STEVEN DOWNES, editor of Inside Croydon, on how a local MP has been working furiously to save his own political skin
So, the Tory narrative on #WadGate has been set.
“It’s all Mike Fisher’s fault. He is terribly sorry. And none of us knew nuffink about it, guv, honest. But he won’t be resigning as a councillor, despite deliberately misleading the people of Shirley, and Croydon as a whole. And that’s the end of the matter.”
But of course, many of Fisher’s colleagues did know.
The Croydon Conservatives’ whitewashing operation started in the early hours of Saturday morning with the announcement that Fisher had, for once in his career, done the decent thing. And there with a huge paintbrush in his hand was Gavin Barwell.
It continued later in the day with the issue of Fisher’s lengthy “apology” – in fact, little more than a party political statement. It has all the hallmarks of a statement written for Fisher, with him being forced to sign it with a metaphorical (we hope) gun to his head.
Dutifully, the local paper/party hacks managed to bury the really bad news – that four other Tory councillors, including a senior advisor to Boris Johnson and a parliamentary candidate, had all come close to making their own back-dated pay claims.
Croydon’s Labour group is busy braying for an inquiry. Doubtless, that will spend another five-figure sum of public money and finally report some time just before the election purdah period begins before the General Election, creating the maximum discomfort for Barwell in his parliamentary marginal seat. The privileges of using public money for political ends when in power, eh?
Barwell is entitled to be worried, and that is why the junior government whip took time on Friday – the day when his Tory-led government was being defeated in the Commons on the Bedroom Tax – to have his own private meeting with Fisher which persuaded him to quit as leader of the Tory group on the council.
Barwell wants to put a lid on all this as quickly as possible. His position as the MP for Croydon Central has been deeply imperiled by #WadGate, with its echoes of the MP expenses scandal from 2009. It has given him sleepless nights. “I haven’t had the best of weeks,” he told one of his Tory buddies.
The MP’s role in the unravelling of this whole scandal in the past week has been that of the puppeteer pulling all the strings, but wanting no one to notice at all. Sometimes, though, dear Gav just cannot help himself.
“Did nothing?” he bit back at someone who challenged him on Twitter. “Can’t imagine anyone has done more to get right outcome.”
Barwell has not elaborated on what he thinks is “the right outcome”. Should Fisher repay the money (or has all been spent already, on the local Tory campaign and other diversions)? Should Fisher resign as a councillor?
And is Barwell worried about the “right outcome” for the people of Croydon, or just for himself, Fisher and the Croydon Conservatives?
Barwell remains silent on this, while also refusing to endorse the calls for an inquiry (for the matter of political timing, outlined above).
But he has made one or two other intriguing remarks in the past 36 hours or so, including a threat of suing anyone who dares to suggest that he may have known more than he has so far let on.
“Mike clearly wasn’t open about it and has paid price,” Barwell said. “Who else are you saying knew?” he challenged.
Well clearly, Gav, those that knew about the possibility of claiming extra allowances includes: Steve O’Connell, Simon Hoar, Vidhi Mohan and Steve Hollands, plus Fisher’s deputies, Dudley Mead and Tim Pollard. At least. Because they were told by Fisher himself.
On Thursday, Pollard and Mead said, “Following the outcome of the local election held earlier this year, Councillor Fisher informed his former cabinet colleagues that he believed it was possible for any cabinet member serving between 2010 and May 2014 to claim some of the money they had voluntarily not taken whilst in office, if they individually wished to do so.”
So, having lost the election, Fisher was telling his closest colleagues to grab some cash while they still had the chance. Mead and Pollard said Fisher told this to his cabinet. This therefore could have included Sara Bashford, who just happens to work for Barwell as a constituency assistant, adding an estimated £28,000 public servant salary to her £43,339 cabinet member’s allowances.
Maybe Bashford never discusses council cabinet matters when doing her day job.
But the news yesterday that Hollands – who was not a council cabinet member – was also informed of the scheme and was one of four who admit to considering claiming the dosh suggests that Fisher’s magic circle of confidantes was wider than just the 10-strong cabinet. How much wider, Barwell’s not saying.
“My understanding [is that] none of these four knew Councillor Fisher had taken the money in 2013/14,” Barwell said when asked.
It is just not credible to suggest, though, that no one else knew Fisher claimed the cash. In their statement yesterday, O’Connell and Co. said that they had “…considered this carefully, and after dialogue with the council…” opted not to go the whole snout-in-the-trough hog and pocket the cash.
“Dialogue with the council” suggests that senior executives at the top of Croydon Council must have had the legal work done and cleared the payments, to Fisher and anyone who claimed them. If Barwell knows who those council officials are, he’s not saying.
Something else he’s tight-lipped about is his Friday chat with Fisher. This pre-empted what other Tory councillors have called their party’s “due process”, the meeting they called for Saturday to hold Fisher to account. Such a meeting might have prolonged the public embarrassment. But was Barwell also anxious that, subject to questioning in a more open forum, more damaging information might emerge?
Only the MP for the Whitgift Foundation can answer these mounting questions.
- #WadGate: O’Connell and Mohan join Fisher’s Infamous Five
- #WadGate: Fisher forced to resign as Croydon Tory leader
- #WadGate latest: Fisher’s deputies put pressure on him to go
- Tory leader Fisher is caught red-handed with £10,000 pay hike
- #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
- 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
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