Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports that the Croydon Conservative Party is not a happy place to be in the midst of Brexit and local election carnage
“Gavin Barwell left”.
That was the final message on Friday night in an increasingly bitter row conducted on social media between the Brexit-backing faction among Croydon Conservatives’ members and some of its senior figures, including those working at the heart of Theresa Mayhem’s failing government.
Former MP Barwell, now the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, finally snapped at the criticism May is getting from within her own party.
It was just after 10pm on Friday when Barwell – who would usually be in Nando’s at such time each week – posted his message on local Tories’ official WhatsApp group, a social media tool that he or his one-time bag-carrier, Mario Creatura, will have had a hand in establishing as a means of keeping in touch with the rank-and-file of the local membership.
A day after the Conservatives had seen more than 1,200 Tory councillors in England lose their seats in the latest local elections, and the pressures from all sides are beginning to spill out of Downing Street and down to Croydon. Barwell had witnessed the political carnage first-hand on Thursday, when he was out campaigning in Woking on behalf of a former Croydon activist, one who managed to transform a once staunchly Conservative council seat into a LibDem one.
Barwell, of course, is the former MP for Croydon Central, the author of How To Lose A Marginal Seat, who when he lost at the 2017 General Election was able to walk straight into a publicly funded £150,000 per year position as the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.
Judging from his possibly tired and emotional message posted on WhatsApp on Friday night, it is proving to be a less than dream job.
Barwell’s message was ripe with petulance and frustration. It was leaked on Saturday by an anonymous Twitter account, @CroydonTory, which appears to have been set up for the purpose.
The screengrab of the WhatsApp message was accompanied by some commentary: “Gavin Barwell refuses to listen to his local party”.
The late Friday night message posted by Barwell was in response to someone having posted: “I think I heard someone say ouch? Was that the truth hurting?”
Barwell wrote: “What hurts is working 18 or 19 hour days and then coming on a WhatsApp group whose members are meant to be supporters of the party to find your boss being subjected to attacks of the kind I would expect from our worst opponents.
“And frankly I have had enough of it and have better ways to spend my time.
“So you win. Hope you’re pleased with yourself.”
The social media spat has been reported in the Murdoch press and by the left-leaning Daily Mirror, which described Barwell as having “flounced” out of the group.
The ConservativeHome website – which was founded by Barwell’s former employer, Lord Cashcroft – reported the incident and said: “This is a vivid illustration of quite how the tensions and frustrations of the current situation are severely testing relationships between different elements of the Conservative Party.”
A poll run by ConservativeHome found 82 per cent of Tory members want May to quit as PM… and therefore Barwell to be out of his job, too.
According to The Times, “One source close to Mr Barwell…,” which probably means Barwell himself, “… said that his remarks were directed at the comments of one individual and that Mr Barwell remained on good terms with the local party, many of whose members gave hundreds of hours to get him elected as an MP.”
So Barwell’s already back-pedalling from distancing himself entirely from the activists upon whom he depends, though not entirely convincingly.
The schism within the Croydon Conservatives over Brexit has been evident for months, and previously surfaced when the Croydon Tories’ WhatsApp group shutdown discussion of Brexit.
The then chairman of the local party, Alasdair Stewart, had announced – also via the same WhatsApp group – that he would no longer campaign for the party as long as Mayhem was at No10 and failing to deliver on promises to remove Britain from the European Union.
That the matter continues to divide the party is evident in the differences on the subject between Barwell and Creatura, one of his longest serving aides and supporters. It also suggests that the Croydon Conservatives are moving increasingly to the hard right.
Barwell has made no secret of his Remainer views, though he denies having lobbied at the highest levels for a second referendum.
Creatura, the former assistant to Barwell at the House of Commons, was hired to a £80,000 per year job to be May’s social media special adviser on his ex-boss’s recommendation. Like Barwell, Creatura spent a considerable amount of time last week campaigning in Woking.
The Cousdon councillor is now the Conservatives’ Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Barwell’s old seat, Croydon Central; Creatura now plays to his party’s right wingers by regularly pitching himself as a fervent Brexiteer.
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