Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, reports as the Town Hall’s opposition Conservatives stage their leadership reshuffle
Jason Perry is Croydon’s Conservative opposition’s new leader, elected at a meeting of the borough’s Tory councillors last night.
Croydon’s Tories have been enthusiastic supporters of the campaign for a democratically elected mayor for Croydon, to break away from a system where the borough’s political leadership is decided in a secret meeting behind closed doors by little more than a handful of councillors. So it was refreshing to see that they elected their new leader at a secret(ish) meeting behind closed doors, with as few as 29 councillors taking part in selecting Perry, with even local party members excluded from the process.
Perry replaces Tim Pollard, who has stood down as Croydon Tories’ leader at the Town Hall after six years of, it is fair to say, making little real impact on the Labour-controlled council.
Pollard had given changes in his family circumstances as his decision to resign. But there had been some rumblings of disquiet about the Tory group’s performance under Pollard. The leadership change comes, perhaps somewhat conveniently, 21 months before the next Town Hall elections – time enough for “Grayson” Perry to put his stamp on Croydon’s Tory group at the Town Hall.
Perry has been a councillor for what was Croham, now South Croydon, ward for 26 years (what do you mean, you’d never heard of him before?). He was one of Pollard’s two deputy leaders and has been the Tories’ spokesman on the economy, as well as the Conservatives’ lead member on the planning committee.
The Tory councillor “selectorate” opted to make a break with the previous regime’s leadership, which was hardly representative of the borough they are supposed to serve, comprising as they did of three white, middle-aged, middle-class blokes. Last night, somewhat radically for suburban Tories, they elected Lynne Hale as one of Perry’s deputies alongside Jason Cummings. So now the Tory leadership is just white, middle-aged and middle-class…
With no sense of irony, in his acceptance speech, Perry actually thanked Pollard, who he claimed, “has worked hard to transform the group, not least by making it younger and more diverse”. Seriously.
Hale has been a councillor for Sanderstead since 1998. Like others within the Croydon Conservative opposition, she is a full-time politician who gets two wage packets funded by the tax-payer: as well as her shadow cabinet council allowances (she is the Tories’ spokesperson on housing), she also has a job at Westminster, working for Croydon South MP Chris Philp.
Hale’s promotion to deputy doubtless comes following some quietly impressive performances in the Town Hall chamber in the past couple of years, albeit with the open goal of the Labour council’s abject failure to deal with the homelessness crisis in the borough and the expensive failure that is Brick by Brick.
It was Hale’s persistent questioning which saw an angry Alison Butler, Labour’s deputy leader, shout “lying cow” across the chamber floor when Butler was the one caught out lying over her administration’s attempts to sell off bits of parkland for development.
Perry, who runs a building supplies business based off the Purley Way, is unusual in having some hinterland outside of politics. It will be interesting to see how he manages to juggle the competing demands of his business with campaigning for his party over the next year or so.
There were other candidates for the roles on offer, though the Conservatives – in that spirit of democratic openness on which they are so keen to campaign – declined to identify them, or the voting numbers.
Perhaps significant in the outcome of last night’s leadership ballot was the absence from the winners’ podium of Mario Creatura, once the golden boy of local right-wing Tory politics. The former aide to Gavin Barwell when he was MP and then a special adviser in Downing Street, Creatura appeared to be on a trajectory to the top of the party locally when he was chosen as the Tory candidate to contest his former boss’s old seat in Croydon Central (admittedly, it is a very shallow talent pool) .
But the debacle over his encouragement of the cult-like SPAC Nation church in last November’s Fairfield ward by-election, and then his less-than-impressive showing in December’s General Election has seen the one-time gobby factotum become a good deal less gobby in the months since.
For his part, Perry’s script over the next few months is already written for him, courtesy of the likes of council leader Tony Newman and the unmissed chief executive Jo Negrini. His first big test is likely to come in a borough-wide referendum on whether Croydon should have a democratically elected mayor, with that vote expected to be staged next May, on the same day as the London elections.
Following his selection – possibly backed by as few as 15 people – Perry said, “I am honoured to have been elected to lead Croydon’s Conservative group by my fellow councillors and will do everything in my power to lead the group to victory in the local elections in 2022.
“Labour is on the brink of bankrupting our town and it has never been more important to have an active opposition and administration-in-waiting, ready to clear up the mess.”
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