Published: 2 February, 2017
By RICHARD OSLEY
ONE of Camden’s best known councillors says his political career has been brought to a crashing end by his own party, after he was stopped from defending his seat at the next Town Hall elections.
Jonny Bucknell told the New Journal that he felt he could have won in the Belsize ward again for the Conservatives despite a well-publicised court fine for landlord offences, but a selection committee has given him the boot over the case.
He said last night (Wednesday) that he had been the victim of “behind-the-scenes discussions” and that the party had decided he was now “too hot to handle”, comparing his deselection to the Tory revolt which ended Margaret Thatcher’s time as prime minister.
It is understood some party organisers locally felt that a criminal conviction was too much baggage to take into the election campaign, especially in a ward which has been targeted by rival parties in the past and where the Conservatives’ lead was just 56 votes last time.
Cllr Bucknell, however, said that he had never wanted to plead guilty but had been talked into doing so amid warnings that if he didn’t – and lost – he could be wiped out financially.
The Conservatives are currently lining up their candidates ahead of next May’s boroughwide elections, but after 14 years of contesting, and mostly winning, elections Cllr Bucknell is a striking omission from their slate.
In the case brought by Camden Council itself, he was fined at Highbury Magistrates’ Court last year after failing to complete improvement works to a house he was renting out in Chalk Farm.
But Cllr Bucknell, whose father Barry was the first television DIY expert and a former Labour councillor, said: “I was so incensed with the prosecution that I went into court intending to plead not guilty but changed my plea on the basis that no one can defend a prosecution by your local authority and if you lose you are wiped out. Camden has virtually unlimited resources.
“My family have had an excellent record as landlords but there are times when everything goes wrong from start to finish and the judge’s words were completely unfair.”
He has been jeered at by Labour councillors at every council meeting since, usually when he declares his interest as a private landlord. He was also attacked in Liberal Democrat leaflets.
It is understood that Conservative HQ had suggested Cllr Bucknell should be suspended from the party after the case, but local organisers argued for him to be spared that penalty.
“The deselection process was also flawed. There were behind-the-scenes discussions without me,” said Cllr Bucknell, famous locally for his quirky contributions to Town Hall debates.
“I think I could have won the 2018 election battling back against any flack. I had the highest vote in Belsize, but just like Margaret Thatcher the party considered me too hot to handle and decided to ditch both of us.
“I will remain loyal to the Conservative Party until the day I die and will finish my term of office going down with all guns firing. Growing old disgracefully is more fun. On the one hand I have been knocking around in politics for 14 years and it might be time for a break. On the other hand I am slightly irritated with the selection committee. The next year could be quite fun because I will be a very loose cannon.”
Councillor Giovanni Spinella, chair of the Conservative Association, said: “We are grateful for Jonny’s long service to the community, his constituents in Belsize and the party.
“A committee looked at the personal circumstances of people who applied to stand at the elections and Jonny argued his case. We had a long conversation and the decision was reached not to stand Jonny as a candidate in the next council elections. We understand this is distressing for Jonny and it has been a hard decision as we all have a deep affection and respect for him.”
In protest at the cost of hotels in cities hosting political conferences, Jonny Bucknell made repeated headlines – first in the New Journal, naturally – for saving on costs by sleeping in his car and showering at a leisure centre. There aren’t many TripAdvisor reviews for the Boddingtons brewery car park in Manchester but he insists it’s perfectly comfortable.
Up all night
When Sadiq Khan opened up the night tube, Cllr Bucknell went undercover to see whether the new service would lead to an increase in bad behaviour. Not so, he happily reported to a Town Hall meeting after staying up all night riding the underground. “There were lots of young ladies riding it who at 3.30 were bright eyed and bushy tailed but by 4.00 were all heading back to Edgware.” Heading back to Edgware, the councillor has assured us, is not some strange euphemism.
With a big interest in cutting night-time disturbance by drunken revellers in Camden Town, Cllr Bucknell could be found freestyling ideas in 2014 about the potential for police to Taser the drunk and disorderly. “Anyone who gets ratty” could be in line for the zap, he proposed, adding “a lot of the time they wouldn’t even have to be stunned, seeing the red light of a laser alone would make people think”. He later clarified that the idea was meant only as a last resort.
This was a rare story which when it was lifted by the nationals from the CNJ, our Fleet Street friends didn’t want the accompanying picture – for the words alone, that a Conservative councillor was feasting on a duck roast dinner during a council session, were enough. In fact, the grub which Cllr Bucknell got ticked off by the then Mayor Lazzaro Pietragnoli for munching on was a rather sorry-looking Tupperware box of leftovers.
The axeman of Primrose Hill
When the London riots came to Camden, Cllr Bucknell took to the streets to defend his patch… with an axe. During a harrowing night along Chalk Farm Road, he turned up with a big chopper, a tool he says was his election “mascot”. “My plan was to stand on the bridge and ward off rioters coming up to Primrose Hill,” he later told the Hampstead and Highgate Express. “I was later told off for carrying an axe but applauded by some residents.”
Water a sight!
When the swimming baths in Kentish Town were saved from closure and refurbished, the council tried to mark the reopening with a world record for the number of people treading water in the pool. It was a little bit of a damp squib as Camden could not find the 309 people required to break a record set by swimmers in an icy lake in Finland. It was a shame for Cllr Bucknell, who on the scene in his trunks, missed his chance to get into the record books