With local elections just 18 months away, the chairman of Croydon’s Conservatives has resigned, abruptly.
Mark Johnson had been in the chair since early 2019 but submitted his resignation earlier this month with little explanation beyond saying, “I no longer feel as though I can do the best possible job to take the Federation forward”.
Johnson (whose online biography suggests he lives in Addington) was a council election candidate for the Tories in 2014, standing in Waddon ward where he finished only sixth.
Four years later, Johnson stood in New Addington South where he failed to muster even a thousand votes, placing fourth overall in the two-seat ward and second of the Tories’ two candidates.
More recently, he has associated himself closely with fringe far right-wing organisations, being a long-standing committee member of the Croydon Communities [sic] Consortium, which was at the centre of an Islamophobia row, and he also worked alongside UKIP as the area organiser for Vote Leave.
A librarian at a school in Chelsea, Johnson’s resignation comes less than two months after Croydon’s Tories elected Jason Perry as their new leader of the Town Hall opposition group. Inside Croydon’s mole at the Tories’ Purley bunker would not be drawn, but refused to deny that the two events are unconnected.
Another suggested that, “there had been a bit of a row”.
Croydon Tories’ enthusiatic support for a directly-elected mayor for the whole borough was also believed to be supported by Johnson, through his association with another fringe group, the Croydon Constitutionalists. The Conservatives under previous leader Tim Pollard are thought to have contributed a considerable amount to the DEMOC campaign funds, yet many observers believe that Labour’s electoral superiority in the north of the borough means that no Tory mayoral candidate could win the vote.
Johnson has been temporarily replaced as Federation chair by Nik Stewert.
Johnson’s resignation statement said, “As many of you will know, I have been a loyal and hardworking Conservative Party activist for almost 20 years, 15 of those in Croydon.
“I have always acted in the best interests of our party. However, I no longer feel as though I can do the best possible job to take the Federation forward, I have decided to take the difficult decision to step down from my position as Chairman of the Croydon Conservative Federation.
“I feel much has been achieved during my time as Chairman and we are in a much better position than we were when I took over 18 months ago.”
Croydon Tories’ financial state, as they try to build a “war chest” ahead of the Town Hall elections in May 2022, have given some of their members cause for concern.
With just 29 councillors now contributing to the campaign pot from their council-funded allowances (more than £50,000 last year) and only one MP in the borough, their annual income is much reduced from what it was four of five years back.
The Croydon Conservative Federation’s annual accounts for the period to December 31 2019 shows that they spent £60,784 on the General Election campaign last December, and while they managed to return Chris Philp to Westminster from the true-blue Croydon South seat, their candidate Mario Creatura failed to win back marginal Croydon Central from Labour.
The previous year, 2018, they had spent £73,814 on their local election campaign in Croydon, and had wound up with fewer Tory councillors at the Town Hall.
Against this, Croydon Tories have steadily diminishing numbers of members, and therefore similarly diminishing income from subscriptions.
Back in 2011, Croydon Tories were collecting £38,028 in membership subs. In 2018, total member subs for Croydon Tories was down to £29,038. By last year, it was £24,564.
“That doesn’t only mean we have less money,” our mole said, “but we also have many fewer activitists prepared to deliver leaflets in normal times or hold fund-raising events during the year. That’s a big part of why Mario and the local party tried to get SPAC Nation involved in campaigning last year, but that all blew up in their face.”
The cult-like SPAC Nation is the evangelical church at the centre of police investigations over allegations of fraud and grooming. That scandal broke in the middle of the Fairfield ward by-election last November, when Creatura and Johnson had organised that a SPAC Nation pastor would stand as the Tory candidate. They lost.
“With the Labour-run council on its knees, we should really be organising behind a strong Federation chair and raising loads of cash towards the campaign fund for 2022 – but that’s not been happening so far.”
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