Being featured in a television documentary, standing up against Croydon Council in the High Court and getting a mention in despatches from Private Eye were among some of the highlights of the end of 2022 for Inside Croydon, as this website managed to fast-track the publication of the startling findings of the Penn Report into the collapse of the borough’s finances.
Here, in the final instalment of our review of the past year, we begin with the death of the monarch, and the effective end of one Croydon MP’s political ambitions
The death on September 8 of Queen Elizabeth II, England’s longest-reigning monarch, will undoubtedly come to be seen to have even greater significance, as historians seek to unearth some extra wrinkle, or proffer some hitherto unknown insight, in the coming years.
But there’s little doubt already, however, that the death of the Queen played a part in the downfall of Liz Truss, “Thick Lizzy”, as the leader of the Conservative Party.
Truss had been the last Prime Minister appointed by the Queen. Truss got the job following an over-long Tory selection process held during the summer, after Boris Johnson had been forced out by rapid-fire resignations by his own cabinet members.
The Queen died within a couple of days of meeting Truss. The British economy was close to death after just a week or so with Truss in Downing Street.
Despite Truss’ blatantly obvious shortcomings and far-right agenda, when campaigning for the Conservative leadership she had received the enthusiastic backing of many Croydon Tories, notably including the borough’s relatively new Mayor, Jason Perry, and the party’s only Croydon MP.
Spare a thought for Chris Philp, Croydon South’s Conservative MP.
Over the previous 12 months, Philp had been sidelined by the Johnson government, shunted into a non-job at the DCMS and denied ministerial preferment, despite some of the most gratuitous performances of brown-nosing ever witnessed at Westminster.
There wasn’t a government scandal so sordid, or economical failure so gob-smackingly incompetent that Philp was not prepared to appear on broadcast media and prostrate himself before the microphones for the good of the party (note that: for the Tory cause; rarely, if ever, in the interests of the nation).
Defending the indefensible became Chris Philp’s USP.
As a consequence Philp, like the borough he represents, became a laughing stock.
“Have you unresigned?” he was asked, pointedly and even with a bit of a giggle when live on air with Channel 4 News in the lobby of the House of Commons as Johnson’s government was in a state of terminal collapse. Philp’s egregious efforts to gain advancement saw him appear to offer to take back his Media Ministry job when, only a few hours earlier he had, finally, and after very careful consideration for his own career prospects, he had handed in his resignation to Johnson.
The nadir of Philp’s media appearances, and a highlight of 2022, had come on BBC2’s Newsnight earlier in the summer, when he had been sent out to defend the government’s position with the RMT rail strikes.
With union leader Mick Lynch on the opposite side of the studio table from Philp, canny presenter Kirsty Wark lit the blue touchpaper and sat back as the minister doggedly read from his Tory-approved script.
Or was it 17?
But even that wasn’t the deepest depths that Philp was prepared to scrape in the cause of his personal career advancement when, finally, after seven years patiently spent climbing the greasy pole of Westminster politics, he was named Chief Secretary to the Treasury in Truss’s new government: Philp retains Pluto business interests after Treasury promotion.
After finally getting within touching distance of a place in the cabinet, Philp then carried the can for KamiKwasi Kwarteng crashing the economy in the most disastrous Budget, “mini” or otherwise, ever delivered by a British Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The Resolution Foundation estimates that Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng lost £20billion through unfunded cuts to National Insurance and stamp duty, and another £10billion was lost through raised interest rates and government borrowing costs as the markets reacted to the Budget.
Like a prize lemon, Philp had been tweeting his support of the measures from the front bench as Kwarteng made his speech: Uber for Philp! Croydon MP blamed for disastrous Tory tax cut.
When Kwarteng lost the Chancellor’s job a few days later, Philp, too, was given the tin tack, Truss putting him in charge of another element of government – Downing Street paper clips, or feeding Larry, the No10 cat – where he couldn’t do so much damage.
And when Truss bowed to the inevitable herself days later, making way for Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister – one of the few candidates Philp had failed to support during the summer leadership campaign – Croydon South’s MP was swiftly reshuffled into an even more minor role…
It is fair to say that Chris Philp has probably had better years.
Also in Croydon in September, Philp’s party colleague, Jason Perry, the borough’s part-time Mayor, continued to endorse moves to allow the privatisation of policing in the town centre, with the “Rangers” hired in by Croydon BID accused of being aggressive and threatening, upsetting shoppers and their children on North End: BID rangers called ‘bullies in high-viz’ after High Street incident.
And towards the end of the month, on the eve of the Labour Party Annual Conference, there was broadcast the first of what would become a four-part television investigation into the party’s hierarchy, from General Secretary David Evans downwards.
The producers at the Qatari-backed Al Jazeera channel had based their reports on what they called “the biggest leak of confidential documents in British political history”.
The programme was made by the same undercover investigations unit who in 2017 exposed the role of Israeli embassy officials in infiltrating the Labour Party to destabilise the party’s then leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
The first part, “The Purge”, included Evans, the controversial Croydon-based political lobbyist who was very close to the Labour cabal in Croydon which crashed the council’s finances – though not before his company had received hundreds of thousands of pounds in Town Hall business: TV investigation uncovers Labour Party’s dirty tricks and hacks.
On the night of October 8, around 70 families were evacuated from their homes after a serious fire in Sycamore House, council housing on London Road in Thornton Heath. Five people were taken to hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation, though none were thought to be in a serious condition; there were no others known to be injured: 70 families evacuated after serious fire in Thornton Heath block.
