WALTER CRONXITE, our man in the public gallery with a Twix bar and a copy of the Racing Post, offers the inside information on what passes for a reshuffle at the Town Hall
It was the sort of “hit” that would have made Tony Soprano proud.The news was distributed just as the majority of Labour’s 40 councillors were sitting down for the out-going Mayor’s farewell charity dinner last Friday. The official email from the council leader’s office dropped into the cabinet members’ inboxes on their official Blackberries, and included all the details of a reshuffle of the key cabinet jobs at Croydon Town Hall.
As reshuffles go, it was quite modest. The principal casualty, left “sleeping with the fishes”, as Soprano might have put it, is veteran Pat Ryan, who has been sacked as Labour’s chief whip on the council.
It is a bitter blow to the septugenarian Upper Norwood councillor, despite his fierce loyalty to the Croydon Labour leader, Tony Newman.
And it demonstrates that Newman is prepared to abandon any sentimentality when it comes to dispensing with his patronage in the next three years of this Labour council.
Ryan is replaced as chief whip by Oliver Lewis, a rising star of the Labour group who has the advantage over Ryan of being around 50 years younger. After just one year as a councillor for New Addington, Lewis is moved from his deputy role in culture and leisure where he is replaced in that brief by another of Newman’s new boys, Stephen Mann.
It is fair to say that the 6ft 7in tall Mann is an outstanding figure, though it seems likely that the Ashburton activist, given this promotion, may not now pursue selection as his party’s candidate for the London Assembly as some had suggested was possible.
Newman must be delighted with how things have gone for his Labour council in its first year: he has made no changes whatsoever to his front bench team.
Where he has made a few adjustments is in the deputy briefs: Manju Shahul-Hameed, after a year going around the borough dressed like something off Trumpton as mayor, takes on the Housing deputyship (Sherwan Chowdhury gets the elbow, and the pay cut), and a real rising star, Hamida Ali, is moved from “safety and justice” to the important role of deputy on Finance.
Presumably Ali will be expected to keep a closer check on what cabinet member Simon Hall includes in his official reports than Humayun Kabir managed last year.
Kabir is shifted into the economic development deputy spot left vacant by Wayne Lawlor’s appointment as deputy mayor. Lawlor’s “press and PR” responsibilities for the Labour group have been passed to Andrew Rendle, who presumably does know how to use a spell-check.
Last night’s “mayor-making” was the usual fantasy nonsense (with all due respect to Patricia Hay-Justice, who steps up to the role for the next 12 months), complete with all the brassy gongs and silly tricorn hats. No actual 21st century business, involving the running of the borough’s affairs, was done.
Croydon’s Council Tax-payers may wish to note that the last full meeting of the council was more than a month ago. The last time the very well-paid cabinet members met for a cabinet meeting was more than two months ago, on March 16. The next Croydon cabinet meeting won’t take place until June 22. Cushty.
Indeed, while most of Croydon’s 70 Labour and Tory councillors have been spending so much time trying to get one of their political mates elected to parliament during the General Election campaign, they have been paid a grand total of
in councillor allowances and “special responsibility allowances” – the bonuses to loyalists for doing as the council leader requires. All paid out in just two months.
That’s based on the figures for December 2014 – Councillor Newman had said that council allowances would be published monthly, but it is now nearly six months since that page of the council website was updated.
Last night the meeting also involved a standing ovation for a mere hack: Ian Austen, who is retiring after 46 years as a local government reporter with the Sadvertiser. And it was announced that at the next council meeting, Austen is to be made a Freeman of the Borough.
According to the council’s own website, Austen will become only the 40th Freeman of Croydon since 1897 – though we think the council may need to update this page of its website, too, since it doesn’t include Malcolm Wicks, who was given the honour posthumously in 2012.Austen will be added to a list of august names which include two Archbishops of Canterbury, a Marshal of the Royal Air Force in Arthur Tedder – the deputy commander of Operation Overlord, the 1944 Normandy Landings – plus the former Speaker of the House of Commons, Bernard Weatherill, and Field Marshal the Rt Hon Earl Roberts of Kandahar, VC, KG, KP, OM.
Roberts is an interesting historical figure: as the commander of British and Empire forces during the Boer War, he has a good deal of responsibility for the invention of the concentration camp, another of Britain’s contributions to “civilisation”.
And what has Austen done to join such company?
Why, he’s done his job. For a very long time. Very well done.
The inappropriateness for any journalist accepting any sort of honour from those he or she has been supposedly scrutinising ought to be obvious. But hey, that’s how Croydon’s Establishment rocks. We’re sure the Sadvertiser will be delighted for him.
At least Pat Ryan’s fall from grace is cushioned slightly by his being given the chairmanship (and a few bob extra on his allowances) of the General Purposes and Audit Committee.
There is no such consolation for Andrew Pelling, the former Tory council leader, London Assembly Member and Conservative MP. Despite helping Labour to win control of the council last year by being one of three councillors elected for Waddon ward, Pelling has been cast out into the outer reaches of the back benches, his decades of experience of local government and inside knowledge of how the Tories work apparently not needed by hit-man Newman.
After a year sulking at the back of council meetings and diligently turning up as a member of the important Scrutiny committee, Pelling’s now been dropped from that role, too. Did he ask too many awkward questions, perhaps? In addition to his work in the ward, Pelling’s only additional responsibilities now are the likes of the “Mobility Forum” and the “Coulsdon and District Day Nursery Fund”.
Which pretty much amounts to being “rubbed out”, in the sort of terms that Tony Soprano might understand.
But then, Soprano always used to believe in keeping his friends close, his enemies closer still. What might Pelling get up to around the Town Hall if he isn’t kept busy with council business?
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