Political editor WALTER CRONXITE on complaints of undemocratic interference in the candidate selection process, and too much influence from the local party leader in those allowed to stand in May’s Town Hall elections
At least four of Croydon’s longest serving councillors, including Mike Fisher, the former leader of the council, were forcibly deselected by the local Conservatives in what has been described as a “farce” of a process, and one which broke their own party rules.
Officially, Croydon’s Tories have said that, ahead of the local elections on May 3, Fisher, a councillor for the current Shirley ward, together with Sue Winborn (Fairfield), Donald Speakman (Purley) and Chris Wright (Coulsdon East), are “stepping down”, implying that it is their choice to do so.
But our mole in the garden of the Tories’ semi-detached HQ in Purley says that there were some heated exchanges during the selection process, as well as since. Party officials have claimed that they are “carrying out orders from above”, the suggestion being that Tim Pollard, the leader of the Tory group on the council, had influenced the process.
There are some current Tory councillors, such as Dudley and Margaret Mead and Phil Thomas, who have chosen not to stand for election again, and others, such as the almost permanently AWOL James Thompson, who have been discarded for being a waste of space.
But according to our Tory mole, in at least four cases, sitting councillors are being pushed out.
Fisher has been a councillor in Croydon since 1990 (with one break of four years).
He was the leader of the council from 2006 to 2014, heading an administration which gave a green-light to the building of a waste incinerator on the borough boundary, and which managed to spend £150million on building a luxury council headquarters – Fisher’s Folly. During Fisher’s time as council leader the Tories privatised the public libraries to Carillion, as well as illegally flogging off the Riesco Collection of precious ceramics, while implementing widespread cuts to public services.
Fisher was ousted from his position as Tory leader shortly after losing the local elections in 2014, when it was revealed that he had secretly given himself a pay-rise on his council allowances, a scandal which quickly became known as #WadGate.
Fisher has cast a brooding, unhappy presence on the back benches of the Town Hall chamber ever since, not least because he has been forced to take a £50,000 a year pay cut.
“Pollard knows Mike’s still a threat, and this was his first chance to get rid of him,” the mole said.
Only now, though, has it emerged that Fisher and the three other veteran councillors were blocked by a “borough selection committee”, which included Ian Parker.
According to our mole, the committee was under orders to ensure that there was some “fresh blood” among the Tory candidates in the safer, Conservative wards to the south of the borough.
Fisher’s deselection has created a vacancy in what is now known as Shirley North ward for Gareth Streeter, a serial election loser and PR executive for the Oasis academy chain. “Even Streeter should be able to win an election in safe Tory ward Shirley,” our mole said.
In the reconfigured Purley and Woodcote ward, Speakman (a 16-year councillor) has been elbowed aside to make way for the self-described “enterprising” tea merchant Oni Oviri.
And the deselection of Wright, who has been a fixture at the Town Hall since 1990, has created a convenient opening in what has been retitled Old Coulsdon ward for Steve Hollands, a councillor with a subterranean profile who has been squeezed out of Kenley, where that ward has been reduced from three council seats to two.
Parker is the £50,000 per year Conservative Party Agent for Croydon, and a former councillor. He’s managed to get selected to stand for election in May, in the newly configured Coulsdon Town ward.
In Fairfield ward, where Winborn has been a councillor for 12 years, the Tories have opted to field three novice candidates, possibly because they fear that the demographics which saw Gavin Barwell lose the Croydon Central parliamentary seat last year mean that this is a ward which will be won by Labour in May.
So sitting councillor Vidhi Mohan has been found a candidate place in the new, safer Park Hill ward and Helen Pollard has been allocated the less-marginal Selsdon and Addington Village.
This will be Pollard’s third different ward in three elections. But then she is married to leader of Croydon Tories, Tim Pollard.
How she, Parker and Streeter all came to be selected, while the likes of Fisher, Winborn and Wright were not, is down to what our mole says has been an undemocratic process, and straightforward ageism.
“Local Conservative members, what’s left of them, were denied any part in the selection process,” said the mole.
“One of the members of the selection committee told a ward meeting that ‘… the Borough Selection Committee is preferable, because members that I have not seen before appear at a selection meeting’.
“But it is Conservative Party rules that state that members should be involved in the selection process. Tim Pollard established the selection committee on the spurious excuse that due to ward boundary changes, there was insufficient time to allocate members to their new wards.
“The democratic principle of selection by the membership was simply abandoned.”
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