It was not only the gobby fac totem of a local MP who power-steered his way into a car crash interview last week. The leader of the council, Tony Newman, was at it as well.
Croydon’s #PosterGate took an inevitable turn at the start of the week when, caught red-handed, the Labour-run council had no alternative but to order that its “political propaganda on the rates” posters should be removed from billboards around the borough.
With a ward by-election declared for Selhurst, the Labour-run council ought never to have given the go-ahead for the poster campaign at this time. And no council, of any affiliation, should ever be spending Council Tax-payers’ money to further their particular political message, at any time.
This is just the latest clusterfuck under the leadership of Newman, following the shambles over whether or not it is his council’s policy to sell-off school playing fields, and the flip-flopping decision over whether to close Purley Pool. But who is actually responsible for drafting the copy on the posters and the decision to plaster the borough’s streets with the party political posters remains a mystery.
The council’s £180,000 a year chief executive, Nathan Elvery, ought to take responsibility for this latest episode of incompetence, because he also receives an undisclosed additional five-figure sum – his close colleague, Borough Solicitor Julie Belvir, refuses to reveal exactly how much because it is a “private” matter – as Croydon’s returning officer, in charge of ensuring that all elections in the borough are properly and fairly run.
So with #PosterGate, CEO Elvery presided over the local authority issuing the politically charged posters, which will have been in breach of strict election purdah rules which returning officer Elvery is supposed to be upholding. If Elvery worked for any organisation other than Croydon Council, he would have been shown the door long ago.
The council’s errors in commissioning and then distributing the posters could be about to be compounded.
A Katharine Street insider has told Inside Croydon that the party political message of the council posters is all set to be repeated in leaflets accompanying the Council Tax demands which are about to be posted through the letter boxes of every household in the borough, including those in Selhurst ward, potentially in the days immediately before that by-election on March 5. Only if the council delays the Council Tax notification until March 6 or later will they avoid serious legal complications over the by-election.
Newman’s supporters justify the leaflets by pointing to the 2014 Council Tax demand notifications, sent out in the weeks before the local elections and containing Croydon Tories’ £25 Council Tax rebate, or “bribe” as it is more accurately described. The Newmanites don’t seem to understand the principle of two “wrongs” not making a “right”.
So soon into the new administration, Croydon Labour insiders are growing increasingly alarmed at the cack-handedness of the local leadership at the Town Hall. “We should be better than this,” one senior figure sighed this week.
Newman’s short-fuse was fully exposed in an interview with a Dorking-based weekly newspaper, in which the council leader seriously tried to suggest that the posters were nothing to do with him, guv, except at “strategic level” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) and that they had been entirely the work of the council’s own press office, without any political input from the Labour group. Is that in any way credible?
We reproduce here extracts from the transcript of the interview with the Sadvertiser (for it was they, in a particularly fruitful week for baiting third-rate politicos). We do so simply because if you didn’t see it for yourself, you could not believe that a senior local London politician could possible be so inept, both in terms of buck-passing (to council officials, something which elected councillors are supposed to never do) and simple mishandling of a situation that they ought never have allowed to arise.
Oh, and not to forget the unmitigated bullshit, too.
Advertiser (CA): Did you or any other politician have an input into the posters? Did you see the posters before they went out?
Tony Newman (TN): “No, they were signed-off by our communications team. You’ve seen the statement.”
CA: I saw that. Did you know about the wording before it went out?
TN: “No, it was signed off by our communications team.”
CA: Who came up with the idea?
TN: “We’ve got a fantastic communications team.”
CA: It was all them? There was no input from members [meaning elected councillors]?
TN: “No, the member input was very much at a strategic level which is to drive home the fair funding for Croydon thing, which is a wider thing, and to drive home the fact that any debate around the council tax has to be in the context of huge government cuts to funding for Croydon.
“The wording and design was down to the communications team.
“We made it very clear we wanted to put a message out about the context and we trust our communications team with the details.”
CA: So you asked them to put the posters out?
TN: “I’ve nothing else to add to what I said.”
Except that Newman had considerably more to add, as he went on to attempt to blame Tory MP Gavin Barwell, the Selhurst by-election, Lee Harvey Oswald, the council “communications” team, Bobbie Beale and almost anyone else for #PosterGate.
What he refused to do was to take any responsibility himself. Which is a little worrying, given that Newman’s supposed to be the “leader” of the council.
But the clincher came when Newman was asked what he meant by “strategic direction”. It was as if someone had mentioned 27 per cent…
Newman actually said that it was “not important” who had authorised the posters, or the message that they contained.
So we have a situation in which Nathan Elvery, as the borough’s returning officer, really ought to be sanctioning himself as the council CEO for a breach of election purdah, while Tony Newman, leader of Croydon Council, does not think it is important who authorises the message, spending and distribution of propagandist posters around the borough in the name of the council, although he does concede that neither he nor any senior elected members of his council cabinet bothered to supervise or sign-off on such poster campaigns.
And these people are running the council?
- Barwell aide: ‘Gavin has no idea. He trusts me to do whatever’
- Poster propaganda prompts Barwell into another costly error
- Labour and the hidden agenda as Elvery is given council’s top job
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