WALTER CRONXITE, our man in the Town Hall chamber with a Yorkie bar and half-finished crossword from that day’s Metro sticking out of his jacket pocket, reports on Monday’s council meeting, where all promises of doing civic business in a more civilised and democratic manner appear long forgotten
Pointedly, Tory councillors in the chamber applauded loudly when Osland’s nomination was announced, unlike for the four other retiring Conservatives granted the honour.
Like any self-respecting gang boss, Newman ensured he was well away from the scene of the “crime” when the deed was being done. Indeed, given Osland’s role in the failed investigation into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence – an infamous piece of recent black history – Newman gave himself a most fitting “alibi”. He was away at the launch of Black History Month in Croydon. A poignant absence.
As if to underline the point, when making his opening remarks at the start of the council meeting proper half an hour later, Newman could not stress enough what wonderful work they were doing at the Black History Month launch. That he had just attended. And where he had just been. It did seem as if he was laying it on a little bit thick…
Newman was not alone in managing to sidestep the awkward situation of actively supporting a civic honour for Osland: Hamida Ali and Alisa Flemming also sent their apologies because they were attending the same event, Bernadette Khan was absent, while Thornton Heath councillor, the elusive Matthew Kyeremeh, swerved the alderman vote by being late. None of them missed a proper vote, anyway: all five aldermen and alderwomen were voted for en bloc, and Mayor Manju Shahul-Hameed merely sought acclamation of “those in favour”. Those against didn’t get a say. Who would dare? That’s how civic democracy works.
Someone who was there, and making an appearance in the chamber for the first time in a while, was none other than Mike Fisher, now a mere backbencher. Not that he had much to say for himself; after #WadGate, you can’t help wondering how long it will be before Fisher feels it will be safe to make another contribution to a Town Hall debate. Will three years be enough?
In one sense, though, Fisher did make a contribution on Monday night. There, for the first time, were sheets of white paper with a set of names and numbers – the new, monthly information on councillors’ allowances.
This may prove to be the lasting legacy of #WadGate. According to the figures, between April 1 and August 31 this year, Fisher (in common with all other councillors) received £936.59 in members’ allowance; he was also paid £4,523.08 as his “special responsibility allowance”, or SRA, from April 1 to May 22 (the day he ceased being leader of the council); and a further £1,797.84 in SRA since June 3.
That’s a grand total of £7,257.51 received by Fisher from the ratepayers of Croydon for, I worked out on the back of an envelope, attending fewer than half a dozen meetings in five months. Bet he’s delighted.
In a meeting marred by ugly accusations and insinuations in a debate over the attempted sale of the old Ashburton Library, there were examples of councillor befuddlement, worries over conflicts of interest and confirmation that Tim Pollard is going to be dreadfully dull as the opposition leader.
Many more performances like this, and he risks becoming known as “Councillor Dullard”. He asked just two questions, one about a relationship between numbers and councillors’ names and the other about an unsolvable arithmetic equation.
Anyone in Croydon Tories looking for inspired leadership on his outing at a full council meeting will have been left sadly disappointed. Even Croydon Conservatives’ “leader in exile”, John Cartwright, aka John Loony, made more of an impact and raised much more of a good-humoured laugh with his supplementary questions from the public gallery.
The Conservatives, in a deliberate ploy, gave over more floor time to Vidhi Mohan, in an effort to promote his doomed campaign as their parliamentary candidate in Croydon North.
It’s hard to see that there will be many (if any) voters swayed in Croydon North next May by performances at council this October. Mohan clearly needs the practice with his public speaking and presentation skills, though.
Here was the Fairfield councillor with a petition about parking in Upper Norwood ward’s Carolina Road. Desperately trying to stir things up, Mohan described residents as feeling “neglected by their councillors and by their Labour MP”, and he delivered with the sort of force you might expect for a declaration of war on Germany, rather than a local parking issue.
It was Mohan who went in to bat first in the tense debate about the attempted sale of Ashburton’s old library building. He also asked five long, rambling questions which were not always fine examples of clarity of thought. But his efforts were well appreciated by John Wentworth, one of the elected councillors for Upper Norwood. “It’s good to see you’ve finally found out where Upper Norwood is,” Wentworth said.
Mohan’s northerly incursion left “Mr Upper Norwood” himself, Pat Ryan, all a fluster. The veteran Labour group whip got so excited, he forgot to switch his microphone on (someone had to do it for him), and he got the name of Carolina Road wrong, too. Maybe he thought he was back in 1997, as he referred to the parliamentary seat of Croydon North-West, a constituency abolished 17 years ago.
Ryan wasn’t the only long time-serving councillor to be caught out living in the past. At least in Dudley Mead’s case, he was only going back a few months.
So accustomed is the Tories’ deputy leader to being perpetually in charge of the council, he has obviously been confused by last May’s election result. He attacked “the opposition”, and then suddenly stopped himself when he realised his error. “Oh! We’re the opposition!” said Mead.
Somewhat eccentrically, Mead spoke proudly of an email that he had received that very afternoon from the chairman of the Whitgift Estate Residents’ Association. His correspondent had expressed his private concerns about the Labour council’s plans to charge £200 per property per year for a landlords’ licensing scheme. Unconvincingly, Mead said that he especially valued the criticisms of the scheme in the email as the sender had “always supported the Labour party”. It must be time for Labour to get canvassing on the exclusive estate…
Conflicts of interest were in evidence in the newly appointed opposition spokesperson on the arts, with Lynne Hale quoting from papers she had accessed as a director of the Fairfield Halls. She found herself asking questions of fellow Fairfield board member, Labour’s Timothy Godfrey, about much-needed spending on refurbishing the halls, which her Conservative group had been promising for eight years, but never managed to get round to doing.
The matter of openness and probity in public office was touched upon earlier in the evening with a public question from resident Charlotte Davies about the manifold conflicts of interest between councillors and the Whitgift Foundation and Fairfield Halls charities. A less than reassuring response from cabinet member Simon Hall was that under the Nolan Principles of public office, any declarations of “non-pecuniary interests” were entirely at the discretion of councillors. So that’s all right then.
The best idea from the meeting was the suggestion from Ian Hunter in the public gallery, who wants there be a lift to the 30th floor of the new tower of executive apartments to be built on the site of Taberner House, leading to a public viewing gallery over the North Downs and over Crystal Palace to London.
Hunter’s estimate of a £330,000 a year income from selling tickets for the view might seem a little optimistic. But even that was not enough to tempt Labour’s deputy leader Alison Butler to take up the innovative suggestion. The plans for the building “are not going to be altered,” Butler said.
Coming to Croydon
- The Goon Show, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 8-11
- David Lean Cinema: Boyhood, Oct 9
- Upper Norwood Library meeting, Oct 13
- David Lean Cinema: Grand Central, Oct 14
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- David Lean Cinema: Finding Vivian Maier, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Oct 18
- Purley War Memorial Hospital health fair, Oct 18
- David Lean Cinema: Mood Indigo, Oct 23
- This Was The World and I Was King, Spread Eagle, Oct 23-25
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, 2.30pm, Oct 25
- David Lean Cinema: Ilo Ilo, Oct 28
- CODA’s Wind In The Willows, Charles Cryer, Carshalton, Oct 29-Nov 1
- David Lean Cinema: Belle, Oct 30
- NHS free health fair, Central Parade, New Addington, Oct 31
- St Giles School opening morning, Nov 5
- 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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