Our Sutton correspondent, BERTIE WORCESTER-PARK, reports on the latest breach of election rules in the council by-election campaign
The Belmont ward council by-election, already contentious because of the manner in which the rarely seen Conservative councillor Patrick McManus resigned in August, and how returning officer Niall Bolger has pushed the polling date back as far as possible, benefiting the Liberal Democrats, is now the subject of further controversy, as Sutton Tories have been accused of breaking purdah.
A Tory election leaflet featuring their candidate for Belmont, Neil Garratt, has been distributed in the past week, and lists the sitting Conservative councillors in Belmont ward using their official council email addresses.
This breaks purdah rules, which forbid the use of council offices and facilities for party political purposes during an election campaign.
It is exactly the same offence which, six months ago, ahead of the local elections, saw the Conservatives hounding Sutton’s LibDems, with council officials forcing party activists to apply thick black marker pen to thousands of their leaflets to cross-out the offending details in a effort to stay the right side of election law.
The latest Tory leaflet, “News from Belmont Conservatives In Touch”, reveals Garratt as their “champion” candidate in the by-election due on October 25″. Of course, until May’s local election, Garratt, who lives in Wallington, was “champion” as a councillor for Beddington. And then the voters opted for someone else.
One Sutton council source accuses Garratt of being “sharp-elbowed” in his eagerness to find a safe Tory ward to secure a place back on the council, where until May he was Tim Crowley’s deputy leader of the Conservative group.
“His elbows are so sharp, he even elbowed out the ‘any time, any place, anywhere’ candidate Paul Newman. At least Newman lives in Belmont,” our source said. Newman, our loyal reader will recall, was put up for election by the Conservatives in Sutton in May, even though he was already a councillor in a nearby, Surrey local authority.
If the Tories are not forced to pulp their offending leaflet, and opt – as the LibDems did – to use the black marker pens to obliterate references to the council email addresses, they might want to consider editing out some of the worst pieces of dissembling in their material.
Garratt, according to the Tory leaflet, says that, “Belmont is a great place to live.” The Conservatives fail to explain how he knows this, since his family home is the other side of the borough boundary, closer to Croydon.
Garratt also says in the leaflet that he is, “Running in Belmont to ensure that planning is sensitive to the local area.” Garratt was never a member of the planning committee when he was a councillor for Beddington.
“Does he even know the local area?” a Belmont resident who proffered the questionable leaflets to Inside Sutton asked. “I guess that is the reason he is out delivering his own leaflets as he needs to get acquainted with it.”
If Garratt was to win the seat at next month’s by-election, he will not be the first Tory outsider to be parachuted in to represent Belmont. Current Conservative councillor for the ward Jane Pascoe does not even live in Sutton, but in Burgh Heath in Surrey. Which is nice. For her.
Both Labour and the LibDems have candidates that live in the ward. Dean Juster has been picked by the LibDems, while Labour’s local resident candidate is Marian Wingrove.
Not on the ballot paper on October 25, Inside Sutton understands, will be any independent residents’ candidate, aligned with the three councillors in Beddington North who displaced LibDems in the incinerator-blighted ward in May.
It had been suggested that Cherry Mattey, a candidate in Belmont in the past and wife of Councillor Nick Mattey, the hyper-active anti-incinerator campaigner, might be a runner.
But in what might yet prove a closer contest than the Tories might like, it appears that the independents have opted not to risk helping Ruth Dombey’s Liberal Democrats add to their (albeit much-reduced) majority on Sutton council.
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