Steve Reed today offered “a new vision for Croydon” to win selection as the Labour party candidate for Croydon North.
But the Lambeth Council leader’s selection, reportedly by a single vote from Valerie Shawcross after second preferences were included, represents something of a rebuff to Croydon’s Labour councillors, at least eight of whom backed Shawcross, while vitally some supporters of Croydon councillor, Louisa Woodley, did not exercise their second preference votes which might have been expected to go to a local candidate.
And the selection of a middle-aged, middle-class, openly gay white man to stand for Labour in the multi-racial, multi-faith and high unemployment area of Croydon North has already prompted goading from the fringes of politics, where George Galloway is lurking with his Respect candidate, Lee Jasper, still looking to find a location for their campaign headquarters.
Maggie Mansell, who chairs the Croydon North constituency Labour party, told Inside Croydon that Reed’s speech to the hustings was “inspirational”, appropriate words when the caucus was held at the evangelical Praise House on London Road.
With no candidate gaining 50 per cent on the first round of voting, LabourList reported that when the voting came down to second preferences, the final reckoning was 97-96 to Reed over Shawcross. As they emerged from the meeting room, some members said that they had awarded their votes on the basis of Reed’s impressive performance on the hustings.
Reed’s new broom approach seemed to have gone down well with the very large number of black and minority ethnic (BME) members. Their enthusiasm for their new candidate was palpable in the crowded large hall from which the press had been excluded. This strong support from a party that is representative of a constituency where some wards have majority BME populations ought to augur well for Reed.
“I am incredibly humbled that members have put their trust in me to stand up for this constituency. I will give it my absolute best,” Reed said.
“The task in hand now is to defend Malcolm’s legacy by getting the biggest possible majority for Labour in the coming by-election.”
Asked what Croydon has to learn from Lambeth, Reed underlined his fresh approach saying, “We can defend public services better with innovative approaches”, a reference to how services in Lambeth have gained some degree of protection from Conservative-led government cuts through the use of co-operative, community-based models.
Reed feels that he is better placed to advocate on behalf of residents, to “stand up” for Croydon North, and he said that he would seek out partners to work constructively on the issue of youth unemployment that he saw as a special problem in the area.
Reed’s campaign literature, handed out to party members at the meeting, emphasised the galvanising and positive effect that he intends to have upon the Croydon Labour party’s fortunes. In the attractive leaflet, Reed says that “I led Labour to a landslide victory against the odds in Lambeth” and that “I’ll bring that energy to win back Croydon Council for Labour in 2014”.
Reed was happy to say that the by-election, expected to be held on November 29, will partly be a judgement on the borough’s Conservative-run council. Reed says that as he travels across the borough boundary from Lambeth, Croydon Council has allowed the streets to become “shabby”.
Reed said, “I have stood up to Mike Fisher in the past,” referring to clashes with his counterpart on Croydon Council, most recently over the fate of the Upper Norwood Joint Library.
Reed promises that he’ll keep Malcolm Wicks’ office in London Road open if elected as the new MP – he inherits a 16,000 majority. Reed expects the Conservatives to come second, courteously describing their Andrew Stranack as “a strong candidate”.
Stranack has not reciprocated the politeness, posting on his website an immediate condemnation of Reed as not being “local”. While Reed lives in Streatham Hill, Stranack lives in Forestdale: both are in the constituencies next door to Croydon North.
“Labour’s decision to select a Lambeth councillor – when they had plenty of good, local candidates to choose from – means that I am the only one of the main party candidates who is local,” said the man from Croydon Central, apparently without any sense of irony, or hypocrisy. Or much attention to fact.
Gavin Barwell, the Croydon Central MP who is taking some time off from his parliamentary duties and his bag-carrying responsibilities for Michael Gove in order to be Stranack’s “campaign manager” – or puppet master? – took to social media to promote his man claiming that “he has stronger local connections”. The Green party candidate, Shasha Khan, actually lives in Croydon North. So if proximity is the be-all and end-all as Barwell has told Stranack, then maybe the Conservatives should be endorsing the Green’s closer-to-home Thornton Heath resident.
Respect’s George Galloway MP, no fan of New Labour who expelled him from the party, Tweeted: “Happy Birthday Lee Jasper! What a present the Blairites just gifted you! Steve Reed as an opponent!”
Despite facing three by-elections on November 15 and probably also fighting the Middlesbrough by-election caused by the death of Sir Stuart Bell MP, Labour now look likely to put significant resources into ensuring Reed’s campaign triumphs convincingly.
Low turnout is the danger for Labour if their supporters take the result for granted.
After other parties’ candidates have spent a fortnight canvassing, Reed’s campaign is off to a very quick start tomorrow morning on the A235 that will see the annual London Brighton veteran car run.
One Labour councillor told Inside Croydon at the hustings that he was relieved that come Sunday morning he would be promoting a candidate who would “not be complicated by a dual mandate” – a reference to Shawcross’s conflict with a London Assembly role that Labour would not allow her to relinquish immediately.
The 54-year-old Norwood resident, who has been a leader of Croydon Council as well as a successful Assembly Member, had spoken of how Croydon North represented her final chance to progress her political career to Westminster. She would be entitled to feel let down by her party over its intransigence over by-election expenditure, especially given the closeness of the final outcome.
Reed expects to be allowed by his Lambeth colleagues to stand down as their council leader as early as Monday evening and he has already told Inside Croydon that he will resign as a Lambeth councillor upon election to the House of Commons.
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