Never mind the bollocks, here’s the Croydon Conservatives

Tommy Rotten: Tory councillor revels in being a controversial figure

Tommy Rotten: Tory councillor revels in being a controversial figure

It’s been Anarchy in the Town Hall this week, as our Tory councillors have been channelling their inner Johnny Rottens. WALTER CRONXITE suggests that such cunning stunts fail to serve their residents

So who lost out from the decision of Croydon’s Conservative councillors to walk out of the Town Hall’s most important meeting of the year, the meeting that sets our Council Tax?

What are the implications of the Conservatives supporting the supposed rights Councillor Phil Thomas to be rude to Croydon’s Mayor?

The top losers from Monday night’s outbreak of civic anarchy are:

  1. The council being brought into disrepute with the residents it’s supposed to be serving, so weakening voters’ confidence in local democracy.
  2. Thomas, the self-professed “red neck councillor”, who is seen to have been bullying, boorish and childish. At least.
  3. The Croydon Conservative Party for condoning, even encouraging, such inconsiderate behaviour.
  4. The reputation of the current Mayor, Patricia Hay-Justice, who is being accused by the Tories in the local media as being biased or weak.
  5. The interests of those who seek to oppose the idea of sweeping away the failing system of Town Hall democracy and introducing a directly elected Mayor.
  6. Important issues which really needed to be properly debated at the council meeting going undiscussed, once again letting down the people of the borough, whose interests our 70 councillors are supposed to serve.

It is time for the Mayoralty to take a firm hand and to discipline the Croydon council chamber to return it to being a place of civility and courtesy, where the important concerns of residents can be heard and discussed.

There is a feeling among Croydon’s Conservative councillors that there is political gain to be made from reducing the council’s proceedings to a farce. Their former leader, Mike Fisher, backed up by Mario Creatura, the former gobby factotum to a local MP, take some kind of perverse pleasure in disrupting meetings by constantly challenging process with faux outraged points of order.

 

Undermining democratic due process can be a dangerous approach when there are those who would like to see the role of the local council diminished. Those such as Creatura’s former boss, MP Gavin Barwell, who wants a directly elected mayor (a Tory job creation scheme – creating a job for himself), or other national politicians who want to take away power from local councils, who they see as silly, toy town politicians, and hand it over to unaccountable quangos or outsource it to commercial interests.

And there are also the senior officials within the council, who privately regard the elected councillors with a degree of disdain, and see them as an inconvenience whose pettiness distracts from the serious work of delivering services to residents.

There is understandable frustration among around 66 of Croydon’s 70 councillors, Labour as well as Tory, who find themselves with little or no role in running the council’s affairs.

But trashing the system does not aid their cause. Maybe a smaller assembly, with fewer councillors, might behave better. And reducing the number of Croydon’s councillors by half would have the added benefit of saving the taxpayer £500,000 a year in reduced allowances.

Since losing the 2014 local elections, protests and civil disobedience in the Town Hall chamber has become common practice for the Tories. It was not only Thomas, Fisher and Creatura who were playing to the (almost empty public) gallery on Monday.

The Tories had another cunning stunt lined up. They all stood in silent protest, with their heads bowed, supposedly as a mark of respect for the Fairfield Halls, which the Tories still maintain could be kept open while building works go on to refurbish the 50-year-old venue.

Sara Bashford: Tory councillor who trashed Croydon's cultural provision

Sara Bashford: Tory councillor who trashed Croydon’s cultural provision

Croydon’s Tories really ought to be hanging their heads in shame, since this is the same group of Conservatives who trashed the arts offer in Croydon, axing the Mela, pulling the plug on a vital grant to the Warehouse Theatre, shutting the David Lean Cinema and flogging off a major part of the Riesco Collection. They couldn’t even manage that latter bit of Arfur Daley duckin’ and divin’ properly, as they raised barely half the £13million from the illegal sale of public property that they thought they would get.

This was all done on the watch of cabinet member Sara Bashford, who brought nihilism to Croydon’s cultural debate by saying that the Riesco ceramics should be sold because the borough’s children could not tell the difference between ordinary crockery and the antique pieces of rare China.

Bashford was being serious when she also suggested that we could replace the borough’s statutory libraries by issuing residents with book tokens. With that sort of judgement, you do wonder how Bashford might manage if she ever had to get a proper job (she runs the constituency office for MP Barwell; go figure). But among Croydon Tories, Bashford is regarded as outstanding, and so has been promoted to be their deputy leader…

With good reason, the Tories have been silent on their own record on the arts and culture during their last eight years in office – inheriting a redevelopment plan for Fairfield Halls in 2006, they proceeded to do nothing to refit the ageing venue – and they remain tight-lipped on the very important issue of the additional £5 million to £8 million costs of implementing their preferred partial closure for redevelopment. So much for the party of low tax and low public spending.

