WALTER CRONXITE, our political editor, on what passes for high drama at the latest council meeting
Croydon’s Conservative leadership flounced out of last night’s council cabinet meeting midway through a discussion on the borough’s preparedness – or otherwise – for a no-deal Brexit, as they theatrically took exception to being called Nazis.
Except, they never were called Nazis.
The Tories’ stunt (no, that’s not a typing error) had some appearance of being pre-determined, an attention-seeking device, as the handful of senior Conservative councillors who had bothered to turn up for the meeting appeared all too ready to leave in mock indigination when given the word by Jason Perry.
Cabinet meetings are among the more pointless showpieces of council business. This was the first such meeting for almost two months, and as usual the council’s Labour leadership used it as a platform for announcing what they perceive to be the fine work that they have been doing. As is also customary at cabinet, council leader Tony Newman, who chairs these meetings, occasionally allowed the opposition group to chip in and then, in time-honoured fashion, ignored them.
One agenda item last night was the impact of the threatened sudden exit from the European Union at the end of October, with invited speakers from Mayday Hospital, talking about how the NHS Trust had not been stockpiling drugs and medicines in case of a No Deal Brexit, and local resident Maria Klos, who spoke tearfully of her Polish family and German friends, and of how since the Brexit referendum she had been spat at in the street in Coulsdon, told to “go back home” (she was born in Croydon), and been called a Nazi and a communist in the space of a few minutes.
Newman then called on one of his deputy leaders, Stuart Collins, to speak. Collins is the cabinet member responsible for the cleanliness of our streets and waste collection, and he spoke about how a No Deal Brexit would affect the work of rubbish contractors Veolia and the borough’s recycling programme.
“I’m angry at David Cameron,” Collins said, accusing the former Tory Prime Minister of “bottling it” when it came to dealing with the rise of the far-right in the country and within the Conservative Party.
Collins was struck, he said, “by how ill-thought-out this whole Brexit business has been”.
He then referred to a conversation he had had with a friend in Germany. “He said to me, for Nigel Farage – look at Hitler. For Boris Johnson – look at Hermann Goering.”
The Conservative opposition group took grave offence at this, with rumblings across the Town Hall Chamber floor. “You may not like this,” Collins continued. “But look at the behaviour of your leader.”
Perry puffed out his chest in full faux outrage mode. “Now you’re calling us Nazis!” Perry said, perhaps deliberately misrepresenting what had been said.
“Can’t you listen to a point of view?” Collins responded.
“Go back to your Government. Talk to Boris Johnson. Tell him not to act like a buffoon.”
But by then, the Tories had put away their sandwiches and packed away their smartphones and headed off to regroup elsewhere – perhaps that well-known enclave of tolerance, the South Norwood Conservative Club…
It was all a bit churlish and childish, very sixth-form debating club nonsense. It was an over-reaction of Basil Fawltyesque proportions.
Senior Croydon Tory Vidhi Mohan, who the Conservatives often wheel out to play the victim, accused Collins of “disgraceful behaviour” and repeated the false claim on social media that Collins had called his group Nazis.
The webcast recording of the meeting clearly shows that this never actually happened.
“This faux outrage was a way to escape having to confront the consequences of their disastrous No-deal Brexit,” a senior Labour Town Hall figure told Inside Croydon.
With one former Conservative Prime Minister taking the current one through the Supreme Court over alleged abuses of power, these are difficult times for the Tory Party, at local as well as national level, where they appear to be split at least three ways.
But even by Croydon Tories’ usual standards of ineffectualness, bleating about being called names when nothing of the sort ever happened, is plunging to depths not seen before.
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