Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, on the real agenda behind one of the council by-elections next month
Croydon Conservatives are so confident of losing the South Norwood council by-election next month that they have fielded a candidate whose job might prevent her from becoming a local councillor.
It is being seen as a cynical ploy by the local Tories, which one South Norwood resident told Inside Croydon, “treats residents, even Conservative Party members and their activists, with utter contempt”.
The resident added, “It also shows what the Conservatives really think of the democratic process.”
The deviousness and deceit began when the Tories announced their by-election candidates earlier this month, describing Sonia Marinello as “a South Norwood supporter”.
“That’s intended for the unwary to assume Marinello lives in South Norwood. She does not, otherwise the Tories would have said so,” said a Tory Party insider.
“After all, what does ‘South Norwood supporter‘ actually mean? It’s nothing, vacuousness intended to pull the wool over people’s eyes.”
Marinello has withheld her home address from the declarations published by the council, a strategy which is often used by properly qualified candidates who wish to disguise that they are not as “local” to the ward which they are contesting as they would like voters to assume.
Our mole outside Croydon Tories’ HQ in Purley suggests that the choice of Marinello is another piece of arch-cynicism, as the Conservatives seek to capitalise on opposition to the local traffic networks which have been introduced by the Labour-controlled council in Upper Norwood and South Norwood.
Croydon Tories describe Marinello as “helping to lead the charge against the deeply unpopular Low Traffic Neighbourhoods”.
What they really mean is that Marinello has been a lead player in the Open Our Roads campaign. This week, the founder of the supposedly apolitical residents’ group ordered its supporters to vote for Marinello in the South Norwood by-election.
Of course, LTNs are a traffic-reducing policy from the Tory government, and were introduced across London thanks to millions of pounds of funding from Conservative transport minister Grant Shapps – not that you’ll find that anywhere on the Tory election bumpf being forced through your letterboxes in the next couple of weeks.
The truth is, Croydon Tories, and even Marinello if pressed, realise that it would take a 27per cent swing from Labour to the Conservatives to win the South Norwood seat.
The Conservatives have not won a council seat in South Norwood since 2006.
In 2018, South Norwood was the second worst-performing ward for the Conservatives across the whole of Croydon at the last borough-wide Town Hall elections. Then, the Tories received just 15.8 per cent of the vote, as South Norwood returned three Labour councillors. Labour scored 69.6 per cent of the vote.
Which means that there’s very little risk of Marinello having to give up her high-powered Whitehall job as a case controller with the Serious Fraud Office come May 7.
In their public announcement of candidates, Croydon Tories had described Marinello, a former pupil at Clapham’s La Retraite Catholic girls’ school, as being “an investigative lawyer by day”.
In Marinello’s own profiles on social media, she has said that she is “a criminal investigator at the Civil Service”; they show that she has worked for the government since December 2014. It has also been published that Marinello is a case controller at the SFO.
In its public recruitment papers, the SFO describes the role of its case controllers as being “accountable for managing cases of top tier fraud, bribery and corruption… You develop the strategy… to bring successful conclusions for each case, including deciding which cases should no longer be pursued.”
SFO documents show that they pay salaries of up to £78,000 for case controllers.
It seems likely that Marinello’s job at the SFO would be regarded as “politically restricted”, a Civil Service rule which excludes public servants from seeking elected office.
Inside Croydon has now established that Marinello did seek special permission from her employers just to stand as a candidate in the by-election.
The SFO confirmed to Inside Croydon that, “the civil service grade as a case controller would be the equivalent of a Grade 6 or Band A”.
According to the latest government guidelines, Civil Service Grade 6 is senior enough to be regarded as politically restricted.
Inside Croydon wanted to put some questions to Marinello about this matter. Croydon Conservatives declined to give us a direct contact number to speak to their candidate, and instead provided a generic South Norwood campaign email address, possibly managed from the constituency office of Croydon South MP Chris Philp, in Purley.
An anonymous Tory flunky replied, “Permission was sought and granted from her employer prior to her selection.”
It is clear that Croydon Tories are using the by-elections in Labour strongholds as a dummy run to train potential candidates for bigger and better things, such as the 2022 local elections.
“Anyone running in Labour seats in these by-elections are being tested for safe or winnable seats next year,” our mole in the lawn outside the Tory bunker in Purley advised.
“They wouldn’t run someone knowingly in these elections if they couldn’t stand and win a marginal or safe seat next year.”
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