WALTER CRONXITE reports on the latest decision by a Tory politician to jump before they get pushed by the electorate
Steve O’Connell, the third-rate local politician with the first-rate public allowances income, has decided not to stand for re-election to City Hall at the next London-wide elections in 2020.
Tory O’Connell has been the London Assembly Member for Sutton and Croydon since 2008. He was re-elected in 2012 and 2016, despite his rival Labour candidates securing a majority of votes across the whole of Croydon in the latter two elections.
O’Connell, 61, is also a Conservative councillor for Kenley ward in Croydon, and he is expected to be on the Tories’ candidate list for next May’s Town Hall elections when it is made public tomorrow.
With the combination of his Croydon Council and London Assembly allowances, in 2010 O’Connell was exposed by the Daily Mail as Britain’s most over-paid local councillor, trousering a hefty £118,000 in “allowances” – what most people would call “pay” – from the two authorities. Plus expenses.
This didn’t stop the former mortgage salesman from sniffing out a bit of extra cash when he thought no one might be looking. In 2014, O’Connell was exposed as having considered secretly claiming additional “allowances” from Croydon Council in the #WadGate affair, something which saw the Tory leader at the Town Hall, Mike Fisher, lose his job.
By the time he stands down from City Hall in May 2020, O’Connell’s bank account will have been boosted by nearly £700,000 from London’s tax-payers. He also receives the taxable benefit of £2,364 (2016 values) of an annual travel card each year.
As well as the money, he may miss other benefits, like the free football tickets, mostly for Crystal Palace matches: a total of 34 freebies in just six years, according to City Hall records.
O’Connell’s never been too fussy about who he accepts these gifts from, as among his various donors has been Mazheer Majid, the sports agent and fraudster who has served a 20-month sentence for his part in the cricket spot-fixing betting scandal.
Nor is O’Connell above taking hand-outs from charities.
In the past three years, O’Connell has received two suits from the Crystal Palace Foundation, the football in the community organisation which is supposed to work to help under-privileged youngsters in south London, rather than dressing overpaid local politicians. O’Connell is a trustee of the Foundation.
O’Connell, who arrogantly declared “I’m worth it” when his £118,000 allowances income was exposed, has frequently been criticised for his failure to act on local issues, rarely taking part in consultations on behalf of the people he is supposed to represent or speaking out on their behalf – earning him the deserved nickname of “Silent Steve”.
“Show a hundred people on Croydon High Street a picture of Steve O’Connell, and 99 wouldn’t have a clue who he is,” a Katharine Street source said today. “The other one? They might guess that he’s a local mortgage salesman.”
O’Connell’s laziness while in public office is demonstrated ably on his own page on the City Hall website, where he has issued not a single press release or statement in the whole of 2017 so far. His output in 2016 was hardly prolific, either, with just seven press releases. O’Connell’s last official public statement posted on his Assembly Member page is more than 12 months old.
That hasn’t stopped O’Connell, in various roles involved with policing, presiding over cuts in police numbers in London and the closure of police stations, including Kenley in his own council ward, while crime rates for violent offences such as knife crime, rape and murder, have been soaring.
Silent Steve broke his silence to City Hall colleagues in June, telling them that he will not be seeking selection to stand for the Conservatives again in 2020. This came at about the same time that O’Connell’s Tory mucker, Gavin Barwell, was swept from office as MP for Croydon Central by a tide of enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party’s manifesto.
O’Connell, who will be 64 come the time of that next London election, has never been noted as an energetic campaigner, and he may well have calculated that, if he is to hang on to his £55,000 a year City Hall stipend after 2020, it would take more work than he is prepared to do to stop the Croydon and Sutton Assembly seat being won by Labour for the first time in history.
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