LibDem councillor who rediscovered herself as an Epsom sort

BERTIE WORCESTER-PARK reports on how Monica Coleman, having voted through the incinerator in Sutton, has re-invented herself as a residents’ association candidate in West Ewell to jump on the councillor allowance gravy train in local elections in Surrey tomorrow

It’s local election time again! Whoop! Whoop!

But our loyal reader in Croydon, or Sutton, can relax. There won’t be a Game of Thrones-style army of council-funded zombie leaflet deliverers pitching up on your doorstep to “GOTV” (which means Get Out The Vote, in case you wondered) tomorrow.

London boroughs had their local elections 12 months ago (what do you mean, you’re still traumatised by the memories?), so this time round it’s the shires, such as Surrey, Kent and Sussex, where the voting is taking place. Though there are some candidates who will be familiar to south Londoners.

Labour in Croydon, to ensure that our councillors get their fix of evangelical door-knocking, grinning selfie-taking and leaflet-shoving, has arranged to get a charabanc down the A23 to Crawley, where some have been asked to get there as early as 6.30am.

Closer to home, and candidates who a relatively short time ago were pledging undying devotion and lifelong allegiance to one of our boroughs, and to one party, have re-appeared this spring, now proselytising for a different neighbourhood, and a different, more electable, party or group.

Monica Coleman: moved to Ewell for its open spaces, having damaged Sutton’s when a councillor

Between 2010 and 2014, Monica Coleman was a Liberal Democrat councillor for Wallington South ward in Sutton. But tomorrow, she appears on ballot papers in the West Ewell ward of Epsom and Ewell council elections as a candidate for WERRA, the West Ewell and Ruxley Residents Association.

What could possibly have caused this political Damascene change in Coleman, other than that last time, the RA candidates came first, second and third in West Ewell ward, and the solitary LibDem finished a sorry 10th of 10 candidates?

In her time in Sutton, Coleman was a devoted follower of Ruth Dombey’s LibDem leafleting cult, and was around long enough to be one of the councillors who, in 2013, granted planning permission to Viridor to build the controversial £210million incinerator at Beddington Lane.

In the past, Coleman has gushed about the good works that local councillors can do.

“When I finished my degree I started working for my local MP and realised just how much he helped locally and helped the community to feel like a community. I went on to work in councils and realised that most councillors want to help and make positive changes in their communities.

“It was due to working with some amazing councillors, who went the extra mile to help, that I made up my mind to stand for the council. Locally, for me, it wasn’t about wanting to change things but wanting to improve them,” the incinerator-enabler said, without any hint of irony.

On this year’s declaration of candidates for West Ewell ward, Coleman gives an address in the Epsom local authority area, so must have moved home south since she was last elected as a councillor in Sutton.

Being a LibDem party member in Epsom and Ewell must have been a lonely experience for Coleman, as the Liberal Democrats currently have zero councillors there. There used to be a few, but apparently Epsom residents don’t easily forgive politicians who promise and pledge one thing, and then do something entirely different.

How the residents’ associations organise themselves in Epsom and Ewell

Epsom and Ewell council, since the last local elections, is dominated by resident association councillors – 31 of them, out of 38. The Tories have a miserable quartet, and Labour has just three councillors. The LibDems were wiped out in Epsom and Ewell in 2015, losing six council seats.

So it might be a stretch to see Coleman’s return to local politics under the banner of the residents’ association as anything else other than a flag of convenience.

On the residents’ association website detailing their election candidates, they carefully step around Coleman’s shady past as an incinerator-supporting Liberal Democrat. They even avoid mentioning Sutton, just in case any of the voters in West Ewell decided to try to check on her voting record.

“Monica Coleman moved to West Ewell with her young family because of its open spaces, great schools and transport links,” it states, glowingly, on the RA website. “Monica has a wide knowledge of how councils function, having previously been a councillor in London. Monica is interested in protecting the character of our neighbourhoods, getting people involved in their communities and helping those who cannot access services.”

Which is nice.

But voting blindly for a council candidate without knowledge of their previous political history can have its pit-falls.

If the voters of Ewell West spoke to anyone who knew Coleman from her days as a loyal Sutton LibDem, they might form a different judgement.

“While sitting on Sutton’s planning committee, Monica gained a reputation for idly and thoughtlessly granting approval, seemingly for virtually anything any developer shoved under her nose,” according to a source who knew Coleman from her time as a Wallington South councillor.

“Monica lazily took a back seat, while other, more conscientious councillors, did all the work.”

At one planning meeting, considering an application for a large mosque in Worcester Park, Coleman tried befriending the large group of concerned residents who had turned up to oppose the application.

“What’s Worcester Park like?” Coleman called out to the public gallery.

“Shouldn’t you have found out before tonight?” a thoroughly unimpressed resident replied, to an eruption of applause. Coleman returned to her default position, of sitting silently until it came to raising her hand, when she duly followed the lead of her colleagues.

Given the reasons Coleman says that she moved to West Ewell – “Monica Coleman moved to West Ewell with her young family because of its open spaces” – her record when a Sutton councillor at voting through the destruction of of open spaces may seem to jar slightly. The Viridor incinerator, after all, has been built, thanks to Coleman, among others, on what was supposed to be protected Metropolitan Open Land, part of a wildlife sanctuary. The impact of that decision continues today: Sutton Council is now allowing further development on MOL because of how the incinerator has contributed to the area’s “industrial” character.

The incinerator has also come with the local heating network, which has also led to the destruction and damage to open spaces – as with the Beddington Chainsaw Massacre.

Not that any of this remains a concern for Coleman. By choosing to move her family south-west, to Ewell, Coleman and her children should manage to avoid the worst of the toxic cloud of air pollution that she is responsible for.

Residents of Epsom and Ewell should at least be happy to learn that the wind is less changeable than Coleman’s political affiliations. Though, if they elect her tomorrow, given the Epsom area’s Green Belt land greedily eyed by developers, they might need to keep a close eye on the planning process if she is given a seat on that committee.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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