Sutton LibDems’ suspension of Councillor Nick Mattey could have a damaging impact on the General Election campaign in their parliamentary constituencies, reports WALTER CRONXITE
Tom Brake’s efforts to be re-elected as MP for Carshalton and Wallington, the seat he has held for the Liberal Democrats since 1997, seems certain to become ever more mired in controversy over the Beddington Lane incinerator, Viridor’s £275,000 donation to a local church, and the suspension of a local councillor in Sutton.
Brake was the Deputy Leader of the House in the previous ConDem coalition government, and despite the LibDems nosediving in the polls elsewhere, he had seemed set-fair to maintain his advantage over the Tories. Their candidate is the heir presumptive to the inherited baronetcy of Constable Maxwell-Scott of Haggerston, a former Wandsworth councillor who is so posh that he has refused to canvass for Gavin Barwell in the Conservative marginal of Croydon Central.
But the revelation that incinerator operators gave £275,000 to the Holy Trinity church in Wallington, a favoured venue for Brake and Sutton LibDems to stage events and as a base for their election canvassing, could be just the sort of adverse publicity which undermines the government minister’s hard-won 5,000-vote majority.
Viridor has been given planning permission by LibDem-controlled Sutton for a controversial industrial-scale incinerator at Beddington Lane, on the borough boundary with Croydon. The company has a 25-year contract, worth £1 billion, with the South London Waste Partnership, which comprises Sutton, Croydon, Merton and Kingston.
John Drage, the chairman of Sutton LibDems, has admitted to being a long-standing friend and former business colleague of Viridor’s chief executive, Colin Drummond.
Although he was not a member of the planning committee, the then Councillor Drage spoke at the 2013 meeting to determine whether to grant Viridor permission to build the incinerator. When a Sutton councillor, Drage also listed the Holy Trinity church among his declarable interests.
Elaine Drage, his wife, is Brake’s election agent. Between them, the couple have sponsored Brake with nearly £5,000 since last August.
Councillor Margaret Court, who represents Wandle Valley ward, also has links to the same church. She was a member of the council planning committee when the Viridor application was considered; having abstained at the first meeting, Court voted in favour of granting permission when the committee re-convened. And Court’s fellow Wandle Valley councillor, Paddy Kane, was appointed by the council to a liaison group working with Viridor.
The large donation by Viridor to a suburban church – among religious buildings, they only gave more to Canterbury Cathedral and Glastonbury Abbey – came to light this week in a letter sent by Beddington North councillor, Nick Mattey, to his fellow LibDems on Sutton Council. Yesterday, Mattey was suspended by the LibDem group.
If Sutton LibDems thought that, with the General Election just three weeks away, Mattey would go quietly, they may have miscalculated very badly.
What follows is the email which Mattey has sent as a reply to Steve Penneck, the party’s chief whip at the council, and the council leader, Ruth Dombey:
Thank you for your email about my suspension
I will be pleased to disassociate myself from the current LibDem administration that run Sutton Council. I will call myself a Liberal Democrat Councillor as I am a Liberal Democrat member who is an elected councillor.
I went into politics to help people, not to harm them nor the health of their children.
I openly admit I have been critical of this council’s ambition to burn millions of tonnes of rubbish in my ward and I accept my suspension from the group as confirmation that I am acting correctly. If you are as concerned as I am about the Holy Trinity church hall donation, I can tell you that this was first mentioned to me by a councillor and a resident.
They wanted to know why a church hall of little architectural merit located a considerable distance from a landfill site received £275,000 and why buildings in Beddington got a lot less. [I] would be failing in my duty if I did not raise the matter.
My dealings in the Council
I had asked you to look into my treatment at the hands of Mr Bolger [Niall Bolger, Sutton Council’s chief executive] in July 2014, since then you and Ruth have told me nothing despite my voicing deep concerns on this matter.
When an unelected official tells me I must retract emails because of the fear of a Freedom of Information request, something is wrong. When Mr Bolger said that I would have no immunity from action in the civil courts if my actions affected the Judicial Review, then something is seriously remiss. A council which finds this lecturing by an officer to an elected member acceptable does not really understand the concept of a democracy
I don’t want to be reprimanded by Liberal Democrats because I talk to Greens, Labour and Conservatives.
Politics is not about tribalism. It’s about finding common ground. The bussing-in of supporters and the distribution of placards by Mr Drage at St Helier on Monday was disturbing as was Mary Burstow’s [the Cheam councillor] account of events in her Blog. This behaviour in front of the cameras and in full view of the public must stop as it must be very disconcerting for the people who elected us.
Dealing with critics of the incinerator
The council should not run scared from critics and wrap itself in secrecy because an incinerator is under attack. The people who are critical of our environmental approach want to protect our planet. They are not our enemies but are natural allies.
I believe in an open society that eschews hiding the decision-making process.
Privacy and speaking freely
I do not like it when an employee of Viridor tells me that any email I send to Viridor has to be sent to the South London Waste Partnership. I also find it sad that I can be asked to leave a public HEB [Health and Well-being] meeting because I dare to link pollution to Opportunity Sutton Limited.
Liberal Democrats are meant to be creating a better and fairer society. They should not spend vast sums on public relations, their actions should not require constant defence in the media. My duty is to the people who elected me and to the traditions of a liberal democracy. I am proud that I can do some good for society. I am also pleased that I no longer need to be an apologist for the vested interested interests of big business.
People are dying prematurely from air pollution. This will continue if left unchecked.
I hope that Ruth will do the decent thing and start leading the council in a more environmentally responsible way and stop supporting Viridor.
- Tom Brake link to church donation from incinerator company
- The brave letter that got Sutton councillor suspended
- LibDems accused of bullying blind woman at Clegg rally
- Nick Clegg feels the heat from anti-incinerator protesters
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