Monday night’s council cabinet meeting was the last before the summer break, and it produced a much-needed outbreak of political passion and rhetoric. Political editor WALTER CRONXITE trawled through the webcast so that you don’t have to
Tony Newman, the Labour leader of Croydon Council, has launched a withering attack on Tory cuts to the Metropolitan Police, including labelling the former London Mayor, Boris Johnson “shambolic” and “a national disgrace”.
The outburst came as Newman was chairing Monday’s council cabinet meeting, the last major set-piece event in the Town Hall chamber before the borough’s 70 councillors traipse off for a two-month summer break.
Much of the business of the meeting had – like so many council meetings in recent months – been soporific until that point, with senior council figures, such as Tim Pollard, the leader of the Conservative opposition, so bored with proceedings that he spent most of the discussions more absorbed by something on his tablet device. No Tory activists in the public gallery were heard to complain about this “disrespect” for the council’s democratic proceedings.
But then, with first-class hypocrites sitting on the Tory front bench in the chamber, the activists might have the excuse of only following their leadership’s example.
Newman launched his outburst against an example of such hypocrisy. The verbal assault by the Labour leader has not been seen since his days in opposition. With local elections coming up in 10 months’ time, it seemed to make it clear that crime and policing will be an important issue in next May’s campaign, and that Tory Kenley councillor Steve O’Connell will be the target of much of the blame for any short-comings of the borough’s police.
Newman’s two-minute-long diatribe was directed at O’Connell after a somewhat rambling and clearly under-prepared set of statements (there were no real questions; it looked like O’Connell hadn’t bothered reading his brief before arriving at the meeting). O’Connell had been speaking on crime and policing, based on the council’s annual corporate performance plan.
O’Connell, a former mortgage salesman, used to trouser more than £110,000 per year in various allowances from Croydon Council and for his role as the London Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton, plus all the free tickets to see Crystal Palace play that he could get his hands on, regardless of the probity of the “businesses” providing them.
That income from the public purse made O’Connell for a time the country’s highest paid councillor, according to the Daily Mail. When Johnson was London Mayor, O’Connell was given special responsibilities on policing at the Greater London Authority.
So when O’Connell described the “worsening crime and safety situation we find ourselves in the town”, he managed to light Newman’s notoriously short fuse.
“We need to nail once and for all the rank hypocrisy from you in particular on these issues,” Newman began.
“You have sat on the GLA and supported your Members of Parliament as savage cuts have taken tens of thousands of police officers from the streets of this city.
“Hundreds of officers have been lost in boroughs like Croydon. Police station closures have been imposed upon local communities,” Newman said, omitting to mention that O’Connell had even shut down the police station in his own ward, Kenley.
“And to sit there now and take no responsibility for the most swingeing attack on the Metropolitan Police force ever seen in a generation and then take no responsibility for your role in decimating the Metropolitan Police in this city is an absolute disgrace,” Newman continues, by now getting into full, finger-jabbing stride.
“Only when, and if and when I see anybody from the Conservative party coming forward to take some responsibility… but then if we look at the shambolic role being played by the previous Mayor of London and the national disgrace he is as a Foreign Secretary, perhaps we should be surprised that there’s no apology coming forward.
“Your party and you at the City Hall and GLA drve a coach and horses through the Metropolitan Police in this city and you’re there now wondering whey the Metropolitan Police is under pressure,” Newman said. Someone in the chamber suggests that even dormouse-like Pollard had woken up by this point, and was paying attention to events in the chamber rather than his mobile device.
“Well, on this side of the chamber we stand shoulder to shoulder with the Metropolitan Police and we will not allow them to come under the sustained attack and disgraceful political attack we’re seeing from you.”
As crime rates in Croydon rise, with knife crime being a particular concern among law-makers and the law-enforcers, the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, has spoken repeatedly about how her officers are stretched beyond breaking point by their daily demands and the pressures created by extraordinary events such as the terror attacks on Westminster, when an officer was murdered in the course of his duties, at London Bridge, and then responding to emergencies such as Grenfell Tower.
Commissioner Dick has been supported in her calls for more officers and resources by one of her predecessors Paul, now Lord, Condon. “You can’t take out 20,000 street cops and 20,000 support staff and maintain all the contacts with the community which you give you the leads,” Condon warned yesterday, in an obvious attack on the interim Prime Minister, Theresa May, after her six years as Home Secretary.
For his part, O’Connell sought to make a response, though he appeared somewhat chastened and sounded just a bit pathetic, looking every one of his 61 years of age.
“Only today, leader,” he said, addressing Newman on “a point of personal clarification” (read: arse-covering), “I signed a letter, a cross-party letter from the police and crime committee to the minister urging that a the government consider a full and fair settlement.”
This was not good enough for Newman, who accused O’Connell of “a cynical approach to politics”.
O’Connell’s letter, Newman said, was “a bit late now. The horse is out of the stable and is disappearing over the hill”.
Katherine Street sources suggest that Newman’s diatribe was only partly motivated by the righteous anger over the austerity cuts to policing.
The is increasing anger in the Labour group at O’Connell for the manner in which he has been targeting Hamida Ali, the Asian woman councillor who has the crime portfolio in the Labour council.
“We’re sick and tired of his nasty, patronising, condescending attitude towards Hamida, whose shown more than once that she is a very capable operator in the chamber and is on top of her brief,” our source said.
The senior Town Hall figure also suggested that Labour feels that campaigning on crime and policing into next May’s local elections could play well with the Croydon electorate. “Newman and the group are feeling a lot bolder after Sarah Jones won the Croydon central seat from Barwell,” the source said. “That Sarah has been appointed to the Home Affairs Select Committee in Parliament will also give her, and Croydon, a higher profile on these issues.
“And after winning the council, and getting rid of Barwell, O’Connell’s the next obvious election target.”
The next London Assembly elections are in May 2020.
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