On the eve of the Fairfield council by-election, the leader of the Conservative group at Croydon Town Hall has tried to distance his local party from the controversial SPAC Nation.
The Tory candidate in Thursday’s Fairfield by-election, 20-year-old Jayde Edwards, is a pastor in the evangelical church.
When Inside Croydon put the basis of our report to Councillor Tim Pollard, the leader of Croydon Tories, he said that his local party has no “special relationship” with any church or religious group, “and this applies to SPAC Nation as much as any other”.
Pollard said: “The only ‘relationship’ between SPAC Nation and the Conservatives is that Jayde is a member of both.”
Yet Pollard’s remarks come despite several senior members of the Croydon Conservatives, from “Baron” Gavin Barwell to Pollard himself, making special visits to SPAC Nation services and events.
In March last year, Pollard tweeted after attending a SPAC service, “I was very excited about the passion for change and self-development I felt in the room.” Which is nice.
Tobi Adegboyega, the founder of SPAC Nation and a self-proclaimed “pastor”, who lives in a £2.5million mansion in the Shirley Hills, attended this year’s Conservative Party conference together with Edwards, Coulsdon councillor Mario Creatura and other Croydon Tories.
His working relationship with Creatura – a former Downing Street special adviser – saw Adegboyega given a prime position at conference, seated in the second row, right behind Boris Johnson.
It was within days of these photo ops that Edwards was revealed as the Tory candidate for the Fairfield by-election – a decision taken by local Conservative Party leaders (potentially including Creatura and Pollard), but by-passing a ballot of grassroots party members.
One disgruntled Tory member, denied any say in the important candidate selection process, told Inside Croydon, “Members of much longer standing, who have proved their commitment and stood in 2018 were overlooked, despite all the extensive effort they put in.”
Creatura, who is the Tory candidate in the marginal Croydon Central parliamentary seat in the General Election to be held on December 12, has been cynical in trying to harness the dozens youthful and energetic SPAC Nation church members who have turned out in support of Edwards and, he must be hoping, could next be the leafleting foot soldiers for his own campaign.
But the fraud investigation and further allegations that have been made against members of SPAC Nation may not play too well on the doorsteps with voters in Fairfield ward and across Croydon Central.
“It amazes me that the local leadership continue to associate with this group,” one long-standing Tory member said.
“If an investigation finds evidence of criminal conduct, the damage to the party will linger much longer, perhaps indefinitely.”
Which probably explains the furious back-pedalling being done now by Pollard.
“Croydon Conservatives has good relations with many of the churches, mosques and temples of the borough and are sometimes fortunate enough to be asked to attend their events,” Pollard told Inside Croydon.
“Members of the party, activists and elected councillors are entitled to be a member of any religion they choose, or none. We have no ‘special relationship’ with any of these churches, mosques or temples, and this applies to SPAC Nation as much as any other.
“Many candidates bring along friends, relations and supporters to help them get their message across and I am delighted that Jayde has such a strong supporter base, who believe in her message of hope and want to help her spread it.
“The only ‘relationship’ between SPAC Nation and the Conservatives is that Jayde is a member of both.”
It is unclear at this point whether the association with SPAC Nation will be damaging for the reputation of the Conservative Party, or vice versa.
The Fairfield by-election is on November 7.
Updated 6pm Nov 5: The caption on the lead photograph was amended after we were advised we had misidentified one of the people positioned behind Boris Johnson. We apologise for any confusion caused
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