Croydon’s Tory group on the council is feeling the financial pressure, and some elected councillors have been issued with warnings by local Conservative officials after failing to make payments from their council allowances into the campaign fund being used to help Gavin Barwell be re-elected as MP for Croydon Central.
“Members were threatened with expulsion from the group if they didn’t pay,” a well-placed Town Hall source has claimed.
And as the pressure mounts, there is even a suggestion of a growing rift within the much- diminished Conservative group at the Town Hall, where their new leader, Tim Pollard, with his downbeat, bank manager’s demeanour, has failed to impress in his first months in charge.
Inside Croydon has reported before on the borough’s Conservatives’ struggles to recruit new, and younger members. Octagenarians such as Anne Piles are unlikely to reduce the average age of Croydon Conservatives, while “dual members” such as UKIP’s Peter Morgan, only demonstrate the Tories’ “anyone will do” desperation.
Not even a recent “Casino Night”, at the Old Whitgiftians Association staged for Conservative Future, the Tory youth wing, has managed to transform the party’s fortunes, and finances.
Some back-bench Tory councillors feel disengaged by the entire process. “The lightweights at the back haven’t been incorporated at all into the group,” our source said. “It’s a wonder half of them even turn up.”
And the numbers game is important for the coffers of the local parties, Labour as well as the Conservatives, as each operates a system under which their various councillors pay a proportion of their council allowances towards party campaign funds.
Before the local elections last May, the Conservatives had 37 councillors, between them receiving nearly £1 million a year in “allowances” from the council. A good chunk of that public money will have gone straight from the councillors’ bank accounts into a Conservative political campaign fund.
All councillors receive £11,239 as the basic allowance, but many have that topped up with SRAs – “special responsibility allowance” – as cabinet members or deputy cabinet members.
Since losing control of the council to Labour last May, the Tories not only have seven fewer councillors to pay into their political fund, but they are all being paid less in allowances now they are only in opposition. For example, Dudley Mead, as Tory deputy leader and cabinet member, was getting a cushty £46,485 a year to top up his pension pot and pay his green fees at his golf club before May last year; now, Dudley has to struggle on with “just” £20,275.08 per year as an opposition spokesman.
Coulsdon councillor Chris Wright (who he, Ed?) was previously getting £21,371 for doing whatever he did when the Tories were in power; since going into opposition, Wright’s having to scrape by on the basic £11,239.08.
And since losing the election and being forced into resigning as Tory group leader over #WadGate, Fisher’s seen his allowances pay packet shrink by more than £60,000. There are few showing much sympathy, however.
According to our source inside the Conservatives’ headquarters bunker in Purley, Fisher’s downfall (© Arfur Towcrate) has seen a change in the Tories’ internal rules for councillors’ contributions to the political levy.
“Group rules were changed, with members given a ‘three misses and you’re out’ warning,” the Purley mole tells us. “Anyone who was behind was given a slapped wrist.
“The interesting thing was that prior accounts weren’t looked into, and the group changed bank accounts, so all history was removed.
“Although he was getting the highest salary, Councillor Fisher’s council allowances did not contribute to the group funds.
“Currently group members are expected to give £45 a month out of their council allowance, which is being spent on helping prop up Gavin in the hope he might cling on for another five years.”
With the General Election coming up, the drop in income could not have come at a worse time. Not only is income low in the Croydon Tory group, but morale seems to be on the floor, also. “Leader Tim Pollard is hugely unpopular within the ranks. He only got selected due to a lack of opposition,” our source suggests.
“There is a real feeling within the ranks that there is a severe lack of talent of anyone to become leader. Membership continues to fall with little fresh new blood, despite Mario Creatura attempting to mould the Conservative Future bunch into something more substantial.”
As well as being a Coulsdon councillor, Creatura, of course, is also the state-funded tea boy in Barwell’s MP’s office. According to our source, Creatura is collaborating with shadow cabinet member Jason Cummings. “Pollard’s lack of loyalty to Fisher didn’t help. Potentially, there will be a lot of change in the Tory list of candidates in 2018, with Cummings and Creatura-moulded candidates set to help them climb. There may be some one-term councillors added to the dead wood to clean up space.
“Pollard can do little to keep the troops in order other than try to look clever, thinking he knows it all with regards to communications. The group has had to play fiddle to the leadership for too long. Only with strong leadership will we be able to put up strong opposition to Tony Newman’s idiocy. And Pollard is not that.
“But if Gavin loses, there may be more changes to come.”
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