Barwell’s 2020 vision would see him run for Croydon Mayor

WALTER CRONXITE on the recent machinations and positionings by a career politician who is preparing for defeat at the next Westminster election

Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell has admitted that he has ambitions to run to be Croydon’s first directly elected Mayor.

This is what Croydon Central has as their MP...

Gavin Barwell fancies himself as a future Mayor of Croydon

Croydon’s Tories have launched a campaign to have elections for a borough Mayor. And while Barwell was carefully never mentioned by name, it was transparent to most that the “campaign” is a barely disguised job creation scheme for the MP.

The campaign’s progress appears to have stalled of late, though.

Perhaps, amid all the fall-out in Government following the Brexit Referendum result, Barwell, the recently appointed Tory housing minister, has actually become preoccupied with getting on with one of the jobs he is paid to do, rather than focusing on his own career development.

Or maybe Croydon Tories are biding their time in the hope that the rules on council petitions for directly elected mayors are changed to allow for online signatures.

Croydon Tories’ campaign for a mayor claims to be resident-led (which is true to the extent that one of those behind it, Coulsdon councillor Mario Creatura, a former Barwell employee, does live in a bachelor pad overlooking Exchange Square). But after two months, the campaign has attracted only 111 followers on Twitter and there hasn’t been a tweet from them since June 14.

Since retaining his parliamentary seat by a mere 165 votes at last year’s General Election, Barwell has led many to believe that he sees no future for himself in Westminster after 2020. He even wrote a whole book which suggests his parliamentary demise.

Now, Barwell’s also blaming possible boundary changes for his fate.

The Boundary Commission is due to publish its initial recommendations for boundary reform, and this week, Barwell told the local free paper that the change of population around the borough means “the boundaries have to change”.

Barwell said, “I have enjoyed my time as an MP hugely, and what happens with the boundaries is beyond my control.” That’s not the remark of a man determined to fight for his seat.

Hence the mid-term career planning by the career politician, in an attempt to create a new role for himself at Croydon Town Hall.

The Tory MP gave himself away when, unprompted about his potential candidacy, he tweeted at Inside Croydon with what he must have thought was a “clever” answer, ruling himself out of running for Mayor in 2017 or 2018.

Barwell's non-denial denial. There's no chance of a Mayoral election in Croydon before 2019

Barwell’s non-denial denial. There’s no chance of a Mayoral election in Croydon before 2019

With the leadership of the Labour group which controls the Town Hall opposed to moving to an elected Mayor, and with no chance of a change of council before the next local elections in 2018, Barwell’s answer was a classic non-denial denial. There is no possibility of any borough-wide Mayoral elections in 2017 or 2018.

But after that..?

Croydon Town Hall has been under Labour control since 2014. They have maintained the “strong leader” and cabinet system for running the council’s business.

So we have a situation where, in a borough with a population of 370,000, Tony Newman was appointed as council leader by a clique of fewer than three dozen councillors – all of whom depend on Newman’s patronage for promotion and the amount they are paid in council allowances.

It means that in a council which is paying 70 elected councillors, all decisions are left to a Newman’s cabinet of just 10 people.

Croydon Tories have finessed Labour over this by lobbying the Boundary Commission to reduce the number of councillors, to 60. Newman’s team, with their usual lack of imagination or political wit, has opted to defend the indefensible. Local politicians feathering their own nests is sure not to play well with Council Tax-payers.

Creating a directly elected Mayor, as some other London boroughs have already, neatly fits in with Croydon Conservatives’ agenda; like Barwell, they recognise that demographic change will make it increasingly difficult for the Tories to wrest back control of the Town Hall.

If the Tories cannot win the majority of councillors, they appear to think that with the right candidate, they could still exercise influence with an executive mayor. And someone must think Barwell would be the “right candidate”.

Under the Localism Act, they could trigger the holding of a borough-wide referendum over introducing an elected mayor if they manage to get 12,328 residents’ signatures on a petition. Clearly, that would see the local Tories using a lot of shoe leather, especially as – according to local Conservative sources – their party membership in Croydon is down to an all-time low of 700 across the whole of the borough. And that includes the likes of  unrepentant racist Ann Piles.

Tony Newman: He really did say, "Just because the list isn't published doesn't make it secret"

Tony Newman: Croydon Council’s not-so-strong leader

So, if there is the possibility of a rule change to allow them to get the signatures online, it could be worthwhile for the Tories to pause their campaign for a bit.

Just by backing the policy of supporting a directly elected mayor, Croydon’s Tories have already put Labour on the back foot.

With Newman’s clique stubbornly backing the bloated number of councillors – with the Tory proposal only nibbling at reform by recommending a modest cut of 10 ward councillors – Labour have dug themselves into a deeper hole by supporting the cabinet system, introduced under Tony Blair’s government, which is looking increasingly dysfunctional.

