1.4million spend on councillor allowances for 2013-2014.
Only the day before, a small-circulation newspaper based in Dorking had tried to dismiss Inside Croydon’s suggestion that the Tories would soon be seeking a new leader, happily regurgitating Fisher’s personal propaganda, quoting him as saying, “I’m going nowhere.” Whoops.
Overnight, Barwell has sought to soften the blow of the forced resignation of someone he claimed had been a friend of 20 years. “Hope this will go some way to restoring his reputation,” Barwell tweeted, clearly sufficiently concerned for his own political future still not to be sleeping in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Barwell did not elaborate on what he meant by Fisher’s “reputation”. It is a safe bet that it will not cover better school results, cleaner streets or lower Council Tax for the people of Croydon.
“What he did was wrong but he has also done a lot of good for our town,” Barwell claimed.
Barwell was unable to state what that “good” Fisher had done might be. He did not mention:
- The £1 billion debt “black hole” Fisher joked about leaving after eight years in charge.
- The £240 million bill for a new council head office building the borough did not really need, and certainly cannot afford.
- The £450 million-plus property speculation scheme with Laings that has gone horribly wrong, at great cost to Croydon Council Tax-payers.
- The cutting of spending on the family justice centre.
- Hundreds of council staff made redundant.
- The axing of numerous front-line services.
- The flogging off of the Riesco Collection.
- The closure of the Warehouse Theatre and David Lean Cinema.
- The undermining of the public libraries service.
Can anyone seriously claim that Croydon is a better place for Fisher’s involvement?
But the failed politician cannot take the blame alone.
It seems unlikely that, as his deputies and Barwell have suggested, Fisher was able to pocket a five-figure sum of public money, as if on a whim, and no one else knew anything about it. The cash claim must have been cleared by and known about by some of the council’s most senior officials.
And if the Tory cabinet seriously suggest that they did not know what was happening over Fisher’s allowances claim, then they have surely declared themselves incompetent and not fit to hold public office.
Certainly, the Katharine Street rumour mill has been alive for more than a year with strong suggestions for what reasons lay behind Fisher’s demand for extra cash. But no one is betting on that being revealed now that Fisher has been forced to stand down.
Andrew Pelling is a predecessor of Barwell and Fisher as the leader of the Conservatives at Croydon Town Hall. He is now a Labour councillor, and tonight he told Inside Croydon: “The hiding of the information regarding Councillor Fisher’s secret salary increase must raise some serious concerns about whether good judgement is being exercised about what items of information should be released to the public by the Town Hall in a timely fashion.”
There is no full council meeting until October, but on Tuesday there is a public meeting of Croydon’s key scrutiny committee. It should represent a significant opportunity for the new council, under Labour, to start cleaning up some of the mess left by Fisher’s administration.
Tony Newman, the local Labour leader who succeeded Fisher in charge of the council after the May Town Hall elections, has repeatedly suggested that there should be “no looking back” as far the management of the borough over the past eight years is concerned. How wrong that is proving to be.
Within its first 100 days, Fisher’s greed has presented the new administration with a test of how determined it is to run a truly “open” and “transparent” borough, and a strong reason to delve even more closely into some of the council contracts and procurement, which have often used millions of pounds of public money.
For his own part, Fisher had no political reputation left worthy of the name, nor political career to salvage, since his own council colleagues stabbed him in the back last November over the candidate selection for the ultra-safe Croydon South parliamentary constituency. May’s abject defeat in the council elections, Croydon Tories’ worst for 20 years, merely compounded Fisher’s lame-duck leader status.
Meanwhile, as Croydon Tories attempt to pick up the pieces, they will hardly be encouraged by that fact that in Inside Croydon’s entirely unscientific polling, nearly half our readers believe that John Cartwright, the former Monster Raving Loony party candidate who has never achieved elected office, or the option of none of their leading councillors, ought to succeed Fisher as the Conservatives’ leader.
It seems that Mike Fisher is one Croydon Council job cut that no one will miss.
- #WadGate latest: Fisher’s deputies put pressure on him to go
- Tory leader Fisher is caught red-handed with £10,000 pay hike
- And they’re off! Betting hots up on Croydon’s Tory leadership
- #WadGate: The Movie
- Win a pair of tickets for the new show at the Spread Eagle Theatre
- Exclusive readers’ offer: a free glass of wine for diners at Albert’s Table
- Special readers’ offer: 25% off meals at PizzaExpress Purley
Coming to Croydon
- Thornton Heath Festival, Sep 7
- Stop the Incinerator Quiz Night, Sep 8
- Tell Me About Your Ex, Spread Eagle Theatre, Sep 9-13
- David Lean Cinema: Camille Claudel, Sep 11
- Warlingham rugby dinner with international Richard Hill, Sep 12
- Soul Symphony Community Choir sessions, Sep 16-Dec 23
- Police question time, LNK at Centrale, Sep 17
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- David Lean Cinema: Chef, Sep 18
- The Complete History of the BBC – Abridged, Spread Eagle, Sep 19-20
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- South Croydon business breakfast, Sep 20
- Open House London weekend, Sep 20-21
- David Lean Cinema: A Night At The Cinema in 1914, Sep 22
- Activity to Work back-to-work workshops, Sep 23
- David Lean Cinema: Jimmy’s Hall, Sep 25
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Fancy dress family funday, Sep 28
- Tree Sides, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 2-4
- The Goon Show, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 8-11
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Oct 18
- This Was The World and I Was King, Spread Eagle, Oct 23-25
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 407,847 page views (Jan-Jun 2014) If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org