Our Sutton reporter, CARL SHILTON, on the rumbling row over a councillor announcing support for a Conservative candidate
Labour activists in Sutton have been furious that Nick Mattey, the independent councillor for Beddington North, endorsed the Conservative candidate, Neil “Father Jack” Garratt, ahead of the recent council by-election held in Belmont ward.
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 and was duly elected last month in the resultant by-election.
Garratt took 47 per cent of the poll, more than 250 votes ahead of the LibDem candidate. Labour was only third in the by-election, scraping together barely 300 votes after a somewhat restrained campaign. “It’s fair to say Belmont is a corner of the country untouched by Corbynmania,” one deflated Labour canvasser told Inside Sutton after the vote.
Despite the outcome at the ballot box – or perhaps because of it – Labour activists in the borough have been raging on social media with a fury for the past four weeks at Mattey, after a Tory leaflet appeared on the eve of election day featuring the independent councillor’s endorsement for Garratt.
Under a photograph of Mattey is a quote which said, “As an independent councillor in Sutton I do not have any party loyalties. I am not a Conservative but I have worked with Neil on Sutton Council for four years and I know just how hard he will work for you as one of your local councillors.
“As a former LibDem, I can tell you they do not have your area’s best interests at heart. You do not need yet another LibDem councillor who will blindly follow whatever they are told to do. Neil will be a strong local councillor who will fight for you and hold them to account.”
This enfuriated Labour in Sutton, although it ought not to have come as any surprise.
A source close to Mattey has suggested that Labour in Sutton has yet to recover from the embarrassment of the May local elections, when Mattey’s Beddington independents won three council seats while Labour won none.
When the Belmont by-election was announced in August, Mattey quickly abandoned the idea of putting up a candidate specifically because he did not want to risk taking any Tory votes and letting the Liberal Democrats claw back a seat on the council. He has told friends that his eleventh-hour backing for Garratt in the by-election was consistent with that position.
Clearly irked, a senior Labour figure told Inside Sutton, “Nick Mattey has been a member of two parties and an independent and has now endorsed the Tories in the by-election,” referring to Mattey’s brief dalliance with the Greens after his expulsion from the LibDems.
“The Tory agent said they approached Mattey and he agreed to do the endorsement. We are not surprised at all, his online attacks on Jeremy Corbyn show what side of the fence he really sits.”
Labour has claimed that Mattey has no “policy” to deal with the incinerator in his ward, while they do. This appears to overlook that the incinerator has been commissioned by four south London boroughs, two of which, Merton and Croydon, are Labour-controlled.
According to sources close to Mattey, he had the approval of his fellow independent councillors for the endorsement of the Tory candidate. A student of military tactics, Mattey is said to have decided to back Garratt on the basis of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.
They said, “Nick worked really hard in the spring to oust the LibDems from Beddington North and reduce their majority in the one-party state that is Sutton Council. He did not want to risk them winning back a council seat and getting their hands on another £11,000 a year in allowances, a large chunk of which would go straight into their party’s campaign war chest.”
Mattey was first elected on to Sutton Council in 2014 as a Liberal Democrat, but was suspended and then ejected from the party after he blew the whistle on the £275,000 “gift” from incinerator operators Viridor to a Wallington church hall which is regularly used for LibDem campaign meetings.
The “gift” was made just as Viridor was seeking planning permission to build their industrial scale incinerator on Beddington Lane.
Mattey also exposed how the senior Sutton LibDem, John Drage, had sat in on the decision of the South London Waste Partnership to award the £1billion incinerator contract to Viridor, without ever declaring his close family friendship with the company’s chairman, Colin Drummond.
Labour has failed to win a single council seat in Sutton since 2002, despite putting up a full slate of candidates across the borough in four Town Hall elections since, including last May when they were standing against Ruth Dombey’s widely discredited LibDem administration.
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