There was blood on the shag pile at Croydon Tory HQ over selections for next May’s local elections. Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on the high casualty rate among some of the council’s one-time big beastsMike Fisher, until 2014 the leader of Croydon Council, will not be standing for re-election as a councillor next May. It seems that Croydon’s Tories de-selected Fisher, in effect punishing him for his part in the #Wadgate scandal at the Town Hall three years ago.
Among the other notable, front-bench departures from the Tory ranks revealed in an announcement today is Phil Thomas, Fisher’s long-time Town Hall enforcer, and Sara Bashford, the current deputy leader of the Conservatives on the council. Like Fisher, Thomas is also thought to have been de-selected.
The local Tories have revealed their roster of candidates for the May 2018 local elections, and #WadGate Fisher is not on the list. Fisher was embroiled in scandal three years ago when he was revealed to have given himself a pay hike at Council Tax-payers’ expense, without bothering to tell anyone.
Red-faced after being caught red-handed, Fisher was forced to stand down as leader of the Conservative group.
At one point, Fisher had been raking in a total of around £78,000 a year in various “allowances” and payments from different public authorities, but that didn’t stop him secretly claiming an extra £10,000 in Croydon allowances on top of his £53,000 wedge from the Town Hall as council leader.
Even Fisher’s own party colleagues described his conduct as “doubly wrong”.
After he was caught out, Fisher stayed on as a back bench councillor, collecting the basic £11,000 a year allowances, but looked semi-detached and disinterested in proceedings in the Town Hall chamber.
A former civil servant, Fisher was first elected to Croydon Council for the then Beulah ward in 1990, before moving to the safer, bluer streets of Shirley. After he became local Tory leader, he resigned from his civil service job and went into politics full-time. But all his efforts to seek selection for parliamentary seats failed.Fisher has never refunded any of the money he awarded himself then.
A statement on the Croydon Tories’ website says, “A number of long-serving Conservative councillors will be standing down at the 2018 election. They include Sara Bashford, Mike Fisher, Dudley Mead, Margaret Mead, Donald Speakman, Phil Thomas, James Thompson, Sue Winborn and Chris Wright.”
And while the local Tories go on to pay tribute to the service given by some of these retiring councillors, there is not a single additional word about Fisher, their long-time former leader, fuelling speculation on Katharine Street that he was not re-selected.
“What I am not going to do is comment on the selection process we have conducted over the past six weeks or so,” was all Tim Pollard, Fisher’s successor as leader of the local Tories, would say to Inside Croydon.
If anyone wanted firm indication that Fisher was de-selected rather than chose to retire, then that surely is it.
Croydon Tories ran a highly centralised selection process, with little involvement from their members. Fisher’s fate must owe much to the damage he caused his party in Croydon when he greedily awarded himself additional allowances.
Of the other departees, Bashford has taken a new job in a politically restricted position and is unable to continue serving as a councillor. Clearly, she can’t manage on the “mere” £20,000 a year allowances she gets as a councillor.Her resignation is a direct result of her being made redundant from her (other, estimated £30,000 pa state-funded) job, that of managing Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell’s constituency office. Barwell lost his seat at the June General Election, and with it, Bashford her job.
“It has been an honour to serve the people of Selsdon and Ballards for the last 12 years,” Bashford said.
“As I am taking a full-time job working in a politically restricted role, it is with sadness that I’m resigning the Conservative whip immediately. I have loved every minute of fighting for my residents, and I know that those succeeding me will look after them well.”
Her reference to “resigning the Tory whip” is significant, and is done to address the political restrictions required by her new employers. It means that there will not be a (pretty pointless) council by-election in her ward, and Bashford continues at the Town Hall until next May – doubtless voting with the Tories on every occasion for eight months, despite her politically restricted new job.
All three of the current Selsdon and Ballards councillors are standing down, as also among those going are Bashford’s ward colleagues Dudley Mead and Phil Thomas.
Thomas, who the Tory press release describes as “formidable” (thinly disguised code for intimidating, and worse), held the role of cabinet member for streets and environmental services.
It was Thomas who saddled Croydon with the Veolia street cleaning contract, he did the deal for the appallingly poorly resourced Quadron contract for the maintenance of the borough’s parks and open spaces, it was Thomas who hiked residents’ parking charges, and it was Thomas who also helped Sutton get agreement to build a polluting waste incinerator on the borough boundary.
Even the local Tories struggled to find a good word to say about him. “Formidable”.
Thomas, who for many years organised the Tories’ local election campaigning, is understood to have sought selection for 2018, so his absence from the list of candidates is doubly significant.Mead has been a fixture on Croydon Council since 1980. He is able to retire boasting that he, as a Tory, got 150 more council homes built than the current Labour administration has managed since 2014 (grand total so far: 0).
And Margaret Mead, a past Mayor of Croydon and cabinet member for health and adult services, is also retiring. She has been a councillor for Heathfield ward for a mere 28 years.
Others leaving the Town Hall chamber include Sue Winborn, who has been a Fairfield councillor since 2006. Two veterans, Donald Speakman (Purley) and Chris Wright (Coulsdon East), are also standing down, as the selection process became a game of musical chairs caused by the ward boundary changes.
They are being joined through the exit door by youngster James Thompson, the Coulsdon East councillor whose attendance record in his first, and probably only, term on the council has been so poor that he came close to being forced to stand down.
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