“There’s a growing realisation that to justify having so many councillors, we really do need a return to a committee system, so that our elected representatives can keep the council’s paid officials under closer scrutiny,” a Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon this week.

“There’s already clear evidence of senior council officers briefing against Labour cabinet members, and making them look daft and not on top of their subjects.

“This isn’t a political issue, it’s commonsense, but Tony Newman and those closest to him are handing a political advantage to the Tory opposition when they should be embracing a sound, practical and democratic change.

“There’s a real risk that by digging in his heels on the number of councillors and the elected mayor, Newman could end up seeing Croydon having career politician Gavin Barwell as its elected mayor.

“What a legacy that would be.”

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
This entry was posted in 2018 council elections, Alison Butler, Croydon Central, Croydon Council, Gavin Barwell, Mario Creatura, Mark Watson, Paul Scott, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Barwell’s 2020 vision would see him run for Croydon Mayor

  1. Jad Adams says:

    I can’t disagree with your criticism of the system but you are being a bit specific about ‘a council which is paying 70 elected councillors, [in which] all decisions are left to a Newman’s cabinet of just 10 people.’ That’s true of Croydon’s leadership, but also of the leadership of every council in the country, except some very small ones. Under the Local Government Act 2000 all councils were obliged by law to move from the old committee-based system, in which every committee member’s vote was equal, to a ‘mayor and cabinet’ based system where the leader rules with a cabinet, which is advisory. That means only the leader’s vote really counts. The majority of councillors have a rubber-stamp or at the most a ‘scrutiny’ position, whatever their personal mandate. The LGAct permitted a vote from the electorate, but only on whether the system councils were obliged to adopt would be with a leader elected by their councillors; or a mayor elected by the public. There was no option of staying with the committee system that was not broken and did not need fixing. The use of directly elected mayors is heavily promoted by some as an extension of democracy, it is in fact a concentration of power in the hands of the political elite: those already in power who can take some more. There is little bottom-up progress in the mayor and cabinet system, and little incentive for people of quality to enter the system to become back-bench councillors. Oh, and for those interested in gender politics, it really is jobs for the boys: look how few directly elected mayors around the country have been female.

    • “That’s true of … the leadership of every council in the country, except some very small ones.”

      You’re being a bit harsh on our neighbours in Sutton, who have retained the committee system, and to some degree a greater amount of control by elected representatives over the otherwise unaccountable paid officials.

      But you’re spot on about Barwell: “The use of directly elected mayors is heavily promoted by some as an extension of democracy, it is in fact a concentration of power in the hands of the political elite: those already in power who can take some more.”

      • Jad Adams says:

        You are correct – Sutton was one of the first councils to take advantage of the provisions brought in in 2012 to permit councils to go back to the committee system where previously they had been obliged to go to the mayor (or leader) and cabinet system. Well done Sutton. Instead of using their time arguing for an elected mayor, Croydon’s politicians should be arguing to extend representative democracy by going back to the committee system.
        I know the committee system takes longer to reach decisions and has to consider more views than a single leader. I don’t see that as a disadvantage, I think of the committee system’s more detailed and open deliberation as one of its many advantages over the concentration of power enshrined in the mayor/leader and cabinet system.

  2. Rod Davies says:

    As a local authority employee with experience of several authorities, I would say that the old Committee System was lumbering and tended to take an age to make decisions, and often lacked focus. The Cabinet model does provide greater clarity and the capacity to respond faster to issues.
    The scrutiny role is far from being simply a rubber-stamping process, or it least it needn’t & shouldn’t be one. Scrutiny should there to hold the Cabinet and officers to account and challenge the robustness and desirability of proposals and recommendations. If the Scrutiny function is no more than a “rubber-stamping” exercise then that is primarily the fault of those members on the Scrutiny Panels.
    However, no one should forget that elected members are almost wholly dependent on officers for information. Members have to rely on officers presenting them with all the facts to make decisions on. Members are for the most part ordinary people without the specialist knowledge of the complex aspects of local government service delivery. Supported by fair and honest advice from officers, they try to make good decisions.
    However, in authorities where there is a poor organisational culture it is all too easy for officers to exploit the weaknesses of the relationship and hide key facts from members.
    While there might hypothetically be “whistle-blowing” procedures in place, these are weak and controlled by senior management who may not have an interest in alerting members to a deficiency in some part of service delivery. So the individual officer who feels Cabinet or Scrutiny is being misled has nowhere to go to, unless that individual is willing to sacrifice their job and possibly career in the public interest. What they person can be assured of it that while the public may be grateful, it wont compensate the individual for any losses.
    Ultimately, in my experience, what determines whether a council is effective or not in decision making is whether members get out and meet staff on the front-line on a regular basis and undertake “reality checks”.

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