Councillor’s six-month absence triggers Wallington by-election

Our Sutton staff reporter, BERTIE WORCESTER-PARK, on the latest set-back for the council’s Liberal Democrats

Joyce Melican: unwell

Sutton Council seems set for another councillor by-election, this time in Wallington North.

Liberal Democrat councillor Joyce Melican has been absent from all council business since August, after she suffered a stroke while visiting family in Germany. Melican’s recovery has been slower than had been hoped, and it is understood that she has stayed in Hamburg for her recuperation.

Her council leader, Ruth Dombey, nominated Melican as chair of the Beddington and Wallington local committee, a position which is accompanied by an additional £10,000 per year in councillor allowances for running three meetings a year. Melican last attended the local committee in July last year.

Council rules demand that if a councillor is absent from their duties for six months, then their position is forfeit. This is the rule which was nearly invoked in the case of Callum Morton, the former aide to MP Tom Brake who went off to work for another Liberal Democrat MP in the West Country and ended up training to become a cage fighter…

After more than five months of trousering his Sutton Council allowances for doing nothing for the ward he was supposed to represent, Morton managed to find his way back to south London for a civic meeting just in the nick of time to avoid being kicked off the council. He did not, however, seek re-election last May.

In the case of Melican, time has run out for her to make an appearance.

Although the new council was elected only last May, this will be the second Sutton by-election inside nine months: Tory councillor Patrick McManus left his Belmont ward seat after barely four months in office, initially it was thought because he could not devote the time to the ward residents that was required. It was not until the eve of the by-election that McManus broke his silence to tell Inside Sutton that he never really wanted to quit anyway.

But  by then, it was all too late, and conveniently – especially so for Neil “Father Jack” Garratt – the vacancy provided a quick return to the council for Sutton Tories’ deputy leader, who had carelessly lost his seat last May.

The by-election to replace Melican – in Brake’s constituency – is likely to be hard-fought.

Wallington North in is the heart of LibDem MP Tom Brake’s constituency

The LibDem administration continues to irritate residents, with the polluting Beddington incinerator (which is readily noticed by householders in Wallington), the continuing problems with Veolia bin collections, and now mounting anger over the council’s proposals to charge people for the right to park their cars on the street near their homes. Ladle on top of that lot the full, 4.99 per cent Council Tax rise announced (oh so quietly) last Friday, and there couldn’t be a worse time for the LibDems to have to hold a by-election.

At last May’s local elections, Melican was the third-placed of the LibDems in the ward, with 1,505 votes – a meagre 15 per cent support, but still nearly 600 votes more than the leading Tory candidate. Labour’s candidates in Wallington North polled 6 per cent or less.

Including Melican’s unoccupied seat, the LibDems hold 33 of Sutton’s 54 council seats, while the Tories have 18 and the noisy independents have all three seats from nearby Beddington North.

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