#WadGate: The questions that Barwell has failed to answer

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.

Whitewash brush“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.

"How we going to dig our way out of this one, Gav?" "Leave it with me, Mike. No one will ever notice..."

“How we going to dig our way out of this one, Gav?” “Leave it with me, Mike. No one will ever notice…”

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?

Ex-councillor Simon Hoar in happier times, when he was celebrating the news that he could claim more council allowances

Ex-councillor Simon Hoar in happier times, when he was celebrating the news that he could claim more in council allowances

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.

Coming to Croydon

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2015 General Election, Croydon Central, Croydon Council, Dudley Mead, Gavin Barwell, Julie Belvir, Mike Fisher, Nathan Elvery, Sara Bashford, Shirley, Simon Hoar, Steve Hollands, Steve O'Connell, Tim Pollard, Vidhi Mohan and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to #WadGate: The questions that Barwell has failed to answer

  1. If you continue to press the Honourable Member for the Whitgift Foundation any further he is bound to tell you that he has done everything to the best of his ability.

    This frequently repeated mantra of his is truly Delphic in its density and its vagueness, an unusual combination!

  2. Has anyone asked the External Auditors Grant Thornton how they can possibly have given the Borough a clean audit opinion in all aspects and yet it is possible for £10,000 to be spirited out by the Leader of the local Conservatives without anyone noticing?

  3. derekthrower says:

    Shouldn’t Gav be claiming some expenses also?

    It appears that he has been running the local authority and the Conservative councillors while moonlighting as an MP. What a multi-tasker.

    Funny how details are starting to ooze out of the council now.

    • Gav’s already claiming expenses as an MP. We’re all paying for his office window cleaner (why Mario can’t do it, I have no idea), and for a TV licence so that Councillor Creatura can watch CBeebies all day…

  4. Mike Fisher has not done anything illegal. The allowance increase was recommended and he took it. Were council procedures followed? I don’t know.

    Wait till the MPs claim their 9% pay rise which they are going to say they have to take it. Are you going to ask 654 MPs to resign?

    • No Patrick. But if any one of three Croydon MPs tell the public they will not take the pay increase, and then pocket it in secret, as Fisher did, we shall call for their resignation, too.

      And that a prominent member of the Croydon Conservatives – other than Anne Piles – continues defend the indefensible is noted.

  5. Anne Giles says:

    I haven’t defended anyone, as it happens. I have merely said that there is no need to go and on and on about it. He did wrong. He resigned. He apologised. I like the man, as it happens and he does work very hard. If a man has to give up his job in order to become Leader of the Council, then he deserves a good salary. Unfortunately, he went about it the wrong way.

  6. Anne Giles says:

    Actually, it was rather funny. I love those Hitler rants.

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