The Tories in Coulsdon have formed an unholy alliance with a car campaigner whose extreme conduct even saw him kicked out of UKIP. Our transport correspondent JEREMY CLACKSON reports
The leadership of the Croydon Conservatives has been issuing post-truth emails to their members in the south of the borough which include clearly recognisable phrases and false claims usually made by a car campaigner that include dire warnings that the roads around Tory heartland Coulson might, gulp, suffer a fate worse than death: 20mph speed limits.
Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader will already be familiar with Peter Morgan, who was kicked out of the Tory Party and even expelled by UKIP, and who holds views on road safety which are so hilarious that they have been laughed out of court (well, public inquiries).
In this Forrest Trump world, though, facts are to be dispensed with, and what counts is getting the mob to believe whatever suits demagogic politicians. So in Coulsdon, Croydon Tories have been parroting many of Morgan’s untrue claims about 20mph, regurgitating uncritically from the materials he has produced on behalf of the fanatical Alliance of British Drivers.
Sara “Book Token” Bashford – Gavin Barwell’s office assistant whose elevation to the post of deputy leader of the Croydon Tories makes you wonder about the intellectual capacity of her rivals for the role – has sent a letter to the Coulsdon West Residents’ Association which has been given undeserved prominence on its website.
The Coulsdon East Tories have repeated this nonsense on their own web page. And Simon Brew, who apparently managed to get elected as a councillor, has taken the same pile of old tosh to the people of Purley.
Morgan’s influence in the material put forward by the Tories appears obvious. His tendency to refer to a “blanket” 20mph zone is repeated by the Tories, even though the 20mph zones are not to be applied on all roads – as Morgan clearly tries to insinuate – but only on residential streets, with main, arterial routes maintaining their present speed limits.And UKIP in Croydon has also rallied to the populist cause against 20mph being introduced in the south of the borough.
Morgan’s erstwhile fellow Kipper, Michael Swadling, has been given an uncritical platform in a little-read rag which has been supported from its launch by Mario Creatura, another former Barwell bag-carrier who is now a councillor for Coulsdon West.
It’s unclear whether Morgan’s views are shared by Peter Staveley, the former chair of Croydon UKIP and regular losing election candidate, who as reported in Inside Croydon, fell out with Morgan and the always ridiculous Winston McKenzie over this very matter.
The 20mph zones in residential streets was part of a manifesto pledge by Labour before the 2014 local elections. It appears that Croydon Tories have decided to oppose having safer roads in the borough because… well… because it’s a Labour policy.
As has come to be expected, Bashford’s claims don’t stand up to any sort of adult scrutiny.
• “At low speed, pollution is greater”, Bashford has regurgitated – no evidence is provided for this claim. A scientific study into 30kph zones in Belgium concluded that for some pollutants it made little difference either way but that “exposure of residents to one of the most toxic components of the urban air pollution mixture may therefore decrease”.What’s interesting about this particular point is that the Conservatives have shown zero interest in tackling air pollution recorded by central Croydon’s air quality monitoring station, nor about the long-term air pollution predicted to come from the Beddington Lane incinerator that they lied about.
• “The police at the first scrutiny meeting on 20mph zones said they would not enforce it,” Bashford has written. This is a blatant lie.
The police have always said publicly, including at that very same council scrutiny meeting, that they would enforce the law, and 20mph speed limits, just as they enforce the 30mph limit.
Of course, during the eight years when Tory Boris Johnson was Mayor of London and reducing police numbers, upholding the law on traffic offences was a much-reduced priority for the Met. But anyone who follows MPS Croydon on social media (something which is clearly beyond Bashford’s limited capabilities) will have cottoned on to the fact that police in Croydon are already enforcing 20mph in those areas of the borough where it has been introduced.
• “If there is no (or minimal) enforcement pedestrians have a false sense of security,” Bashford spouts. Again, there’s no evidence for this vacuous claim which is eerily reminiscent of Morgan’s malignant assertion that “traffic at 20 rather than at 30 can make it actually harder to cross the road safely”.
Of course, normally you’d expect a politician worth the allowances they are paid from the public purse to have the sense to push for enforcement, rather than excuse criminal behaviour. But this is Croydon Tories’ Bashford we’re dealing with here.
• “This does not cover the main roads where the higher number/ most serious accidents are,” Bashford claims. A curious position, which ignores that collisions (not “accidents”, which are by definition “nobody’s fault”) occur on roads where motorists drive too fast and without due care, regardless of the classification by the local council.
It also ignores government data that show most collisions occur not on A roads but on those that aren’t classified. Maybe Bashford is, without realising it, advocating that 20mph becomes the default on main roads, too?
• “Each Zone costs £300,000 to implement (£1.5million for the whole scheme) and only targeting specific hot spots is better value for money,” Bashford parrots. No cost-benefit analysis is put forward for this reactive solution, which relies on people being injured or killed before action is eventually taken.
Cynical Conservatives would rather the public foot the bill for dangerous drivers who cause damage and death than invest proactively in road safety. It’s interesting that other Tories have referred to this capital investment at a time when local authorities are suffering revenue cuts due to, ahem, Conservative government policy.
• “Every road in the zone, at all times, eg 2am will be 20mph,” Bashford says. This is a classic Morganism, now adopted by the Tories, which appears to want the “freedom” for joy-riders and anti-social racers to motor through residential streets at dangerously high speeds in the early hours of the morning. Alternatively, every road in the zone is to have a consistent speed limit at all times. Which makes more sense to you?
• “That this scheme will not prevent inconsiderate / bad drivers who are the cause of many accidents,” Bashford claims. There’s the “A word” again. Not only do the Tories refuse to make the connection between bad drivers who speed and the often tragic consequences they inflict on others, there’s no acknowledgement that what’s needed is action by the council and police to tackle them.
• “That current 20mph zones outside schools will lose their significance and become more dangerous,” Bashford spews forth, again without evidence. Available evidence reveals that most child road casualties do not occur outside their schools, but elsewhere, where there is not the 20mph restriction. If Bashford really cared about child safety, she’d be campaigning against speeding rat runners who threaten the lives of her voters’ kids.
All this isn’t to let Croydon Labour off the hook.Since 2014, the Labour-run council has run consultations in two parts of the north of the borough and, public agreement achieved, it has begun implementing 20mph zones in those areas. But it was a close-run thing, not helped by Morgan fly-posting large areas with his distorted propaganda and attempting to influence the consultation through his multitude of online identities.
The time-consuming consultations have put the council behind schedule for the rest of the borough, and probably fearful that in the south, they might not get the answer from residents that they are seeking.
The very fact that, on a public health and safety matter, their cabinet councillors lacked the courage to implement a manifesto commitment without having what many members of the public see as a binding consultation has returned to haunt them.
The responsibility to implement that promise now falls to Stuart King, the cabinet member responsible for roads policy, but who is working with a council department in which senior officials are known to remain on close and chummy terms with his Tory predecessor, the fiercely antagonistic Phil Thomas.
But we are now within 18 months of the next local elections.
Having found common cause with UKIP and Peter Morgan, will Sara Bashford and Croydon’s Tories make it a manifesto commitment to have the borough’s residential roads returned to a less-safe 30mph limit, and so put people’s lives at risk?
In their race to the bottom of populism by aligning themselves with Morgan with their opposition for opposition’s sake, Bashford, Brew and Creatura may have just handed Labour some much-needed political ammunition ahead of May 2018.
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