Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, reports that the borough’s elected councillors are back to what they do best – delivering leaflets ahead of a General election. PLUS: we reveal ‘secret’ candidates in four local seats
Croydon’s 70 councillors, Conservative as well as Labour, are again fulfilling their real role, as the country’s most overpaid, publicly funded leaflet distributers, working not on behalf of the hard-working communities of the borough, but on behalf of their political parties and unenlightened self-interest.
A seemingly imminent General Election means that the borough’s councillors are stuffing as many of their party’s leaflets into letterboxes as possible before the starter’s gun on the campaign period proper gets fired, and they all then have to at least appear to be complying with the law on election expense limits.
Inevitably, the Tories’ gobby factotum candidate in Croydon Central, Mario Creatura, has been most active in this respect. Having previously worked for political failures Gavin Barwell and Theresa May, Creatura has been even more egregiously active in pursuit of his own political ambitions since he was handed his P45 from his Downing Street job last month.
“I do wish someone with offer Mario a proper job, and quick,” one leading Croydon Conservative activist told Inside Croydon, after begging us not to identify them.
“Because that is probably the only thing that could stop the deluge of daily emails about today’s canvassing, delivery opportunity or litter pick.”
The neatly circular nature of the modern political campaign – of doling out tons of pieces of paper that no one wants to read, and then spending time organising a community litter pick, to collect up tons of discarded paper that no one has bothered to read – appears to be lost on Croydon’s wannabe politicians. Though in many cases, it does serve as a perfect metaphor for their uselessness.
Purley Oaks and Riddlesdown Tory councillor Helen Redfern pictured herself yesterday morning in Addiscombe, well away from the residents she is supposed to represent, delivering the latest Creatura’s parliamentary campaign.
Croydon Council pays £1.5million a year in so-called “allowances” to its 70 elected councillors. Both Labour and Tory councillors are compelled to “donate” a portion of their allowance income into party campaign funds – in total, at least £150,000 per year.
That helps to give Croydon’s Labour-Conservative political duopoly a firm grip on politics, because as well as effectively paying for the councillors’ time on their delivery rounds, it is public money that goes towards paying for the leaflets and campaigning, while also freezing out the other parties – the LibDems, Greens and Brexit Party – who do not receive any similar funding to support the same campaigning infrastructure.
The recent surge in Liberal Democrat poll standings during the Brexit crisis looks like it could have a real impact on the fortunes of the big two parties locally.
In national polls, Labour are losing more votes to the LibDems than hard Brexit Boris is losing to the Brexit Party.
A council by-election held yesterday in a Labour-held ward in Hull is a good example, with the LibDems boosting their votes by more than 30 per cent.
None of this means that the LibDems stand any real chance of winning any parliamentary or even council seats in Croydon any time soon. And that’s despite the typically FibDem nature of what one of the candidates has been pushing out recently, with highly misleading bar charts in paid-for Facebook adverts – Dominic Cummings is not the only one capable of such dark crafts.
And this is where the Remain-Leave argument takes a particularly distorted turn.
Croydon Central’s MP since 2017 is Labour’s Remain-supporting, hard Brexit-opposing Sarah Jones. Her Tory opponent, Creatura, after more than two years of sending out tweets from Downing Street in support of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, now claims to want a Boris Johnson-led hard Brexit, with the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on October 31.
Yet based on national opinion polls and an unchanged voter participation rate, in Croydon Central even a slight erosion of the Labour vote by the LibDems means that, according to (the far from infallible) Electoral Calculus, Jones is at risk of losing her seat to Creatura losing by around 1,000 votes.
In 2017, Jones won by 5,652 votes over Creatura’s former boss, Gavin Barwell.
The same calculations show that in Croydon South, lickspittle Conservative MP Chris Philp’s majority would be upped by almost 1,000, with the revived LibDems snapping at the heels of a second-placed Labour.
And across in Sutton and Cheam, which had been a LibDem seat until 2015, Tory Paul Scully, a Conservative Party vice-chairman and loyalist under PM Johnson, could see his 12,618 majorities from 2017 whittled down to a nail-biting 150.
But to win any votes, never mind a seat, the LibDems need candidates that are recognised and supported by the public. And in this respect, the Liberal Democrats have adopted a bizarre policy of not bothering to tell anyone who they have selected. It is almost as if they are embarrassed, and want to keep it all a secret.
Perhaps in this neck of the woods, they are only too aware of their well-earned reputation as the enablers of Tory austerity.
Inside Croydon previously reported that Claire Bonham had been picked by the LibDems as their London Assembly candidate for Croydon and Sutton next year, and clearly with an eye on making inroads at the next council elections in Brick by Brick-blighted Upper Norwood, her home ward, the Sally Army staffer has also been named as her party’s candidate to take on Steve Reed OBE in Croydon North.
In Croydon South, which looks like the most potentially fruitful seat for the LibDems, former Epsom councillor Anna Jones, a resident in Kenley who was their 2017 candidate, has been picked again. Not that her own party has bothered to tell anyone. In Croydon Central, the LibDem choice is someone called Simon Sprague.
Even the subterranean profile of the LibDem candidates compares favourably to Labour’s position in Croydon, where they have yet to select a candidate for one of the seats, Croydon South. With a General Election to be staged possibly as soon as October 15, Labour in London has set today as a deadline for wannabe MPs to submit their applications to be considered for candidate selection in vacant seats or seats held by other parties.
Sutton and Cheam is, for the LibDems, probably the most winnable of target seats locally, and Inside Croydon understands that they are planning a campaign launch tomorrow where they will unveil Hina Bokhari as their candidate.
The choice of Bokhari can be seen as significant in a number of respects, but not least because she is not a councillor in Sutton.
Under the leadership of Ruth Dombey, the LibDem record on Sutton Council has been in freefall, so much so that the party locally has looked outside their own borough for its parliamentary candidate.
Bokhari is a councillor for West Barnes ward in Merton, something which will not strengthen her campaign narrative up against Scully, and sources in Sutton suggest that she has already managed to alienate some older activists, who were out-flanked at the selection meeting by new members.
Bokhari is also No2 on the LibDems’ list candidates for the London Assembly elections next May, which again is likely to undermine her as a candidate with any really serious intent for the Sutton and Cheam parliamentary seat.
It seems very likely that, when there is a General Election, the LibDems will be forced to fight hard to defend Tom Brake’s seat in Carshalton and Wallington. If Sutton LibDems also put the full weight of their campaign machine behind Bokhari, it could mean one thing: in this part of south London, the LibDems’ focus of activists and campaign budgets won’t be on any of the Croydon seats.
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