WALTER CRONXITE, our man in the public gallery with a Yorkie bar in his pocket and a copy of the local free paper under his arm, analyses the real story behind yesterday’s headlines
Divided parties rarely win elections.
The tensions which have been bubbling under the surface for Croydon’s local Labour Party boiled over this week, with a double-page spread in the local rag that offered unnamed sources, a nudge here and a hint there on three barely connected stories of discontent within the ranks of the Town Hall’s opposition group. And to think that the formal election nominations, and therefore the campaign in earnest for the May 22 local elections, begins on Monday.
The exact nature of the Labour dissidents’ concern will be obscure to the Sadvertiser’s ever-dwindling number of purchasers. The story was covered not by the newspaper’s long-established and widely respected local government correspondent, but by their newsroom’s ambitious “chief” reporter, who did little to try to explain the detail of the dissent.
And although the report was not considered of sufficient editorial interest to warrant a front-page puff and was buried deep in the middle of the paper, the headlines will have delighted the local Conservatives, who did their utmost to distribute it via social media (one MP’s constituency assistant, who also happens to be a Tory candidate in the local elections, sent out links to the story from his personal Twitter account during normal office hours yesterday morning).
So you’d think that Croydon Labour’s leadership would do its best to put a lid on the matter as quickly as possible and get on with its campaign to win the Town Hall after two previous local election defeats?
Inside Croydon has seen an email, distributed yesterday to the local Labour group by the Croydon party’s secretary, Wayne Lawlor, apparently on the orders of the group’s leader, Tony Newman, in which he declares war on his own team:
“At the appropriate time, the Officers of the Group will be conducting an investigation into this breach of confidentiality and will ensure that the relevant action is taken against the person responsible.”
The “person responsible”? Just the one? It seems most unlikely that even the under-staffed Sadvertiser would run such an extensive piece sourced from just one Labour councillor.
Yesterday’s Labour email also accuses the newspaper’s source(s) of lying and being “cowardly”.
The round-robin reveals that such is the ill-will within the local Labour Party that Raj Rajendran (a councillor for Bensham Manor who had become so poorly regarded among his colleagues that he was not considered good enough to be put forward for consideration for re-selection as a candidate) “has now begun a new legal process against the national Labour Party and our previous local procedures secretary.”
That previous procedures secretary is Allison Howe, who Inside Croydon’s loyal reader will recall managed to appear as a candidate for selection to stand for Labour in New Addington, despite having been in charge of everyone else’s applications.
Unexplained properly in the Sadvertiser reports yesterday, probably because it is inexplicable, is Newman and his officers’ decision to start their own internal election process – to choose the group’s leader, deputies and other key personnel for the coming year in the Town Hall chamber – before Croydon voters go to the polls on May 22.
Newman has reiterated his intention that nominations for the top jobs in his council team, including seven cabinet positions with the juiciest of councillor allowances attached, will close before the local elections are held, despite some expressions of concern about the questionable timing of the process.
According to one well-placed source in the local Labour Party, because the process relies on self-nominations (oh yes, self-nominations), it does not pre-judge the outcome of the local elections. “If, say, Alison Butler wants to nominate herself as leader, and Labour under Tony wins the local elections in May, then Alison could easily withdraw herself after the results are in.”
But to most reasonable observers, the timing of the process has been deliberately chosen to deter any leadership challenges against Newman, whether Labour wins the local elections in Croydon next month or not.
That would be bad enough were Labour steaming towards an assured victory in Croydon. But they are not, which raises the prospect of Newman having presided over three successive defeats in Town Hall polls. And that makes the decision on the timing of the internal party nominations appear to be a bald-faced attempt to cling on to senior opposition posts. In 2010, the last time there were council elections, Labour’s internal nomination process took place after polling day.
Even if there is a poor result for Labour on May 22 this year, the current leader’s senior team of councillors will be safe from challenge, as all will have been nominated and very likely unchallenged – because after all, that could be regarded as “divisive” and “damaging to the party”, and that might undermine the chances of electoral success…
The unsustainable stance of choosing the team before the local elections is repeated in the internal email: “the process we have followed is set out in the Labour Group’s and the Labour Party’s Standing Orders”. Not for nothing have those moving in Katharine Street circles been referring to Tony “Soprano” Newman.
As Inside Croydon’s loyal reader will understand by now, while 70 councillors might be elected across 24 wards in Croydon on May 22, it is the outcome in just a handful of those wards and fewer than nine councillor seats which will really determine who runs the Town Hall until 2018: Labour isn’t going to win in Kenley, and the Tories have no chance in Thornton Heath (to cite two random examples).
Control of Croydon Town Hall will be determined by what happens in Addiscombe (which currently has three Labour councillors) and Waddon (with three Tory councillors at present), and in New Addington (where the two seats are split between Conservatives and Labour). All else is froth.
In the national opinion polls, Labour’s lead has fallen from a healthy 10 per cent in February 2013 to less than 4 per cent since the recent Budget. The prospects for a Labour victory in Croydon were already diminished, but open public divisions now spell doom.
The Conservatives haven’t even bothered to produce a borough-wide manifesto as yet – their campaign has focused solely on (albeit spurious) Council Tax scares. Now, all they have to do is ask voters the rhetorical question: whether Labour could really form a stable administration?
The machinations among Labour’s leadership at the Town Hall are also creating disquiet among rank and file party members who feel that they had no serious input into their campaign manifesto, which some see as being flawed because its promises are reliant on the election of a Labour government in 2015, and what’s more, on a Labour government that would somehow increase funding for Croydon council – not a given by any stretch.
Such have been the tensions, the personality clashes and even full-blown shouting matches that Labour’s campaign committees have not met since last autumn.
In Croydon South – which has few Labour targets apart from the crucial Waddon ward – the local party organisation has attempted a form of UDI, with a semi-detached election campaign under Andy Bagnall, the constituency party chairman and an experienced campaigner. As a consequence, some Labour councillors have refused to campaign in Croydon South.
Councillors were already unhappy over selection battles elsewhere in the borough that saw councillors Donna Gray and Paul Smith being de-selected, victims of what was seen to be efforts by Croydon South’s officers to interfere to help secure the selection of Blairite candidates in the north of the borough.
With the Conservatives relying on their (less-than-impressive) record, the LibDems targeting their meagre campaign resources in just two wards, the Greens and UKIP unlikely to gain any seats, it seems that florid-faced Mike Fisher and his self-serving Tory colleagues could win the council election almost by default, as the main opposition party appears to be in such disarray.
Can voters be blamed if a great many abstain from on May 22 in such circumstances?
- Council allowances and local politicians’ secret consensus
- Tories pick ‘Osland of the Yard’ to stand in Thornton Heath
- Residents appear helpless to halt the ‘Curse of Coulsdon’
- Councillors get two months off to work out what they stand for
Coming to Croydon
- Hauntology – the architecture of Croydon, Apr 5-May 2
- TickIt vote campaign launch, Apr 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Crystal Palace, Apr 17
- David Lean Cinema: Inside Llewyn Davis, Apr 17
- Opening of Marlpit Lane bowling and putting greens, Apr 17
- Arts and Crafts Market, Exchange Square, Apr 19
- Private Peaceful, Charles Cryer Theatre, Apr 23-26
- Alison, A Rock Opera, Spread Eagle Theatre, Apr 23-26
- David Lean Cinema: Short Term, Apr 24
- Stop The Incinerator Beer and Bingo fund-raiser, Apr 28
- Norwood Society Talk: West Norwood – a place of change, May 15
- Croydon RFC charity memorial day, May 17
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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