KEN TOWL takes to the campaign trail and discovers that in a couple of the more contentious ward by-elections being held on May 6, community mutual aid is getting more of a hearing
Let’s be honest – if the Daily Mail described you as “the most dangerous man in Britain”, you would swell with pride. Ian Bone, however, wears the accolade lightly. Despite being dangerous, he presents as charming and affable, and yesterday he was engaging with voters in South Norwood.
He is standing as an independent in a ward by-election next month with the aim of replacing the former leader of Croydon’s Labour council, Tony Newman.
Try a Google search on “Tony Newman councillor Woodside”, and it brings up Croydon Council’s official page for him.
“Not currently an elected councillor,” it tells us, which going by the terms of office listed, is the first time that’s been the case since 1994. It appears from this, Newman must have resigned as a Woodside councillor on March 10 this year, although it omits to inform the public why.
The next link offered by Google goes to the Croydon Labour group, and appears to be much more helpful. This features a photo and the legend “Tony is always eager to hear from the residents of Woodside”. Which is nice to know.
That appears at variance with the facts, however, as he appears no longer eager to represent the people of Woodside.
Newman was once described by the Croydon Guardian as “former keyboard player with mid-80s goth-inspired five-piece Shark Taboo”. Now, it seems, he has resigned in order to spend more time with his organ.
Perhaps he wants to reprise the impassioned anti-poverty number which now describes where his long-term political career ended: “Scrap Heap”.
Ian Bone, meanwhile, was keen to meet as many voters as possible and that is why he was at Norwood Junction Station with his partner Jane Nicholl, a fellow leading light of the community action group, the South Norwood Tourist Board.
Nicholl is standing as an independent candidate in neighbouring South Norwood ward (where a by-election was called after the resignation of another Labour councillor, Jane Avis).
Conveniently, Norwood Junction Station straddles the two wards – come out on the west side and you are in South Norwood, take the east exit and you are in Woodside.
I arrived at the independent candidates’ election rally to find Bone and Nicholl posing for photographs with their lifesized papier mâché model of Pickles, the canine hero of 1966 and all that, the dog that found the missing Jules Rimet Trophy in South Norwood, after it had been stolen ahead of the World Cup.
The incident has become so notorious, it even merited a mention on Ask The Midwife last week. Imagine, what would the Queen have done if she had no World Cup to hand over to Bobby Moore at the end of the World Cup.
There has always been a subversive surreal element to the activities of the South Norwood Tourist Board.
They were, for example, involved in the creation of the Sensible Garden, transforming an unused and ill-regarded patch of wasteland in front of an advertising hoarding on the High Street into a community-maintained mini-park. It was inaugurated in 2014 by none other than Captain Sensible himself, after whom it had been named.
The Sensible Garden has no committee, no officials, no timetable for people to work there, and no money. Yet somehow, thanks to the goodwill and hard work of the community, the Sensible Garden has thrived and blossomed.
This surreal strand extends to some of the “policy statements” that Bone regaled passers-by with yesterday. The favourite was, “Independence for South Norwood!”
He also managed another, more topical addition, in reference to the Southern Counties East Football League side, Croydon FC, who in normal times usually play their home games at the Croydon Arena.
“Trams for the Super League!” Bone bellowed as best he could. It’s uncertain whether trying to hitch up with 11 of Europe’s top clubs, and Tottenham Hotspur, will prove much of a crowd-pleaser.
There is a serious side to the actions of Bone, Nicholl and the South Norwood Tourist Board, too, though.
The SNTB has also been involved with such important mutual aid projects as the South Norwood Community Kitchen, and they have lent their support to the campaign to save South Norwood Library from closure, as has been proposed by the Labour-controlled council.
Just as the Sensible Garden highlighted the neglect of urban space by the company that owned the land and the benefits of mutual aid and community action, so Nicholl and Bone’s candidacy for the by-elections was prompted by the neglect by Croydon Council of social housing tenants in South Norwood.
There is no need here to reiterate the appalling conditions that tenants have had to suffer through damp and mould – that has been done at great length on this site and on ITV – but it just may be the case that many voters in these two wards are wondering for the first time what really is the point of voting Labour.
Perhaps it just isn’t healthy to live in a ward where any party has such a massive built-in majority that they just can’t lose. Perhaps, but it shouldn’t be like that.
As for the supposedly shoo-in Labour candidates, Mike Bonello (whose name just puts him below Bone on the Woodside ballot paper) is relatively untainted by the collapse of the council’s finances after years of ill-advised property speculation under the leadership of Newman, the councillor he seeks to succeed.
Louis Carserides, Labour’s candidate for South Norwood, meanwhile, works for the Shadow Minister for Local Government, Croydon North MP Steve Reed, and shares an office with fellow employee, Louisa Szpera, the partner of the ex-Shark Taboo keyboardist Tony Newman.
Ian Bone may or may not be the most dangerous man in Britain.
But if you live in an overcrowded council flat with water running down the walls, a permanently soaked carpet, an infestation of slugs, rotting clothes and walls blackened by mould, maybe that is who you need on your side.
Read more: Newman and Hall resign as councillors claiming a ‘witchhunt’
Read more: Aide to MP Reed selected for South Norwood by-election
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
Read more: ‘Is it because the council don’t care? Where is their humanity?’
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