Across the country, with less than a week to go before the EU Referendum, and all political campaigning has been shut down since Thursday’s shocking killing of Labour MP Jo Cox.Except in Coulsdon, where a community hall event organised by Peter Morgan, a far-right activist, went ahead with the attendance and blessing of two senior Croydon Conservative politicians, MP Chris Philp and London Assembly member Steve O’Connell.
The staging of the event less than 36 hours after Cox’s death has been described as “distasteful” by one Croydon councillor.
Morgan is a notorious local campaigner on road and motoring issues who has long lobbied for Britain’s exit from Europe.
But he was expelled from UKIP for his “disruptive” behaviour and kicked out of the local Tories for breaking party rules when he was discovered to hold membership cards of two political parties at the same time.
Despite repeated attempts, Morgan has never won any public election. Last month, he stood in the West Thornton council by-election as the “Independence from Europe” candidate, and predicted that he would win a Town Hall seat. He attracted a grand total of 77 votes. Only Winston McKenzie did worse.
But Morgan remains a political hyper-active, working with Croydon Conservatives on traffic issues and being vociferous on the UKIP-dominated Croydon Communities (sic) Consortium, the talking shop run by Elizabeth Ash and which is subject to legal action from Croydon Council for the recovery of thousands of pounds of grant funding.
Yesterday, most of the nation responded to the brutal shooting of young mother Cox with shock and revulsion. Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn made a joint appearance in Cox’s home town, Birstall, in Yorkshire. All major political parties and both sides of the referendum debate suspended campaigning activities for the weekend.
But from his bunker in Coulsdon, Morgan issued this email order just after 5pm:
TONIGHT’S EU DEBATE GOES AHEAD
And indeed it did, with four of the five originally announced panel members participating before an audience of around 50 people.
Only UKIP’s London Assembly Member, David Kurten, had the conscience and good grace to withdraw in the aftermath of Cox’s death.
Morgan has form for his blinkered pursuit of his own political interests and disrespect for the recently dead and their bereaved family and friends.
Last year Morgan, when still a UKIP member, together with fellow Kipper and CCC leading light from Coulsdon, Janet Stollery, applied to have a council by-election in Selhurst ward to replace Gerry Ryan, even before the funeral had been held for the Labour councillor.
Morgan and Stollery’s disrespectful impatience for a needlessly swift by-election is estimated to have cost Croydon Council Tax-payers an extra £20,000, and it led to Morgan being condemned by a local UKIP leader, who described his conduct as “embarrassing”, “very upsetting” and “very bad”.
Last night, Morgan’s latest exercise in political attention-seeking gained support from the larger political parties.O’Connell, an enthusiastic Out-er, and Philp, who since being elected to parliament a year ago as Tory MP for Croydon South has emerged to be a Remain-er, were joined at the event at Coulsdon Community Centre by Carshalton and Wallington incineration enthusiast Tom Brake MP .
Maureen Levy, from East Coulsdon Residents’ Association, replaced Kurten on the panel on behalf of the Leave argument.
On the panel for Remain was another residents’ association officer, Charlie King, who is a past chair of Croydon South’s Constituency Labour Party.
“I left the decision on whether to go ahead to the two MPs and Peter Morgan,” King said this morning. “I checked with the Labour Party, and they told me that it would be alright to attend if it was a meeting and not a political rally.
“I thought it was important that if Morgan decided he would go ahead with the event that Labour’s point of view should be heard.
“And I insisted that before I took part, there should be a minute’s silence held in respect for Jo Cox.”
In publicising the event ahead of the Cox tragedy, Morgan had described the meeting as, “No long speeches, just time for lots of questions and answers”.
This morning, MP Philp told Inside Croydon, “I did attend with Tom Brake, Steve O’Connell and Charlie King. However, the event was changed in nature. I led a minute’s silence for Jo at the start. We did not give speeches and simply answered factual questions from the audience.”
Challenged on why he went ahead with the event despite the Prime Minister’s call for a suspension of campaigning, Philp said, “I don’t think both sides answering factual questions is campaigning. I have cancelled an In street stall this morning in South Croydon which would have been campaigning.”
One Croydon councillor who decided not to go to the event following Jo Cox’s death told Inside Croydon: “My view is that it should have been postponed as a mark of respect. I find it very distasteful that it went ahead and am very surprised that fellow elected representatives agreed to take part at a time that we’re all still trying to come to terms with what has happened.”
In court this morning, charged with the murder of Jo Cox, Thomas Mair gave his name as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Far-right Britain First has yet to confirm Mair’s membership of their organisation.
Normal political service will be resumed on Monday, when parliament is recalled.
The EU Referendum takes place next Thursday, June 23.
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