Our Sutton staff reporter, BELLE MONT, on how the council’s ruling group are looking like very bad losers
The Liberal Democrats on Sutton Council are going against the tide of national politics, with their leader accused of saying, “Independents don’t get elected in Sutton.”
Ruth Dombey, the leader of Sutton Council, was heard to make that remark at a “become a councillor” meeting staged last year. Her bold assertion was quickly shown to be wrong when three independents were indeed elected to Sutton Council last May.
But the Liberal Democrats who control Sutton Council have taken their defeat in Beddington North ward so badly that Dombey’s councillors and activists have lodged no fewer than eight formal complaints against independent councillor Nick Mattey since the local elections were staged last May.
That works out at one official complaint per month since the LibDems had their majority on the council whittled down to just 12, in part, due to the efforts of independent candidates.
Today, Dombey told Inside Sutton that she has “no recollection of making such a statement” regarding independents.
The council leader also denied that there was any concerted effort to unseat Councillor Mattey or his colleagues. Dombey failed to address allegations that her LibDem group was indulging in a form of corporate bullying against the independent councillor.
She said: “I recognise that the three independent councillors were elected in May to represent their residents in Beddington North.
“I categorically refute that there are any efforts to ‘unseat’ any of them,” Dombey told Inside Sutton.
The evidence, however, suggests something different.
Indeed, one disappointed senior LibDem has been overheard saying that the party would have to resort to any means, even legal, to silence Mattey.
Formal complaints of misconduct from councillors or the public, when submitted to senior council officials, can lead to the suspension, even expulsion, of a councillor from the council if upheld.
All the complaints in the past eight months about the conduct of the anti-incinerator and anti-corruption campaigner Mattey have been dismissed.
But sources on the council have told Inside Sutton, “It’s clearly a concerted campaign by the LibDems. They’re out to get him, get him kicked off the council. It amounts to a form of corporate bullying.”
Mattey was originally elected to the council in 2014 for Beddington North ward as a Liberal Democrat.
But he was expelled from the Liberal Democrat party in April 2015 after whistle-blowing over the £275,000 “gift” from incinerator operator Viridor to a LibDem-supporting cause in Wallington.
Like the independent MPs at Westminster this week, Mattey declined the invitation to hold a by-election to re-fight his seat, and continued on Sutton Council as an independent. He has been a thorn in the side of Dombey and the LibDems ever since.
Last year, he recruited two other like-minded residents, Jillian Green and Tim Foster, to fight Beddington North at the local elections, and despite Dombey’s pre-election bravura, they won all three ward seats in Beddington North, defeating the sitting LibDem councillors.
The Liberal Democrates went into the 2018 local elections with 45 of Sutton’s 54 council seats and emerged still holding power, but with their overall majority reduced to just 12.
That embarrassing reverse has clearly irked Dombey’s remaining 33 LibDems, whose efforts to unseat Mattey are appearing increasingly desperate.
Another Sutton council source said today: “They use to say that the Tories were the ‘Nasty Party’. That’s not the case in LibDem-run Sutton.”
One complaint filed against Mattey concerned an incident at last July’s Beddington and Wallington local committee.
Liberal Democrat councillor Manuel Abellan was regularly jeering any statements made by Mattey at the meeting, and in a quiet moment, Mattey got up from his chair and went over to the senior LibDem to suggest politely that he might refrain from constantly interrupting.
This prompted LibDem-inspired complaints to be lodged accusing Mattey of rude and aggressive behaviour. As with all the complaints against Mattey in the past year, the complaint was dismissed – as further action was deemed to be not in the public interest. Witnesses confirm that Mattey’s conduct at the meeting was without any aggression or disruption.
This website was itself the subject of a formal complaint to the Electoral Commission, made anonymously but thought to have come from Sutton Liberal Democrats.
The complaint arose after we published news sheets last year summarising the previous four years of misrule at Sutton Council over the Viridor incinerator, the LibDem councillor who was convicted of fraud, the environmental destruction conducted in and around Beddington Farmlands, and the absentee councillor (LibDem, of course), who continued collecting his council allowances when training to become a cage fighter in Bath.
The Electoral Commission dismissed the complaint against Inside Sutton.
And now Dombey’s rage against independents appears to put her out of step with her own party leader, St Vince Cable, who today has said it would be “foolish” for his party to compete at the ballot box against the new independent grouping of MPs at Westminster.
“The first-past-the-post system means that we would damage each other very badly,” St Vince said.
Dombey may be able to put that to the test very soon, as she has a council by-election to contest in Wallington North, following the belated resignation through ill-health of her LibDem colleague Joyce Milican.
Sutton LibDems have yet to announce their candidate for the March 28 by-election, but there is a rumour locally that Mattey’s Sutton independent residents have managed to find someone to stand for election.
Perhaps Dombey’s party leader should have a word with her and persuade the LibDems to sit this one out?
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