Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, reports on the latest departures from the Conservatives’ front bench at the Town Hall
Less than 10 months out from the borough-wide local elections, and with Labour in Croydon on the ropes after the scandals of Brick by Brick, the South Norwood council flats and the Town Hall’s financial collapse, and Jason Perry, the leader of the opposition Tories, has been forced into reshuffling his cabinet.
With the deadline for applications to be Conservative candidates in the May 2022 local elections fast approaching, two of Perry’s front-bench spokespeople have stepped down from their roles.
Helen Redfern, one of Croydon Conservatives’ more capable performers (all things are relative), who has been a councillor for Purley Oaks and Riddlesdown since 2018, is standing down as shadow cabinet member for children, young people and learning, because of “increased work commitments”.
Gareth “Blubber” Streeter, the failed Tory parliamentary candidate who has been councillor for Shirley North for the last three years, is giving up on his role in the shadow cabinet on culture and regeneration, where he has not made much impact despite the rich source material presented to him by his bungling Labour opposite numbers.
Since leaving his job as a propagandist for the Oasis schools academy chain, Streeter’s own PR business has struggled to establish itself, and according to our mole in the lawn outside Croydon Conservatives’ Purley HQ, he wants to move out of Croydon and so will not be a candidate for the council in May 2022.
Even since his failed attempt to become a Croydon councillor in 2014, Streeter has provided ample evidence of his dilettantism, someone who perhaps enjoys the idea of “being” a full-time politician, but with little substance to offer the people he is supposed to serve.
Streeter’s father is “Sir” Gary Streeter, the Tory MP for South West Devon since 1997, and Blubber has been sniffing around safe Conservative seats in the south-west for several years, so may yet try to resurrect his political ambitions there.
“Challenging Labour’s incompetency and scandalous approach to planning has become a full-time job,” Streeter offered as his excuse for making way, for someone perhaps better able to perform such a function.
Streeter follows Tim and Helen Pollard among Croydon Town Hall front-bench Tories (Tim Pollard was opposition leader from 2014 until 2020) to announce that they will not be seeking re-election next year.
That Perry has been forced into making the changes at this point, so close to the next elections is demonstrated by the recall for the children’s and learning brief of Maria Gatland. The South Croydon councillor only gave up that job less than a year ago, apparently with the intention of winding down her council role before retiring at the 2022 local elections. A Katharine Street source today suggested that Gatland had had “a change of mind over the last few months”.
Perry’s choice to replace Streeter is Jeet Bains, the Addiscombe West councillor.
Perry’s choice of appointments represent the latest snub for Mario Creatura, the sometime gobby fac totum to Gavin Barwell when he was a Croydon MP, who made such a pig’s ear of his own bid for parliamentary glory when failing to regain Croydon Central in December 2019.
In welcoming Gatland and Bains into his shadow cabinet, Perry today praised Bains’s “intellect and quick thinking”. This might have escaped most other observers of council business, and raises the reasonable question about why, if Bains is such a political talent, it has taken the Tory Town Hall leader so long to promote him to a front-bench role.
Of septuagenarian former IRA gun-runner Gatland, Perry said he looks forward to “bringing that drive back to her shadow cabinet role”.
Today, Perry said, “I want to thank Helen and Gareth for their service in the shadow cabinet. They have both been true advocates for local people and held Croydon’s Labour council to account in their respective portfolios.
“Maria and Jeet have well-established reputations as councillors totally committed to fighting for their residents and Croydon more widely.”
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