Ballot-weary voters in Carshalton are being expected to go to their polling stations once more this week, for a local council ward by-election. Though the party running Sutton Council is trying its utmost to avoid telling them why.The LibDems’ army of eager activists have been pounding the streets of south London for the past fortnight as if they have been briefed by Basil Fawlty: “Don’t mention the war!” In this instance, they’ve clearly been told never to mention the LibDem Sutton councillor who was arrested over allegations of financial misconduct.
In fact, Thursday’s by-election in the heart of MP Tom Brake’s constituency is taking place after one of the ward’s Liberal Democrat councillors, Alan Salter, resigned just before he was arrested by the police over allegations of misappropriating client funds. The semi-retired accountant has been bailed until next month.
Yet absolutely none of this is mentioned at all in any of the thousands of leaflets with which the LibDems have carpet-bombed Carshalton Central ahead of Thursday’s vote.
But then, Sutton’s FibDems have been coy about the whole Salter affair, even withholding the news of the “resignation” from other councillors for almost a week, something which council officials were later forced to admit was wrong.Despite misleading local voters over the reason for the by-election (through omission, at least), Brake and Sutton’s other FibDems have also taken to accusing opposition parties of a “grubby smear campaign to trash the reputation of hard-working local LibDems”, largely because the Tories have actually dared to mention Salter’s arrest as the reason for the by-election. Salter is not the only Sutton LibDem to have had a brush with the law lately, though.
The assertion of the “grubby smear” campaign appeared on the “Dreary of a Sutton Councillor” website of Jayne McCoy. McCoy was forced to hurriedly add a declaration of her support for her party’s candidate, retired drama teacher Chris Williams, in order that she complied properly with the requirements of election law.Following the London elections in May and last month’s bruising European Referendum campaign, it is not only Carshalton Central’s voters who appear a tad apathetic about this latest election. Sutton’s local political activists are showing all the signs of campaign fatigue, too.
Labour’s half-hearted attempt at a campaign in Carshalton Central stalled when the candidate didn’t even manage to get a mention in the local free paper’s assessment of the runners and riders; residents report having seen little of the Greens’ candidate; and the Tory candidate hasn’t even bothered to put up a poster outside her own home.
Which all suggests that the costly process of the by-election is taking place just to replace one LibDem councillor with another.
Carshalton Central is a safe enough LibDem council seat: in 2014, when the local elections were held, the LibDems had 37.8per cent of the vote, to the Tories’ 25.2per cent, with Labour on 9.3 per cent.
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