Our Sutton reporter, BERTIE WORCESTER-PARK, on an early chance to re-fight some of the arguments from the last local elections
It is only four months since the Town Hall elections, but the voters of Belmont ward will now be expected to go to the polls again in a by-election following the resignation of one of their councillors.
Patrick McManus, a Conservative councillor, handed in his resignation from Sutton Council on Friday.
The by-election seems likely to be held on Thursday, October 4.
Sources within SuttonTories have denied that there was “any political intrigue”, and said that McManus had resigned “purely for personal reasons”.
But Sutton Council observers suggest that little had been seen of McManus for six months – his last tweet, for example, was in April. McManus, who had been a councillor since 2014, is known to own property in Germany, and it has been suggested he may had opted to move there permanently.
But that does raise the question of why he was still a candidate for election in May.
“What’s odd is this decision has come just a matter of a few weeks after the Tories were out on the streets of Sutton seeking the votes of residents for McManus,” another source said.
“Now, the people of Sutton are going to be expected to pay around £20,000 for the costs of an entirely avoidable and unnecessary by-election.
“Didn’t the Tories have any other viable candidates to stand in May?”
And as one Belmont resident told Inside Sutton today, “It beggars belief why McManus would stand in May then go now.”
Until May, McManus had served on the council’s planning committee, but he got dropped this time around – perhaps that was an indication that the Tory group leadership was aware of his lack of availability (although according to the council website, McManus maintained an 80 per cent attendance record for the few council meetings and committees held in the past four months).
McManus was one of the three Conservative councillors who retained their seats in Belmont ward in May, as they each polled close to 20 per cent of the vote, while their closest challengers, the LibDems, attracted around 10 per cent of the vote each; McManus gained 1,900 votes, the second-highest number of all candidates, while fourth-placed Dean Juster, for the LibDems, got fewer than 1,000.
Tim Crowley, the Tory group leader on the council, said today, “When Patrick took the view he could no longer be a councillor, he stepped aside immediately so that a new ward councillor could be elected by the residents of Belmont without delay.”
Oddly, given Crowley’s “without delay” remark, it was not the Conservatives who moved the necessary paperwork to call the by-election – even though they had known of McManus’s intention to resign before any other political group. Two Labour activists submitted the papers to Sutton chief exec Niall Bolger to trigger the by-election process.
Crowley is likely to have eager candidates queuing up for selection to stand for the vacant, and seemingly safe, Tory seat.
Among them could be Paul Newman, who lives in Belmont, although he is already a councillor in Surrey. Newman’s attempt to double-up on his council allowances by trying to get elected in Worcester Park in May was exposed by Inside Sutton.
A butcher by trade, as one local resident said today, “We all know Paul loves to serve.”
The by-election may offer a quick opportunity for Neil Garratt, Crowley’s former deputy leader, to regain his seat on the council, which he lost in May. McManus was known to be a close supporter of Garratt when they served on the council together between 2014 and 2018, so his resignation now may include an element of calculation to assist his colleague.
May’s local elections proved to be a night of mixed results for Sutton’s Tories, who while they saw the LibDems lose 12 seats, they failed to wrest control of the council from them.
Before McManus’s resignation on Friday, the Tories held 18 council seats in Sutton. The LibDems have 33 of Sutton’s 54 seats, with three held by independents.
Belmont residents are likely to be subjected to some fierce campaigning over the coming few weeks.
Council leader Ruth Dombey’s LibDems have felt the impact of the loss of the 12 seats in their campaign account’s bank balance, to the extend of about £12,000 a year less income than previously, generated from the money paid over by the councillors from their council allowances.
The Belmont by-election will give them an opportunity to redress at least part of that loss.
The LibDems will probably pick the usual older, white male candidate (probably a local retired teacher or chair of the friends of a park) that tends to serve them well in by-elections.
But their record on the council is likely to come under assault in the by-election not only from the Tories, but also from Labour and a candidate aligned with the three independent councillors who were elected in Beddington North in May.
#SuttonBinShame is still a hot topic, as is the Beddington incinerator, just before it is finally fired up, and the status of St Helier Hospital.
Strong front-runner as Labour candidate is likely to be local ward resident Marian Wingrove, who fought the ward in May.
And there is a strong possibility that also on the ballot paper will be Cherry Mattey, an unsuccessful LibDem candidate in Belmont ward in 2014.
She is married to Nick Mattey, the independent councillor in Beddington North who has been the scourge of Sutton’s Liberal Democrats over the Beddington incinerator and a range of other issues over the past four years.
Having been expelled from the LibDems for whistle-blowing over the financial arrangements between Sutton LibDems, local MP Tom Brake, and incinerator operators Viridor, Nick Mattey stunned his former party colleagues in May by not only retaining his council seat but also seeing two LibDems lose theirs in Beddington North, ousted by independents.
A re-run of that kind of campaigning is likely to be very damaging to any LibDem candidate in Belmont, and will probably ensure that the Conservatives retain the seat, despite McManus’s apparent fickleness.
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