Political editor WALTER CRONXITE on a somewhat fractious outcome to the Conservatives’ vote on who will represent the party in the 2020 London Assembly elections
Neil “Father Jack” Garratt, the councillor for Belmont ward, will be the Conservative candidate for the Sutton and Croydon constituency in next year’s London Assembly elections.
This is hugely embarrassing for one of the Croydon-based candidates, used house salesman Joe Lee, who had arranged for a public appearance in Norbury tomorrow alongside the Tory candidate for London Mayor, Shaun Bailey, to announce his selection… Whoops.
But then, Lee, a former Liberal Democrat, has never actually managed to win an election.
The outcome of last night’s meeting, held at the Grand Sapphire Hotel on the Purley Way, means that Garratt – who has a reputation for a sometimes colourful use of language on social media – could very easily land the £56,000 a year City Hall position next May: ever since the first London Assembly elections in 2000, Sutton and Croydon has been a Conservative hold, even with a candidate as lazy and ineffectual as “Silent” Steve O’Connell.
O’Connell, the Kenley councillor who has been an Assembly Member since 2008, has opted not to stand again next year, hence the selection meeting last night, which ended with some Conservatives from Croydon bitterly accusing their Sutton colleagues of deliberately “packing out the meeting” to get Garratt selected.
Clearly, the concept of the democratic process and “getting out the vote” must be alien to those Croydon Tories, many of whom seemed shocked by the outcome. And they may also have forgotten the kindergarten skill of counting: estimates put the number of Croydon Tories in the room as double that of their Sutton colleagues, with around 80 of the 120 or so in the room.
That Garratt won suggests that many Croydon Conservatives must have supported the only Sutton candidate on the shortlist, just another indication that Tories in Croydon always struggle to select someone of colour when there is a safe seat to contest.
Publicly, they tried to put a brave face on things.
“Huge congratulations to Neil Garratt – our Croydon and Sutton Conservatives GLA candidate,” wrote Mario Creatura, the Coulsdon councillor who had been prominent in his support for Lee.
Creatura, who looks after Prime Minister Theresa Mayhem’s Twitter feed from Downing Street, helpfully added a bit of Garratt biography, for those Croydon Tories who have never heard of him: “Son of a bus driver, grew up on a council estate – he knows what London needs. Just the champion that we need in City Hall,” Creatura claimed.
More than 12 hours after the voting ended, Inside Croydon could find no sign on Lee’s Twitter feed of any message of congratulations to Garratt. Nor did Lee or the other defeated candidates do the usual thing and wait to appear in the obligatory post-ballot photograph. Lee, Stephen Carr and Simon Hoar are conspicuous by their absence from that picture.
The official Croydon Conservative Twitter feed proclaimed that they were “delighted” by the result.
“Shocked more like,” one of their Sutton colleagues told Inside Croydon this morning.
“They were not expecting that at all.”
The decision was taken by about 120 Conservative members drawn from five parliamentary constituencies across both boroughs, something which does not augur well for the number of campaigners likely to be available to canvass to get Garratt elected next May.
The relatively low turn-out might be in part due to the uninspiring four-strong, mainly Gammon shortlist.
Or it might be because local Tories managed to prove that they really cannot organise a piss up in a three-star hotel: the Grand Sapphire is dry, without a licence to sell alcohol. As the meeting broke up, the two factions headed off in different directions to try to find a pub either to celebrate or conduct an immediate post mortem into where it had all gone wrong.
Ahead of proceedings, some in the room had suspected that Croydon Tories would hold sway. “Croydon provides the candidate, Sutton provides the votes,” was how one observer characterised how the London elections in 2012 and 2016 had panned out.
But the quality of the candidate presentations last night was surprisingly poor, even by third-rate, local Conservative politicians’ standards. “Some Croydon candidates embarrassed themselves with responses to questions regarding Sutton.”
Stephen Carr was the first candidate to be eliminated. “He was dreadful,” another observer remarked. “How did he manage to survive so long as leader of Bromley Council I just don’t understand.”
Next out was Purley councillor Simon “Cheap” Hoar, who missed out going into the final round of voting by a single vote, 35 to 34 to Lee. Hoar’s partner, a Tory member and past council election candidate, hadn’t bothered to show up for the selection meeting.
That made it a final showdown between Lee and Garratt.
Lee had much support from a large BAME contingent from Croydon North. While Garratt’s presentation had been good on detail, including knowledge of Croydon and its issues, Lee had been less convincing. “Smarmy and obsequious,” was how he was described, “as you’d expect from an estate agent.”
Garratt won the final round by 10 votes, 61 to 51.
“Only Hoar could have realistically beaten Garratt,” one Tory source at the meeting said. “Croydon’s split loyalties blew it.”
Garratt, who is the Tories’ spokesman on finance on Sutton Council, will be out and about in Wallington North tomorrow lunchtime, campaigning for the Conservative by-election candidate Charlotte Leonard, accompanied for the first time by Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey.
Look out for the compulsory selfies on social media, and see the number of Croydon Tories who turn up. You’ll be able to count them on the fingers of one hand.
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