Our Sutton Council reporter, BELLE MONT, on signs that the ruling Liberal Democrats are becoming concerned for their prospects at next May’s local elections
LibDem councillors in Sutton are starting to leave their sinking ship.
Ben Andrew, a former Liberal Democrats Party employee and a councillor for Wandle Valley only since 2018, has announced that he will not be seeking re-election next May.
“It’s been an interesting experience but I’ve known for a long time that work and family commitments would stop me running again,” Andrew wrote, disingenuously and, typically, somewhat self-regarding.
The reality is that “Bogus Ben” had become so unpopular with residents in his ward that the LibDems have been banned from entering and canvassing one new, large housing development.
Despite all his selfies of wacky new hair-dos and pictures with fluffy puppies, Andrew appears to have realised that if he dared stand in 2022, he would be an electoral liability for Sutton Council’s ruling party.
“Glad to see you’re leaving politics,” one of the residents Andrew has failed to serve said on seeing the news, “but you don’t get off that easy. Consequences will keep coming. That’s a fact.”
Residents in the New Mill Quarter in Hackbridge, with its 800 homes all plugged into the disastrous council-owned SDEN dodgy heating network, had declared the development a no-go zone for LibDems, and Andrew in particular, as their ward councillor failed to stand up for their views and continued to propagandise on behalf of the controversial company.
The Sutton Decentralised Energy Network was launched in 2016, in an effort to greenwash the polluting incinerator at Beddington Lane, which has been so enthusiastically supported by the borough’s LibDems.
But to this day, SDEN has not supplied a single joule of energy generated by the incinerator.
SDEN’s business has been described as “dishonest at best, fraudulent at worst”.
Picking up the tab have been the NMQ residents, paying around three times the market rate for their monopoly supply of heating and hot water from council-run SDEN.
Andrew’s self-pitying valedictory note, published yesterday, runs to 1,300 words. Not a single one of them mentions SDEN.
This is doubly odd, since Andrew is supposedly also the vice-chair of the council’s environment committee (“This helped me to appreciate how important and meaningful work in local government can be”), where its brief would also take in issues such as the incinerator and SDEN.
Instead, Andrew used his self-important statement to take a swipe at those, residents as well as councillors, who have dared to be critical of his duplicitous stance.
It is a typical piece of LibDem politics, where these arch politicians try to claim that they are not part of the political system, a deception that the likes of Andrew’s old boss, ex-MP Tom Brake, and the Sutton Liberal Democrats, have used for decades; the hyper-political LibDems have held a majority on Sutton Council since 1986.
“The relationship between councillors from different parties can… be pretty toxic,” Andrew simpers in his note.
“I’ve found that opposing politicians are incredibly cynical about each other, assuming that everything an opponent says is calculated for political benefit… Politics is tribal. You have your team around you who are fighting for the same things as you, and another group who want something else, and are trying to persuade people to dislike you, sometimes personally.” Poor thing.
Andrew details some examples in which he believes he has been deeply wronged, without ever naming those he is accusing. “These people may raise reasonable concerns about something the council is doing, but blow the issue out of all proportion, exaggerate to the point of lying, and target local councillors in ways which wildly cross the line.”
He claims that he has been accused “of behaviour like intimidation, threats or coordinated harassment – claims which are so outrageous that it becomes pointless to engage with them”. Hmmm.
You can almost sense Bogus Ben wiping away his crocodile tears as he writes, “While my experience has been worse than most, it isn’t unique, especially among more senior councillors… While many people are attracted to local politics for good reasons, it also attracts people with more toxic qualities: paranoia, obsessiveness, cynicism, hubris.
“If such people choose to harass their local representatives, there is no one short of the police who can make them stop. This is a real issue, as if we continue to allow a tiny minority to poison local politics in this way, it will become an increasingly unappealing option for normal, good-hearted people,” Andrew writes, presumably hoping that his readers, and chums, will assume that he is one of those “normal, good-hearted people”.
The reality is that Andrew is once again acting entirely in his own self-interest.
Boundary changes for 2022 will see Wandle Valley squeezed down into a two-seat ward, with around 1,000 of its voters living in New Mill Quarter, with little prospect of his being re-elected.
Andrew got married in September, and may be looking to move out of the borough, which would make him ineligible to stand for election in Sutton, even in another, safer LibDem ward.
And just before Christmas, he left his comms job at Restorative Justice.
Restorative Justice is a small charity which, according to Andrew, “facilitates dialogue between victims of crime and perpetrators, helping both parties to heal and move forward”.
Although when Restorative Justice was contacted for help in sorting out a solution for the ill-served residents of NMQ, who were suffering daylight robbery from the SDEN heating charges and the LibDems running the council, Andrew took great offence.
Suffice to say, the charity did nothing to help the residents who have the misfortune of living in soon-to-be ex-Councillor Andrew’s ward.
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