The Croydon Labour brains trust (ha!) that is running the Town Hall has managed to score yet another political own-goal, handing a gilt-edged opportunity for Gavin Barwell, the MP for the Whitgift Foundation, to boost his flagging credibility.
From the same people that brought you the shambles over whether or not they were going to sell-off school playing fields, and from the same top team that promised not to close Purley Pool, then announced plans to close the pool just before the General Election, only then to do a double back flip with pike off the top board to reverse the closure decision, we now bring you: Political Propaganda on the Rates.
Let us be clear: at any time in an economic cycle, but especially when ever-deeper cuts in services are being made, it is wrong to spend Council Tax money for what amounts to political messaging.
The posters have been going up this week all over the centre of town. It looks like Labour, just eight months after taking over at the council, are suffering a bad case of “getting their excuses in first”, as cuts in local authority funding continue to bite. Last May’s “Ambitious for Croydon” slogan is a fast-fading memory.
When Tony Newman, Labour’s council leader, and Simon Hall, his finance expert in the council cabinet, let slip about the Purley Pool closure before Christmas, they did so without any consideration for the (non-existent) General Election chances of Labour’s candidate in Croydon South, the Hon Emily Benn.
They got away with that political blunder because no one, not even Benn, believes she has any chance of overcoming the Tories’ 16,000 majority in the Croydon South constituency.
With the new poster campaign, though, Newman, Hall and whoever decided to sign-off on such a self-serving waste of tax-payers’ money have kicked the ball into the back of their own net with gusto. Labour did have strong hopes of winning the Croydon Central parliamentary seat from the Tories, but these clumsily pathetic posters are unlikely to help.
Today, Sarah Jones, Labour’s Croydon Central candidate, is having to face distracting questions such as, “Do you agree with a Labour council spending money on political propaganda posters at a time of cut-backs?” It’s not as if Jones hasn’t got enough to worry about: Harriet Harman is due in town next Wednesday, possibly driving that other non-story, Labour wimmin’s pink mini-bus.
With one ill-considered decision on a van’s paint job, Labour nationally has allowed the largely Tory-supporting mainstream media to obsess on the colour of their transport, rather than the message that they hoped it would convey around the country.
And in Croydon, with his latest inept decision, Newman has handed Barwell a stick with which to beat a few floating voters back from voting for Jones.
Yet Barwell, being Barwell, may have just managed to pluck defeat from the jaws of a small victory.
The Croydon Central Tory MP was quick on to his blog yesterday, crowing about this waste of tax-payers’ money by Labour-run Croydon Council. Barwell’s selective amnesia overlooks the times between 2006 and 2014, usually when an election was coming up, that the then Conservative-run council likewise abused its position, spending our money to try to score some political point or other. But hey, we’ve come to expect no better.
Barwell is paid a salary of £92,362 per year out of taxpayers’ money. We tax-payers also pay for his constituency and parliamentary offices and expenses, and we also pay for him to have the support of six (!) full- and part-time staff. So any time that Barwell or his staff spend writing blogs to enhance his election chances, posting them online and then, as he did yesterday, going to the trouble of sending emails to all and sundry on his mailing list, it is likely to incur some cost to us, the tax-payers.
Barwell’s blog was headlined, “Council Taxpayers money being used to fund political propaganda”. Oh, the irony.
Barwell’s very act of highlighting the council posters – rather than dealing with some important piece of constituency case work instead – was just the latest example of his crass hypocrisy and arse-saving opportunism. And it could see Barwell costing all of us Council Tax-payers thousands of pounds more as a consequence of his political point-scoring.
Unusually for Barwell, he opted not to launch yet another data-scraping petition (which is where he is suspected of gleaning people’s personal details). Instead, this time the Tory MP wrote on his website and in a widely distributed email (the version we’ve seen was timed at 4.13pm, so clearly done during office hours, and it was sent from his official parliamentary email address, firstname.lastname@example.org): “I’d encourage you to email the Council’s Chief Executive Nathan Elvery at email@example.com to let him know how you feel about this misuse of your hard-earned money.”
Every piece of correspondence handled by Croydon Council has to be considered and responded to by council officials. Every piece of correspondence to the council CEO ought to receive a proper reply. Even using email, with the time of council staff involved, all of that has a cost. Let’s say that each reply might cost £10 to administer (a tenner is the fee many boroughs charge residents if they request an official document, for the time involved, so it seems in the right ballpark).
In 2010, the Croydon Central constituency had around 75,000 registered voters. Barwell and his state-funded team of Tory Party councillors and workers have spent nearly five years building up their mailing list. Let’s imagine that just 1 per cent of those 75,000 who live in Croydon Central, who have read Barwell’s entreaty on his website or have received his helpfully hot-linked email then decide to act on their MP’s encouragement and write to Nathan Elvery at Croydon Council.
That could cost the people of Croydon the tidy sum of
all as a result of a bit of political grandstanding by gaffe-prone Gav, as he abuses his parliamentary email address and spends his tax-payer funded time trying to cling on to power.
And thus we are reminded, yet again, of how ill-served are the people of Croydon by the local political clique.
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