Two of Croydon Labour’s front bench councillors get what is realistically their last chance to be selected to stand at next May’s Town Hall elections at a meeting being staged in New Addington tomorrow lunchtime.
Paul Smith, the spokesman on crime and public protection in the Town Hall opposition group’s shadow cabinet, and Louisa Woodley, Labour’s communities and voluntary sector spokeswoman, were both included on a short-list of six earlier this week.
New Addington is a key ward in the local elections if Labour is to stand any chance of taking back control of Croydon Council, which has been run – or run-down – by the Mike Fisher-led Conservatives since 2006.
The ward is also a litmus test for Labour’s chances in the 2015 General Election in Croydon Central, the seat held by Tory Gary Barlow [sick] [sic].
Unlike most wards in the borough, New Addington returns only two councillors to the Town Hall: in 2010 they were Labour’s George Ayres, who is retiring from the council next spring, and Tony Pearson, the controversial ex-Crystal Palace FC steward, who was elected for the Tories.
But if New Addington is a target ward for Labour, it appears to have become something of a target for selection for a couple of the candidates at tomorrow’s selection meeting.
As well as Smith and Woodley, also on Labour’s short-list for selection, which must include at least one woman candidate, are Rob Elliott and Oliver Lewis, and Allison Howe and Claudine Reid.
Elliott and Howe were featured on a “Labour Action Team” leaflet which circulated recently, even though they had not yet been selected to stand in the ward. Both are very well “connected” within the local Labour party.
In Howe’s case, she was not on the original list of party-approved potential candidates. Back in the spring, she was actually in charge of Labour’s application process, overseeing the confidential submissions from every wannabe Croydon councillor, and seeing where they wanted to stand, across every ward in the borough.
Some Labour members in the Croydon Central constituency party have questioned the ethics of such a change of role at this stage in the process.
“It’s like someone starting a football match as the referee, booking a player or two, maybe sending one of them off, seeing how the game’s going and then before halftime deciding they want to be a player,” one angry Labour member told Inside Croydon.
“It’s highly questionable, especially for someone who was not approved for the candidate list initially.”
Elliott, a losing Labour candidate in Fairfield ward at the 2010 local elections, is the partner of Simon Hall, the councillor for Fieldway ward. Hall is the holder of a number of official positions within the local Labour party, and was featured on the “Action Team” leaflet.
The selection of candidates for New Addington, thought to be one of the last “winnable” wards for Labour to be chosen, has already been subject to various delays.
First, Elliott and Howe were short-listed, even though at that time Howe was thought not to be on the “approved list” of candidates.
Howe, who describes herself as “a socialist committed to equality and fairness” (indeed), then withdrew, only to re-emerge as a potential candidate for a new short-listing process after belatedly seeking approved status. Of course, this does not address her privileged position overseeing other candidates’ applications.
Over the summer, the “official” Labour leaflet appeared on the doorsteps of New Addington households, possibly implying that Elliott and Howe had some form of “favoured status”. Which perhaps they have.
No one within the local Labour group was prepared to answer the question of who it was who sanctioned the expenditure on the leaflet or its distribution. “It’s an internal party matter,” was the taciturn response to all questions about the selection from constituency party official Councillor Paul Scott.
But a complaint – seen by Inside Croydon – looks to have halted the distribution of the leaflet. Sent from one senior Labour figure to Scott, the email posed some awkward questions about the leaflet.
“I believe it is fundamentally not fair to other approved panel members who wish to be considered for New Addington,” the email reads. “The selection process in New Addington, as a ward we currently hold one of two seats and won in the GLA elections, should be fair and transparent for all those interested.”
Distribution of the leaflet was halted soon after.
“It all has the look of an internal stitch-up,” another local Labour member told Inside Croydon, on condition of anonymity.
“Allison is a loyal Labour party member who has done a lot of work for the party over many years, and who would make an excellent councillor in Croydon,” was the view expressed by a senior Croydon Labour figure when asked about the probity, or lack of it, around Howe’s belated decision to enter the very selection process that she had been over-seeing.
Even last week’s short-listing meeting was cloaked in opacity, its date and location a closely guarded secret until very late. Short-listed candidates are given the contact details of all members in the ward, so that they might lobby them for their votes for selection: in New Addington, the “new” candidates on the short-list – and those not featured on the “Action Team” leaflet – had just three days in which to contact members; unlike most other wards, Labour’s New Addington’s selection meeting is less than a week after the short-listing. It is probably just as well that Labour party membership in New Addington numbers fewer than two dozen.
In some respects, this is all a bit of a jam of Croydon Labour’s own making. The party’s gender equality policy insists that every slate of candidates in every ward should include at least one woman, but sources suggest that once selections in most of the wards in the Labour strongholds in the north of the borough had taken place, there were few women left among the potential candidates. Overall, Labour in Croydon was operating with fewer than 90 volunteers from which to select 70 council candidates across the borough’s 24 wards.
There is also a growing concern among some members how few of the candidates come from ethnic minority backgrounds. Which must make the non-selection by their local members of two sitting, black women councillors in the north of Croydon, Woodley (in Thornton Heath) and Donna Gray (in Bensham Manor), all the more frustrating for those with the best of intentions to make local politics more representative of local people.
It has not been a great 12 months politically for Woodley. After running such a strong campaign in Croydon and Sutton in the London Assembly elections in May 2012 – in which she polled more votes in the Croydon half of the constituency than her Tory rival, the first time that Labour has ever managed that in a borough-wide poll – Woodley barely got on the scoreboard when she tried to win selection as prospective parliamentary candidate for the safe Labour Croydon North seat (won by Steve Reed OBE).
Even in an all-woman selection, she also did poorly when Croydon Central members – including those in New Addington – chose Sarah Jones to run for parliament. Then she was snubbed by her own ward members in Thornton Heath, which reportedly Woodley has blamed on Inside Croydon (ha! As if we had that much influence).
While it is perfectly possible that the New Addington membership could select two women as candidates, to preserve any chance of being on the council after May 2014, tomorrow Woodley must overcome Howe and also the challenge of Reid, another who has thrown her hat into the selection ring at a very late stage.
Reid was only approved as a potential candidate for Labour at the beginning of September, and while a supporter of the party, she has previously worked in the community, rather than in politics (which has got to be a good thing). Her impressive CV includes an MBE for her 20-year track record in running a social enterprise in Croydon, and inclusion on the Bank of Scotland’s Top 100 most entrepreneurial women in Britain.
Any woman who does not win over the members of New Addington tomorrow may have the option of applying for the as-yet vacant slot on the Labour ticket for Fairfield ward, though that is a far less “winnable” prospect.
Labour has chosen its three candidates in Shirley, who each will have to overcome a 2,000-vote deficit if they are to get to the Town Hall, where three Tories represent the ward: Janet Marshall and Richard Chatterjee, who have both risen without a trace, and the leader of the local Conservatives, florid-faced Mike “Wannabe MP” Fisher.
Labour has picked trades unionist Said Otmani, the outspoken community activist Marzia Nicodemi and James Gill.
Coming to Croydon
- Help break the chains of human trafficking: Sep 28
- Multicultural entertainment, St James the Great: Sep 28
- Tea at Five at the Spread Eagle: Oct 2-4
- Minster’s musical celebration for Silver Sunday: Oct 6
- Rent at the Secombe Theatre: Oct 9-12
- Debate the future of arts in Croydon: Oct 10
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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