Reed bends with the wind as he seeks selection in Croydon

Steve Reed divides opinions. He thinks he’s great. Others who have had to deal with the leader of Lambeth Council tend to disagree.

Steve Reed: testy when questioned about his support in Croydon

“He’s more Blairite than Tony Blair,” was one of the more polite views aired when Reed announced he had put himself forward as the potential Labour candidate for the Croydon North by-election.

The by-election, following the death of Malcolm Wicks, is expected to be staged on November 29, although the outcome seems most likely to be determined at a meeting on London Road tomorrow, when Labour’s Croydon North members will get to pick the candidate who will inherit the 16,000-vote majority in the seat.

Reed is one of five candidates shortlisted by the party’s National Executive; one of just two men on the shortlist; and one of three on the shortlist who are not from Croydon. Many believe that he is co-favourite for the nomination together with London Assembly Member, and local resident, Valerie Shawcross.

Reed has two political claims to fame, the first having won Lambeth Council back from a ConDem coalition in 2006, the second for having established Lambeth as what he calls a “co-operative council”.

Reed’s critics say that neither of these actually amount to great achievements: the Labour defeat in Lambeth in 2002 was the greater surprise, because with the exception of the yuppified areas of Clapham and gentrified neighbourhoods around Vauxhall, the borough has long been natural Labour territory.

Brixton Town Hall: Reed’s council wants to embark on an expensive council office building programme. Sound familiar?

The co-op council idea, meanwhile, is widely distrusted among trades unions and those to the left of Labour, having seen Reed’s Lambeth make hundreds of council staff redundant in an effort to implement the present government’s funding cuts.

Reed, as you might expect, sees things somewhat differently.

“I have a radical vision to improve public services by making them directly accountable to the people who use them,” he told Inside Croydon of the co-operative council idea.  “The idea is much bigger than any single council and has become a national movement with the backing of Ed Miliband.  It means giving people in council housing a bigger say over how their homes are managed, which improves local neighbourhoods.  It means giving older and disabled people more choice over the care services they receive and who provides them, which improves their quality of life.

“It means giving parents a bigger say over what support young people need to keep them out of trouble, which helps give vulnerable youngsters a better future.  It’s about doing things with people instead of doing things to people,” Reed said.

“I’ve also set up a social enterprise to give work to unemployed young people bringing empty homes back into use – a practical idea that cuts unemployment and cuts homelessness at the same time.  That’s the kind of creative thinking we need in Croydon North,” he said.

There’s some who might observe that the comments made by the Labour councillor for Brixton Hill ward could just as easily have been said by the Conservative MP for Croydon Central. The rush to the middle ground of politics has seen a mix-and-match of policy areas which confuses, perhaps deliberately, some voters.

The similarities with Reed’s brand of Labour and Croydon Conservatism may not end there: Lambeth is looking at plans to build expensive council offices beside the Town Hall at Brixton. Ring a bell, Croydon? Or how about the decision to axe the Lambeth Country Show (happily reversed by Lambeth after massive public outcry, unlike Croydon’s long-gone Mela)? Or the uncertainty over the futures of two popular public libraries, at West Norwood and Streatham?

So while Reed has the support of the Co-Operative party going into tomorrow’s Labour caucus, significantly the Co-Op’s “preferred candidate” is Shawcross, Reed’s biggest rival for the Croydon North nomination. For the man behind the Co-Op Council not to get the full backing of the Co-Op party must be a blow?

Reed seemed to bridle when this was put to him by Inside Croydon. “The Co-Op party’s endorsement is a matter for them,” he told us, somewhat defensively we thought. Later Reed went to the trouble of updating us with an email to inform us that he, and another candidate, Simon Burgess, as well as the “preferred” Shawcross, would also be “endorsed” by the Co-Op – presumably a diplomatic move so as not to create too much in-party division before taking on the Tories in the by-election.

Could he tell us, then, which Croydon councillors had pledged their support to him? Reed refused to provide us with any names beyond that of John Wentworth, whose endorsement Reed has publicised in a campaign leaflet. “I do indeed have other councillors backing me. I believe I have the support of more of them than any other candidate.”

But then he went all coy. “But it’s for them rather than for me to make that public if they wish as this is an internal Labour party process not  a public one.”

Internal not public? Really? We questioned Reed about his boasts, made very publicly by him on Twitter, about the backing of trades unions – the shop-workers’ USDAW and general union GMB’s southern region – or whether he has the backing of any existing London MPs.

Steve Reed: seemed confused about what is a public process and what is an internal party thing

Again, he appeared reluctant to be drawn on support from potential Westminster colleagues, offering a typical politician’s non-answer. “London MPs don’t have a vote in the selection but Tessa Jowell has provided supportive quotes for both me and Val,” he said.

We’d asked the question because in Lambeth Labour circles, Reed’s relationship with Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey is notoriously “testy”, as he was said to have sought the former sports minister’s prompt retirement to allow him to take her seat.

Reed had also been thwarted by Labour rising star Chuka Umunna when they both pitched in to replace Keith Hill in Streatham.

Such thrusting ambition may be a touch distasteful, even from a professional politician, while Reed’s not coming from within Croydon might be seen by many locals as a bigger short-coming.

But surely Reed’s worst offence in the eyes of the Croydon Labour party was the suggestion that he started campaigning for members’ support before the memorial service for Malcolm Wicks?

“The party will look very badly on anyone who is seen to be politicking when we are still in mourning,” Inside Croydon was told by one senior Labour figure.

Once tomorrow’s selection meeting is done and dusted, the question of integrity in the campaign of one candidate may be investigated, as senior party officials want to know who it was who a week ago tipped off the unpopular Sadvertiser (an Inside Croydon nickname for the rapidly declining local newspaper which even its own staff now use openly) with a story about Shawcross’s discomfort over when she might be able to resign her responsibilities at City Hall if selected to stand for Westminster.

“I would resign from Lambeth immediately if chosen as Croydon’s MP, with no overlap of jobs at all,” Reed eagerly answered at least one straight question with a straight answer.

It will be interesting to learn whether Reed is able to offer convincing answers in the 15-minute Q&A session he faces with Croydon North’s members tomorrow. Certainly, the people of Lambeth whom he now seems so keen to abandon appear overall ambivalent about the outcome of the selection.

“I hope he gets it,” one Lambeth Labour supporter told Inside Croydon. “The sooner he’s gone the better.” Ouch.

Another familiar with the local scene in Lambeth told us, “He gives the impression of being quite tribal and unwilling to work with Labour colleagues of different political hues.

“Flashpoints include the handling of rebel backbencher Kingsley Abrams, the only member of the Labour group willing to challenge the New Labour consensus. Reed’s testy relationship with Kate Hoey MP has been another source of amusement to watchers of the Lambeth political scene.”

They added, “If he leaves the council to pursue a parliamentary career he will leave his flagship ‘co-operative council’ ill-defined and incomplete.”

But the question that local members might want to ask Streatham resident Steve Reed is: twice spurned for safe Labour seats by the people who know you best in Lambeth, what makes you think you’re good enough for Croydon North?

Click here for our archive of other articles on the candidates of all parties for the Croydon North by-election

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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