CARL SHILTON, our Sutton reporter, on the outcome of a council by-election which was entirely unnecessary
After a six-month absence, Neil “Father Jack” Garratt is back as a councillor in Sutton.
Garratt, the deputy leader of the Conservatives in Sutton until he lost his council seat in May’s local elections (“Feck! Bollocks!” he is widely assumed to have said at the time), seized the opportunity presented by the apparently unnecessary resignation of one of his erstwhile council colleagues in Belmont ward and was duly elected in yesterday’s resultant by-election to resume the collection his £11,000 allowances with immediate effect.
On a 36 per cent turn out, Garratt took 47 per cent of the vote, with Jean Duster, the candidate for Sutton’s ruling LibDems, on 37.6 per cent. Labour’s Marian Wingrove, despite canvassing efforts by activitists from across Sutton and Croydon, trailed a long way back in third, on 10.7 per cent.
The Tory vote in the ward was down 9.6 per cent on May’s poll, the LibDem squeeze, in an effort to restore one of the 12 seats that they lost earlier this year, seeing them add 10.7 per cent to their vote … and yet still they fell well short.
If such voting patterns were to be repeated across the parliamentary constituency, Paul Scully, the Tory MP for Sutton and Cheam, would have a much reduced majority.
In the Croydon-Sutton Greater London Assembly seat – which will be up for grabs in 2020 – such a vote could signal that Labour would reduce the Tory majority to less than 10,000 votes.
There had been a protracted ward campaign – Niall Bolger, the LibDem-friendly chief exec at Sutton Council delayed the holding of the by-election, giving Ruth Dombey’s party plenty of time to canvass residents in a usually true-blue corner of the borough.
The campaigning was sometimes bitter, Sutton LibDems still smarting from the loss of at least £130,000 per year in public subsidy through the councillor allowance system.
The FibDems applied their usual carpet-bombing leafleting approach, incuding the familiar graphs which complete distort the reality. The main thrust of their campaign on behalf of Duster was that he lived in the ward, and that the Tory candidate had been “parachuted in” (all the way from Beddington).
This all started to come undone a little when Duster chose to circulate pictures of himself as “the local Belmont candidate” campaigning on the door step… on what turned out to be the door step of his very own home.
And a LibDem map produced to show the how far away Garratt (pictured right) lives from the ward also back-fired, when whichever FibDem activist labelled the map demonstrated that they do not even know their own borough too well, as they misidentified Belmont.
There were even stand-up rows in the usually sedate streets of suburban Belmont yesterday, as Chris Williams, the LibDems’ deputy mayor, was accused of stalking another councillor, Nick Mattey, the independent from Beddington North ward who was out on the stump campaigning for the Conservatives.
Garratt’s return to the council was, as you might expect, welcomed by his party colleagues.
Matthew Maxwell-Biscuit-Barrel, the heir presumptive to a Scottish title and twice the failed Tory candidate in the neighbouring Carshalton and Wallington parliamentary constituency, tweeted, “Delighted to see Neil Garratt return to Sutton Council. A clever, forensic and very affable choice for the good people of Belmont.
“Also good, not least for the partisan among you, is that Sutton LibDems will be furious because they’re really not very competent and he’s excellent at proving it.”
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