There was more bad news for Croydon’s town centre regeneration at the very end of the month, when Jean-Marie Tritant, the chief executive of property giant Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, said that covid was “the final nail in the coffin” for the £1.4billion plans to build a vast shopping mall in central Croydon: Westfield’s boss admits covid was ‘nail in coffin’ for Croydon.
The Tritant feature appeared in the Sunday Times, and suggested that Paris-based URW is in deep financial difficulties, while abandoning the mega-mall model which once saw Westfield build their temples to retailing at Stratford and Shepherd’s Bush.
This was the month that Inside Croydon received a leaked copy of the 160-page Penn Report, commissioned in December 2020 to delve into the reasons that led to the council’s financial collapse, but which chief exec Katherine Kerswell had spent two years refusing to publish, or act on its recommendations, all because she thought that Jo Negrini, or Tony Newman, might sue the council for damaging their reputations… Seriously: #PennReport wanted police probe into possible misconduct.
Successive Croydon political leaders, Labour’s Hamida Ali and more recently Tory Mayor Jason Perry, had both failed to honour their promises to publish the Penn Report. Not content with covering up the Penn Report, Kerswell and the council’s lawyers, now attempted to gag Inside Croydon: #PennReport: Council’s 11th hour attempt to suppress findings.
And meanwhile, there were more revelations about dirty tricks in Croydon when Al Jazeera broadcast a special episode of their documentary series devoted to the malicious hack attack against this website in early 2021, and the unlawful handling of stolen documents by senior Labour figures, including MP Steve Reed OBE, council leader Hamida Ali, Stuart King, the current Labour leader on the council, and “Thirsty” Clive Fraser: #TheLabourFiles: MP Reed, Evans and the Croydon connection.
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There was a flurry of reports this month of previously popular shops and much-enjoyed restaurants shutting up shop this month.
House of Reeves furniture store is put up for sale at £2.5m – though the people running the store claimed that they had no intention of ending their business’s 150-year association with the areas.
No such optimism from The Chateau restaurant, where all Christmas bookings were abruptly cancelled: Coombe Lane’s Chateau restaurant forced to cancel Christmas.
And Croydon’s claims to have a retail offer to match the best in the country suffered a terminal blow when Waitrose closed its doors on George Street for a final time: Waitrose’s closure is another nail in town centre’s coffin.
Things have got so bad at the Town Hall that Mayor Perry chose this month to declare the borough bankrupt for a third time in two years – but issuing a Section 114 notice pre-emptively, saying he would not be able to balance the next council budget, which covers 2023-2024: Council forced to issue 3rd bankruptcy notice in just two years.
The financial issues facing the cash-strapped council doesn’t stop vast profligacy in its legal department, which in November wasted an estimated £20,000 of public money to try to gag Inside Croydon (again), only this time over a set of documents which the council had already published on its own website. And for new readers, we really don’t have to make this shit up.
Suffice to say, when Croydon Council’s counsel appeared before Mr Justice Nicklin, the judge was less-than-impressed with the arguments in favour of an injunction. “I rather think that the documents have lost their confidentiality, don’t you?
“It seems to me that you’re trying to put the genie back in the bottle.”
The judge, sagely, suggested a solution: he would not allow any third-party injunction, and if we gave an undertaking not to publish anything more from the documents – which we didn’t intent to do anyway – then iC would not have to remove the articles based on the previously confidential documents that we had already published: which, just for the record, are here ‘Better than evens’ chance of winning Negrini legal case, and here No referrals sent to staff’s professional bodies.
It has been mentioned before how here at Inside Croydon Towers we take much satisfaction, even pride, in the hard work, detailed research and boundless enthusiasm of our small band of contributors and citizen journalists.
David Morgan’s tireless searching of the archives of Croydon Minster has generated volumes of fascinating human stories from the history of the town, none more so than his recent offering: How real-life Indiana Jones put together the Scrolls of antiquity.
And Andrew Fisher’s fortnightly columns regularly provoke shock and despair, such as his recent coverage of residents’ experiences with appointments to see their NHS doctor: Croydon surgeries where half GP consultations are by phone.
Despite the Christmas season approaching, the flow of startling news stories coming from the borough continued last month, with a council report that confirmed that former council CEO Jo Negrini’s “Golden Handshake”, the £437,000 she received on abruptly quitting the council in August 2020, was unlawful and probably should never have been paid: Negrini pay-off arranged after ‘breakdown’ with leader Newman.
Then there was the decision not to introduce traffic restrictions for a school street which has three schools, but just happens to be on a road which runs parallel to where Mayor Perry has his £1million-plus home: School street scheme scrapped on road next to Mayor’s home.
On-going issues with the dysfunctional council’s planning department saw billionaire former porn publisher David Sullivan take Croydon to appeal, and win permission to develop a plot of open land in Waddon: Ex-porn baron strips Croydon’s planners of all arguments.
And the fall-out from the council’s bankruptcy, and the disaster surrounding failed development firm Brick by Brick, remains unresolved, as the case of 157 flats in Coulsdon shows: Brick by Brick close to selling off Coulsdon flats at half-price.
This all leaves us to wish our loyal reader a healthy and prosperous 2023, with a New Year resolution not to ever be surprised by the potential for idiocy and incompetence of those supposedly in charge at Fisher’s Folly and the Town Hall.
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