Before Croydon’s anarchic Tories disrupted proceedings with their walk-out on Monday, Tony Newman, Labour’s council leader, gave a “cast-iron guarantee” that the promised £30million would be spent on reopening Fairfield Halls by 2018 – a huge financial vote of confidence in the arts that dwarfs Croydon Conservatives’ record.

The generally poor calibre of Croydon’s local politicians does tend to see council business conducted as if it was some fourth form debating society. And that’s where stunts such as the Tory protest and walk-out on Monday belong. Trash the rules, and anarchy triumphs.

The rules for the Town Hall chamber are clear. Like the House of Commons, only one person may be standing in the chamber at one time. The rules are there to protect a minority, and so when the opposition Tories break those rules, they risk undermining their own position.

And Croydon’s Conservatives boxed themselves into a corner, too, with their studied avoidance of being seen to vote in favour of a Council Tax increase. Any Council Tax increase, even one proposed by a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It was in Gideon Osborne’s Autumn Statement that he announced that local authorities would be allowed to raise Council Tax by 2per cent, to make good a reduction in central government funding for adult social care provision. Newman’s Labour council dutifully proposed including this increase in the 2016-2017 Council Tax.

But what did Croydon’s Tories, under Tim Pollard, do on Monday? Did they vote in favour of Chancellor Osborne’s proposal? Oh no.

Did they vote against it, because they object to any tax increase whatsoever? No again.

As council CEO Nathan Elvery made the roll call of councillors’ names for the proposal, each and every Conservative councillor chose to express no opinion on behalf of their residents whatsoever, and each one of them announced that they abstained.

This was a curious bit of anarchic politics, since Osborne’s levy for social care is primarily intended to help the elderly, an age group that is the Croydon Tories’ core demographic of support in the south of the borough. You can just imagine the next Croydon Tory manifesto: “Vote for us, because we have no view whatsoever of how to fund how we care for the elderly and most vulnerable in our society”.

That is, of course, if Croydon Conservatives bother even to have a slate of policies at the next local elections in 2018. They never bothered in 2014, after all. Perhaps silence is Pollard’s default mode on all policy.

Saying nothing is never really much of an option, even in fourth form debating societies. Yet there was no alternative budget proposed by the Tories on Monday. Worse, as Simon Hall, Labour’s cabinet member for finance, pointed out, the Tories have made various spending commitments that add up to new spending equivalent to a 3.4 per cent increase in Council Tax. That would take the overall Council Tax increase to 7.39 per cent. Again, so much for the party supposedly of low tax and low public spending.

But the row over Thomas’s temper tantrum overshadowed the meeting. And as Thomas flounced out, followed by his Tory colleagues “in solidarity”, they left unanswered questions.

All this, and more, was lost in the Thomas tantrum.

Labour were allowed to ridicule the absent opposition for not doing their job. “It is us on this side of the chamber that are doing our work on behalf of our residents we represent – and you don’t represent your residents by walking off in a huff,” said Andrew Pelling, now a Labour councillor but a one-time leader of the Conservatives on the council.

Patricia Hay-Justice: needs to show Thomas the red card

Patricia Hay-Justice: needs to show Thomas the red card, for his comments outside the Town Hall as well as his remarks in the chamber

Thomas, of course, has form when it comes to aggression and belligerence. Inside Croydon is aware of three serving councillors who allege that they have been subjected to abusive confrontations from the councillor from Selsdon and Ballards, who has also been witnessed trying to intimidate members of the public attending open meetings.

On this occasion, what Thomas said in the chamber was relatively mild, but was calculatedly disrespectful of the Mayor. He has since deliberately chosen to compound the offence, by accusing Patricia Hay-Justice of being “partisan” and saying “she isn’t fair to both sides”. It amounted to a further attack on Hay-Justice’s integrity.

“I’ll be happy to apologise but I want to be clear: I’m only going to do so because I respect the mayor’s position, not because of her,” Thomas said. Which as apologies go, is no apology whatsoever.

As a big fan of rugby, Welshman Thomas will know that if he were to ever accuse a referee of being partisan, he’d be sent off the pitch or sent out of the stands, whether he was watching a Six Nations’ game or the Tonypandy under-11s. And he’d face a lengthy suspension from future matches, too, as an example to the others.

Hay-Justice, as she comes towards the end of her mayoralty, therefore has a couple of options.

She could suspend Thomas from the chamber until he comes forward and makes an unreserved and public apology to her and the office of Mayor, both for his behaviour on Monday and his subsequent comments. There are many council members, on both sides of the house, who would welcome Thomas’s indefinite exclusion from the chamber, until he was forced to swallow his pride.

Alternatively, and with the agreement of her deputy, Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, who is due to succeed to the office in May, Croydon’s Mayor could refuse to call Thomas to speak until they are satisfied he has mended his ways. Or until his group leader, Pollard, takes appropriate disciplinary action.

Croydon deserves a lot better from its councillors. Otherwise, without better conduct, there is for our council, in the words of John Lydon, no future for you.


