Barwell’s bash offers Westfield influence for 400 quid

This is exactly the sort of story you can really dine out on.

Croydon Tories's Three Stooges, Phlip Philp, Barwell and the other one

Croydon Tories’ Three Stooges, Phlip Philp, Barwell and the other one who doesn’t really count much, even for the Croydon Conservatives

Gavin Barwell, the Tory MP for the Whitgift Foundation, is offering access and influence – “the inside track” no less – with  Westfield, the company behind the Croydon £1 billion shopping mall scheme, all for a mere 400 quid donation towards Conservative party funds.

The email invitations were sent out this week, signed jointly by Barwell and his new bestie mate, Chris “Phlip” Philp. Philp is the Tories’ chosen replacement for “Sir” Tricky Dicky Ottaway in Croydon South.

Philp and Barwell are seeking £400 from local businesses in return for a couple of dinners. The email contained not a single mention of the Croydon North constituency and the Tories’ woe-begone sacrificial “candidate” Vidhi Mohan. So clearly they won’t be wasting any of the money raised on campaigning there before next May’s General Election.

The first event of this “Croydon Business Club” is on November 10 at the Selsdon Park Hotel.

The hotel is notorious among political historians as the venue for a Ted Heath “brainstorming” weekend, which produced uber-right wing free market policy ideas and the notion of “Selsdon Man”. Perhaps Barwell and Philp – a fan of the rabid-right Freedom Association – have similar aspirations for their cosy little get-togethers?

How the Barwell/Philp email appeared - the linkage with the £1bn Hammersfield development is obvious

How the Barwell/Philp email appeared – the linkage with the £1bn Hammersfield development is obvious

Barwell has refused to stand down from his position on the Whitgift Foundation, claiming that there are no conflicts of interest between his role on the board of the multi-million-pound charity which is the freeholder of much of the property to be developed in the £1bn Hammersfield deal, and with his public role as MP for the area.

So imagine our surprise, then, to receive a Croydon Business Club email from Whitgift trustee Barwell which uses a Westfield image in its masthead, and to read that the guest of honour at their first event will be John Burton, the Westfield director.

“We very much hope to see you at the launch event to hear about Westfield’s plans for the town centre, and that you will be part of this select invitation-only group,” the Tory boys wrote.

“The intention is that Croydon Business Club membership subscriptions in the future (which will be £400 per year) will help fund local campaigns by Croydon Conservatives which ultimately help and support Croydon businesses.”

Burton, it is worth noting, was one of the enthusiastic speakers at the recent American-style campaign launch event for Barwell. Clearly, Burton thinks he knows which side his bread is buttered as far as local politics is concerned.

How MP Barwell and his Tory colleague have offered up access to Westfield at their fund-raising Business Club

How MP Barwell and his Tory party colleague have offered up “inside track” access to Westfield at their £400 a head, invitation-only fund-raising Business Club

Such fund-raising dining clubs are nothing new, of course. A decade ago, Russell Bell, a local solicitor, started a similar invitation dining club, though that failed to attract many from outside the inner circle of the local Conservative party.

But there is a touch of the Masonic and funny handshakes about this latest Barwell/Philp scheme; it is hardly the open and transparent activity you might hope for in 21st century business, or politics.

It may also be indicative of more systemic problems within the local Conservative party. How badly strapped for cash are they?

Croydon Tories have lost a lot of members, whose subscriptions and fund-raising will have contributed to campaign funds in the past. There was a Patrons’ Club, with a £250 per year membership fee, which appears to have failed to address the funding crisis. And we would wager that no one’s taken the gamble of asking Mike #WadGate Fisher whether he’s got a few bob stashed away.

It seems that the need for campaign funding, with a General Election just seven months away, has become all the more urgent, especially for Barwell’s marginal Croydon Central seat.

Nevertheless, flogging off cosy chats with the biggest developers in the town does represent a new low, even by crass Barwell’s usual craven standards.

The Barwell/Philp email blurb states: “The Croydon Business Club is a small and select invitation-only group which will meet at least three times a year over a private dinner. On each occasion there will be a speaker either from an interesting and relevant business background or a senior MP or Government Minister speaking about issues relevant to business. The dinners will provide the opportunity to hear and question the speaker, and to meet other like-minded Croydon businesspeople, local councillors and MPs in an informal setting.”

They continue: “The inaugural event on November 10th will include an informal talk by John Burton OBE, Westfield’s Director of Development, about their planned development in the town centre. The Westfield project will be one of London’s largest shopping centres. We will hear the inside track on the latest status of the project, the likely impact on the town centre and on the wider economic and transport implications for the Borough and beyond – including on the property market in the area. There will be the opportunity to ask questions about any aspect of the project. Local councillors and other representatives will also be available to discuss any other issues on your mind.”

Of course, local councillors and “other representatives” – like an MP – are public servants, elected to represent their ward or constituency,  and they should always be contactable about “issues on your mind”, and without anyone having to pay £400 for the privilege. Receiving money in return for lobbying parliament or the Town Hall would be utterly wrong, of course. And we are quite sure that that is not what is being offered here.

Thing is, the Croydon Business Club launch event on November 10 is free of charge, by invitation. So who has been invited?

Invitees are encouraged to RSVP to Philp’s personal email address, . Don’t you wonder what might happen if Barwell and Philp suddenly received hundreds of extra acceptances, all with “Re: Launch invite: Croydon Business Club”?

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4 Responses to Barwell’s bash offers Westfield influence for 400 quid

  1. davidcallam says:

    Croydon business people are being asked to suspend disbelief somewhat.
    They are being told they will receive ‘the inside track’ from John Burton on the Westfield development.
    Let’s suppose Mr Burton were silly enough to make an injudicious remark about some aspect of the new retail centre: the rest of us would know about it by tea time, that’s how news gathering works.
    All the details likely to be shared are already in the public domain; the most important one being the 12-month delay in the start and finish dates of Westfield Croydon to 2016 and 2019 respectively.
    If you have a spare £400, I can think of many more deserving causes.

  2. Better than Labour’s £1000 club.

    • Oh, I don’t know… £1,000 to meet the leader of a major political party, against 400 notes for a night with Gavin Barwell? It’s all political whoring, just one’s a lot cheaper than the other

  3. Pingback: EU. UK. Tory. Cameron. Il mondo è paese. - SENZANUBI

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