CROYDON COMMENTARY: If our council really wants to improve the borough’s reputation, then they need to consider carefully their own behaviour, writes STEVEN DOWNES
Council leader Tony Newman is suffering a credibility deficit, as fewer than 1 in 5 of Inside Croydon readers believe his two mates, John Wentworth and Pat Ryan, when they tried to claim that they were only “checking the score” when caught watching live football on an iPad in the Town Hall chamber during a council meeting on Monday.
Palace fans, and sometime councillors, Wentworth and Ryan issued somewhat grudging apologies for their abject conduct this week. But like naughty schoolboys with their fingers crossed behind their backs when caught red-handed, their explanations have been dismissed as insincere.
Both senior councillors receive enhanced council “allowances” of more than £20,000 per year, paid for by Council Tax-payers. And it was Council Tax-payers who were in the public gallery on Monday night who expressed disgust with Ryan and Wentworth’s behaviour.
Neither of the councillors, who are both supposed to represent the people of Upper Norwood, made any contribution to the business of the meeting on Monday. But they did enjoy mince pies and mulled wine in the Mayor’s Parlour afterwards, perhaps while discussing Alan Pardew’s January signings, rather than the many redundancies that they are imposing on council workers and the Fairfield Halls.
The news of the football-watching councillors made it to the national press, and it is sure to further damage Newman’s credibility as the council leader, since he has taken no public disciplinary action against the pair.
Indeed, Newman seems certain to face more public anger and hans yet another political initiative to the opposition Tories, as he has also refused to act over controversial comments made last month by Upper Norwood’s third councillor.
Alisa Flemming, Newman’s choice as his cabinet spokeswoman on children and education, has refused to apologise for her remarks last month about people on benefits spending their money in the bookies, and not managing their cash to pay for their rent or to feed their children. She opted for the excuse that her remarks were “taken out of context” by the local paper, when clearly they were not.
Newman’s failure to act decisively over his football-watching colleagues or the crass judgement of his £43,000 per year cabinet member will do little to reassure those in and around Katharine Street that the man who has cast himself in the role of “strong leader” in the Town Hall is not, in fact, the “wrong leader”.
One senior Croydon Labour figure, former councillor and now alderman Adrian Dennis, this week added his voice to the criticism of the Upper Norwood councillors’ conduct in a comment posted to this website. “Councillors need to be able to say sorry when they screw up, whether caught in the act or not,” Dennis wrote.
“I’m still waiting for a valid one from Councillor Flemming.” And Alderman Dennis is far from alone in that.
The football-watching by Wentworth and Ryan was shabby, their so-called apology was worse.
By lunchtime on Sunday, 85.2 per cent of respondents to the week-long Inside Croydon poll which asked “Do you believe that Pat Ryan and John Wentworth were just ‘checking the score’ went they set up their TV lounge at Monday’s council meeting?” answered that the councillors’ account was not credible. And when politicians, especially some of the third-raters who run Croydon Council, lose credibility, what are they left with?
Although some of his colleagues at the Town Hall have nicknamed Tony Newman as “Soprano”, Croydon’s council leader appears less than ruthless when someone in his “family” steps out of line. Inside Croydon would have emailed Tony Newman for a comment, but since Labour won the local election in May 2014 he has failed to reply to our requests, so we opted instead to save a bit of interweb bandwidth.
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