About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2018 council elections, Croydon Council, Gavin Barwell MP, Mike Fisher, Patricia Hay-Justice, Phil Thomas, Sara Bashford, Tim Pollard, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Never mind the bollocks, here’s the Croydon Conservatives

  1. Council and Cabinet meetings seem to have become a joke. Punch and Judy springs to mind, but that would do a disservice to a historic form of seaside entertainment enjoyed by many over the decades.

    But since when did the majority of councillors have the interest of their constituents over their own personal gain and puffed egos.

    Thomas is a joke who seems to think playing to the gallery is de facto for entertaining the (almost empty) public benches. He should be ashamed of himself as should all the councillors of whichever side who are only interested in scoring pathetic political points rather than taking responsibility for running public services.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great. One of your best: clear, sharp, honest, perceptive and terrifying. A really good analysis fo the corrosive malaise at the centre of so-called government in Croydon. With infantile behaviour on both sides, people fighting old battles for personal and ego-driven reasons, stupidity and venality abounding.

    It is no wonder that all power has in reality, devolved to Messers Elvery and Negrini. If I was a fan of theirs, which I am not, I would say that they do seem to behave like grown-ups while the councillors behave like children bickering, quarrelling and fighting in he school yard fights. Oh, for the Apocalypse and non-political councils.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. farmersboy says:

    I’m sad enough to follow local politics (but not sad enough to know who any of these people we pay handsomely are) and the change from Tory to New Labour seems to have achieved nothing.

    Would an elected mayor make any difference?

    I was at a sold out, £27.50 a ticket, gig at Fairfield Hall last night which suggests if you get decent acts Croydon is a place worth visiting. Can’t imagine anyone paying the council that much to watch a bike ride or to shop at Westfield/Whitgift while the concert hall is closed

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The current Mayor, Councillor Hay-Justice, has been frequently stumbling over her lines as she reads a prepared script, and at last week’s meeting she completely misunderstood the procedural motion which was being proposed by Councillor Mario Creatura, because she was interrupting him and talking over him instead of actually listening to the point he was making.

    Councillor Thomas, meanwhile, seems to be making a distinction between the office of Mayor and the incumbent, Councillor Patricia Hay-Justice, as an individual. I do not make that distinction. Councillor Hay-Justice has not, in my opinion, been biased along party political lines, but she is not up to the job of chairing council meetings. In my experience of having watched council meetings for 18 years, she is the third worst Mayor that I have encountered.

    I do not condone the childish walk-out by the Conservative councillors, but one wonders what difference it would have made to the shambolic proceedings if they had stayed.

    Like

    • So who has been the second-worst mayor then?

      Like

      • Derek Millard, because (1) he sent one of his minions up to the public gallery to tell me to take my hat off, even though it was none of his business to do so, (2) because – unlike all other mayors – he did not invite members of the public from the public gallery to join the councillors for the pre-Christmas drinks & mince pies.

        Like

      • Hmm, does that mean Eddy Arram is the undisputed “Worst. Croydon. Mayor. Ever.”?

        Like

      • Take your pick:

        Toni LETTS 1997 – 1998
        Pat RYAN 1998 – 1999
        Shafi KHAN 1999 – 2000
        Mary WALKER 2000 – 2001
        Peter HOPSON 2001 – 2002
        Stuart COLLINS 2002 – 2003
        Jane AVIS 2003 – 2004
        Brenda KIRBY 2004 – 2005
        Maggie MANSELL 2005 – 2006
        Janet MARSHALL 2006 – 2007
        Derek MILLARD 2007 – 2008
        Jonathan DRIVER 2008 (May – December)
        Robert ASKEY 2009 (January – May)
        Margaret MEAD 2009 – 2010
        Avril SLIPPER 2010 – 2011
        Graham BASS 2011 – 2012
        Eddy ARRAM 2012 – 2013
        Yvette Rose HOPLEY 2013 – 2014
        Manju SHAHUL-HAMEED 2014 – 2015

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Rod Davies says:

    Do these antics provide evidence of Conservatives recognition that they may never hold power in Croydon again as their electoral base is reducing annually and so it barely matters if they have nothing constructive to offer? As the new residents arrive to inhabit the new high rises, they create an entirely new demographic that is unlikely to be enamored of the tired old self-serving approach that characterised the previous Conservative administration. The new communities are likely to be much younger and they may be less than enthusiastic about subsidizing the post-war baby boom generation that squandered so much and acted so selfishly.
    It is appalling, no matter what anyone might feel about the LibDems and Greens at least they take politics seriously and behave accordingly.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. davidjl2014 says:

    It is shameful behaviour. Proving to us all they are amateurs yet get paid more than nurses who save lives in the hospital 2 miles down the road. Don’t these people realise they are elected to serve the community not their political party! But it sounds as if Phil Thomas has been taking etiquette lessons from Godfrey Bloom, who appears to have lent him one of his old ties!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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