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.
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.
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.
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.”
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