WALTER CRONXITE reports on the end of a councillor’s silent tribute to his party’s leadership at the Town Hall
A Labour councillor used Monday’s full meeting of the council – only the second such meeting held since March – to complain that he has been gagged by his own council leader.
Andrew Pelling, a councillor for Waddon ward, had not made a speech to the Town Hall chamber since being elected nearly 18 months ago.
Pelling finally got his opportunity to make his maiden speech on Monday night and told the meeting: “At this rate, I hope that I shall be given the opportunity to speak once more before the next local elections.”
The next Croydon Town Hall elections will be in May 2018.
We think he was joking, and there may have been some laughter from both sides of the council chamber. In reality, the joke is on Croydon residents, as voters, if the people we elect as councillors are only rarely allowed to address the council, and at the say-so of the leader of the council.
As a former Tory MP, London Assembly Member and leader of the Conservatives on the council, Pelling has been viewed with suspicion by Croydon’s Labour group leadership since he joined their party in 2011. Pelling did not help his cause with his leader, Tony Newman, by protesting against the cart-before-horse closure of nominations for the group’s leadership before the local elections were held last year.
Pelling joined with the late Gerry Ryan, the former Selhurst councillor, in putting their names forward for group leadership as a criticism of what they saw as a stitch-up to keep Newman in power even if he were to suffer his third election defeat. When Labour won the local elections, Pelling and Ryan both withdrew their nominations.
Pelling was the Conservative MP for Croydon Central from 2005, but had the Tory whip removed from him at Westminster and declined to take it back when he was offered it on the condition that he would not seek re-election at the 2010 General Election, an offer Pelling described at the time as “come back and die”. Instead, Pelling stood as an independent in 2010.
Before being elected to Parliament, Pelling had been a Croydon councillor from 1982 until 2006, acting as deputy leader of Croydon’s Tories from 1996 to 2002, and leader of the Conservative opposition for three years to 2005. As such, he has more political experience than most on Croydon’s now Labour-run council, but he has found himself increasingly marginalised on the back benches.
The one-time Inside Croydon contributor has even been banned from blogging by Newman, a blog ban that does not appear to apply to other Labour councillors, who have been free to contribute to Tory-run astroturfing sites.
Pelling might have had an opportunity to make his second maiden speech sooner, but he gave up his slot to another Waddon councilllor.
On Monday, Pelling’s marginalisation was demonstrated when he became the last of the new councillors elected in 2014 to be allowed to speak. Councillors elected at by-elections in the interim have been allowed their maiden speeches long before Pelling, while many others have been allowed to speak numerous times.
It is understood that Pelling has also complained in private meetings that even his written questions to the leader and cabinet members have been doctored before being published for council meetings.
To rub salt into Pelling’s wounds, for those not able to spend their Monday evening in the public gallery at the Town Hall, it was impossible to witness the councillor’s speech: the council’s webcast failed to function. Even a promised audio recording has failed yet to be published on the council website. Suggestions that Newman was in any way involved in this webcast black-out have been robustly refuted by sources at the Town Hall.
According to those who were there, the speech was worth waiting for a year and a half. Stephen Mann, another newbie Labour councillor, from Ashburton ward (and despite his youth, already promoted to deputy cabinet member status), tweeted approvingly: “Good to see @andrewpelling make his second maiden speech in the town hall. I don’t think I was alive for the first one!”
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