The “Liberal” “Democrats” have moved to expel from their party an elected south London councillor who has dared to speak up on behalf of the residents he represents over the issue of air pollution and the construction of a vast waste incinerator in his ward.
Nick Mattey is the Sutton Council whistle-blower who earlier this year exposed how senior figures in his local LibDem Party were very close to executives at Viridor, the waste incinerator operators who Sutton and three other south London boroughs, including Croydon, had awarded a £1 billion deal to burn their rubbish for three decades.
Mattey also unearthed a £275,000 “gift” from a Viridor operation to a church in Wallington which is a regular host of Sutton LibDem events, and which Tom Brake, the LibDems’ last remaining MP in London, uses as a base in elections.
Such outspokenness by Mattey got the party whip removed from him at Sutton Council meetings, which in reality means not a great deal. “Effectively, they put me on the naughty step,” he told Inside Croydon.
But now the full might of what’s left of the Liberal Democratic Party has been brought against Mattey, with a view to kicking him out. And there we were thinking they needed all the help they can get.
Given the LibDems’ long-held reputation for having a more environmentally friendly stance than either Labour or the Tories, the party leadership’s attitude towards Mattey appears extremely intolerant, and risks long-lasting consequences for the party’s credibility in south London.
Last month, Mattey received notification of a hearing from Lord Tope, the Liberal Democrats’ president.
In his letter, Tope stated that he had been asked by the local party in Sutton to investigate a complaint against Mattey, claiming that the Beddington North councillor had “brought the party into disrepute” by expressing a point of view that differs from the policy of the LibDems on Sutton Council. Some might suggest that this clampdown on a difference of opinion is not very “Democratic”, and is far from being “Liberal”, too.
Until May last year, the LibDem group on Sutton Council included John Drage, who had been lifelong friends with the chief executive of Viridor, and who spent years on the committee of the South London Waste Partnership without ever thinking of mentioning this relationship until after the contract with Viridor had been agreed. When Mattey made some of these details public, Drage tried to change his story.
Although no longer a councillor, Drage now holds the influential position as chair of Sutton LibDems.
The LibDems on Sutton council, led by Ruth Dombey, also appear to have the right ‘ump with Mattey because he happened to support a (losing) independent candidate in a council by-election in June. The candidate, Duncan Mattey, stood on an anti-incinerator platform, and simply managed to split the (already small) Green vote. Nick Mattey happens to be Councillor Mattey’s son.
Tope’s charge sheet also includes complaint that Nick Mattey (and we quote from the LibDem Peer here): “…arranged for the ‘Stop the Incinerator Campaign Group’ to hold a noisy ‘anti-incinerator’ demonstration at the photo-shoot Tom [Brake] was holding with Nick Clegg on the open space on the opposite side of the road from [St Helier] hospital. There was loud chanting throughout Nick Clegg’s short speech”. Noisy! How dare they! Outrageous behaviour in a free society during an election… and all in an open and public space, too.
Clegg, as the Deputy Prime Minister in a Tory Government for the past five years, has never been accused of bringing the Liberal Democrats into disrepute. Though May’s General Election result might be used as evidence against him.
The incident outside St Helier was reported by Inside Croydon at the time because of the thuggish manner in which some LibDem activists behaved towards Emily Brothers, the Labour Party candidate in Sutton and Cheam who happens to be blind. According to the allegations against Mattey cited by Lord Tope, Brothers “did her best to disrupt the photo-shoot”.
Thus, Sutton LibDems have complained to their party president that Mattey is responsible because some activists’ boorish behaviour got them shown in a very bad light on local television bulletins, and dear old Nick Clegg was sent scurrying with his Special Branch minders for his Government car as matters got out of hand.
“Any of the large number of our members and helpers who were at the St Helier photo-shoot can substantiate that part of the complaint,” Mattey’s accusers have written. Or Tope can just ask the BBC or ITV for video of the shambolic photo-shoot and see for himself.
“Three councillors – Jean Crossby, Callum Morton and Richard Broadbent – sent complaints to the chair of the party… ” meaning the Viridor CEO’s bestie mate, John Drage… ” about Nick Mattey’s conduct at this event. Steve Cook and John and Elaine Drage observed Nick Mattey canvassing against the Lib Dem candidate in the Wallington South by-election and also distributing anti-LibDem literature.”
Mattey has been asked to respond to the charges against him, and his case will be considered at a meeting on September 9.
Today, Mattey has sent a letter to his erstwhile council leader, Dombey. Inside Croydon has seen Mattey’s email, in which he writes, “I will be arguing to Lord Tope that the Sutton faction of the LibDems has very little in common with core LibDem values of fairness and trying to protect the environment.
“My actions were designed to protect the people from you and your fellow apologists for the Burn It In Beddington policy.” There are 12 waste incinerators already operating or with planning permission along a short stretch of Beddington Lane, not far from the Sutton-Croydon borough boundary.
“… Sutton LibDems under the chairmanship John Drage… have become obsessed with helping Viridor to build an over-sized incinerator six miles south of the London extra-low emission zone,” Mattey wrote.
Mattey accuses Dombey and her colleagues of “acting contrary to the Nolan principles” – referring to the rules under which anyone holding public office is expected to conduct themselves. These include “integrity”, “objectivity”, “openness”, “honesty” and “accountability”.
In case Ruth Dombey or John Drage have forgotten what the Nolan Principles are, they can click here for a quick refresher.
Mattey says that he has “expressed legitimate concerns about the planning process” around the incinerator, including pressure being brought on one member of the Sutton planning committee to alter their decision.
The Stop the Incinerator Campaign failed in its attempt to stop the Beddington Lane incinerator through a Judicial Review, and building work is about to commence on constructing the vast industrial plant.
But Mattey’s letter to Dombey warns of further legal challenges to come: “This whole business will have to examined in the courts… If the council has misled the public about the impact of moving from landfill to incineration, they have perverted the planning process.”
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