This is exactly the sort of story you can really dine out on.
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?
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.
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, email@example.com . 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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Coming to Croydon
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 2
- World War I centenary concert, Ruskin House, Nov 2
- MOPAC policing meeting, Surrey Street, Nov 4
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 4
- St Giles School opening morning, Nov 5
- David Lean Cinema: Two Days, One Night, Nov 6
- Park Hill School fireworks display, Nov 7
- Grange Park bulb-planting event, Nov 8
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 9
- Brook recording studio open day and party, Nov 9
- David Lean Cinema, Paths of Glory, Nov 11
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- David Lean Cinema, Ida, Nov 13
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Nov 14
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 16
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 17
- David Lean Cinema, Effie Gray, Nov 20
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- David Lean Cinema, Lilting, Nov 22
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 23
- David Lean Cinema, Wakolda, Nov 27
- 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
- Coulsdon Yulefest, Dec 6-7
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Dec 7
- 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