Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, on the rumblings of disquiet and discontent over a Coulsdon councillor who has put his own parliamentary ambitions ahead of council duties
Mayor Jason Perry’s merry band of Tory councillors is not an altogether happy bunch as we enter 2023.
According to senior sources on Katharine Street, one of the sorest of sore points is a councillor for Coulsdon Town who, since the local elections in May, has moved out of the borough, with a new home in Reigate in his relentless pursuit of a safe parliamentary seat.
Mario Creatura has already confirmed to veteran political journalist Michael Crick that he intends to seek selection as the Conservative Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate in Reigate, where the Surrey town’s MP, Crispin Blunt, decided last May that, after a quarter of a century spent mostly as loyal Tory lobby fodder at Westminster, he had had enough.
Blunt held Reigate with an 18,000-vote majority at the 2019 General Election, around the same time that Creatura was failing to win back Croydon Central for the Tories after a disastrous campaign in which he courted support from a cult-like church which has since been investigated both by the Charity Commission and Met Police for fraud, grooming and other offence.
Creatura has been a Croydon councillor since 2014, a time when he was working as gaffe-prone Gavin Barwell’s parliamentary assistant. It turned out that many of the then Tory MP for Croydon Central’s gaffes could be traced back to his Westminster office and Creatura.
When his old boss got appointed as Theresa May’s Chief of Staff, Creatura followed him into Downing Street, and he has been assiduously pushing his political talents ever since.
But some at Croydon Town Hall, who have seen Creatura at work close up, seem less convinced by his political “talent”. Not least among them is Jason Perry.
The line for public consumption then was that Creatura was taking a step back from front-line politics “to spend more time with his family” (he’d recently become a father for the first time). As a sop, Perry handed him the non-job of group chief whip, a position Creatura had held six years earlier when just a novice councillor.
By 2022, Creatura might have considered that, as one of the most senior Tory councillors and recently thought good enough by party members to be their parliamentary candidate, he was overdue for a return to cabinet duties – and tens of thousands of pounds in extra council allowances – following Perry’s election as Croydon’s first executive mayor.
Clearly, that was not a view shared by Perry. Creatura continued to be frozen out of the Mayor’s top team. Perry preferred to promote to his front bench one councillor with barely 12 months’ Town Hall experience ahead of “SuperMario”.
Since when, Creatura’s puppy-dog-like enthusiasm for all things Croydon appears to be on the wane. His cheerleading on social media is now more often directed at the Conservative Government rather than the bankrupted borough, and Mayor Perry barely rates a mention on Creatura’s Twitter feed.
When Creatura does make a rare appearance on ward or council business, he draws angst from Croydon residents angry at the Tory government for wrecking the NHS and crashing the economy. A tweeted picture of Creatura with Chris Philp, the MP for Croydon South, at a Christmas event organised by local Coulsdon businesses drew this sharp response: “The fact that you’d be seen in public with Philp, an apologist for and celebrator of the disastrous Truss and Kwarteng Budget, reinforces the fact that you stand for nothing,” Creatura was told.
As well as moving his family’s home to Reigate, the not-so-SuperMario has also acquired a new nickname among his Conservative colleagues at Croydon Town Hall: “Mario is ‘WINO’: whip in name only, given he’s never here,” one confided to Inside Croydon.
Creatura’s official attendance record for council meetings since July show him to have been absent from 43per cent of the meetings he was expected to attend.
Creatura being sidelined is matched to some degree by disenchantment among some of the impotent members of Perry’s cabinet, as the Mayor was quick to turn the borough into a one-man state, largely disempowering all 70 councillors, Tory, Labour, LibDem and Green alike.
Within days of being installed as Mayor, Kim Jong-Perry revealed that he would not divest any responsibilities, not even for running the Town Hall tea kitty.
Some saw Perry’s power grab, conducted within days of his being elected by just 13per cent of the Croydon electorate, as a cunning ruse by council executives to keep a firm grip on control, with Mayor Perry merely doing their bidding.
“The executive Mayor has not delegated any executive functions to the cabinet or to individual cabinet members. Further, no cabinet or executive committees have been established by the executive Mayor,” a council report stated baldly six months ago.
The move made Perry’s eight most trusted Conservative colleagues, named in his cabinet shortly after the local elections, as nothing more than some over-paid “advisers”. They and the four deputy cabinet members come at a total cost to the Council Tax-payers of cash-strapped Croydon of one “Negrini” – more than £400,000 per year – in “special responsibility allowances”.
Or in Croydon Tories’ case, non-responsibility allowances. Funny how the £81,000 per year Mayor has not looked at his own and his colleagues’ allowances for a way to save the cash-strapped council nearly £2million over the four-year term of his administration.
Did we mention that the directly elected mayoral system would only ever be #ABitLessShit?
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