Newman struggling to keep team singing from same songsheet

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.

Tony Newman, leader of the Labour group on Croydon Council: email threats after leaks to the local papers

Tony “Soprano” Newman: email threat after leaks to the local paper

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?

Oh no…

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”.

Raj Rajendran: de-selected by Labour, now taking legal action against the national party

Raj Rajendran: de-selected by Labour, now taking legal action against the national party

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.

Waddon ward: the outcome here will likely determine who runs Croydon Town Hall for the next four years

Waddon ward: the outcome here will likely determine who runs Croydon Town Hall for the next four years

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.

Councillor Donna Gray: rising star of Croydon Labour, but not selected in Bensham Manor

Councillor Donna Gray: rising star of Croydon Labour, but not selected in Bensham Manor

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?

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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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11 Responses to Newman struggling to keep team singing from same songsheet

  1. davidcallam says:

    The Labour Party locally is making the same mistake it made nationally before the last General Election: it is allowing an ambitious leader to cling on to power long after he has passed his use-by date. And it will pay the same price.
    The best result for Croydon might be a hung council.

  2. Ian Hunter says:

    Walter Cronxite’s exposition concludes, unfortunately, on a negative note – that since none of the other parties submitting candidates in next month’s local elections are likely to gain any seats and with the balance of power seemingly determined by a Conservative/Labour re-disposition in three key wards, voters should not be blamed if a great many abstain from voting on 22nd May.

    OH YES THEY SHOULD BLAME THEMSELVES!!! And I will tell you why.

    It would be an absolute tragedy if the electorate in Croydon, who are given the privilege to vote on essentially local issues in 2014, think that because it may be a foregone conclusion that either the Conservative Party, now in control, will be re-elected or that, with the current riven Labour opposition, that there is no value in voting for them, no efforts should be made to elect an alternative political block.

    Local elections serve at least two purposes: (a) to elect a council in tune with the interests of their electorate in matters purely local and consistent with the powers being devolved through the Sustainable Communities Act 2007. This process does not require the election of major political parties when, for example, the Green Party, UKIP or an Independent candidate can advocate similar policies but from a different perspective. This is the essence of localism and no one should feel their vote had no value and was therefore wasted if it did not go to a Conservative, Lib-Dem or Labour candidate; (b) local council elections have historically seen major political upsets for the main parties because the electorate use such instances to express dissent to National policies they cannot influence except at 5-year intervals.

    The calling of Local and Eurpoean elections one year from a General Election is a heaven-sent opportunity for all the electorate to choose candidates whose views are not influenced by international relations or foreign policy considerations but by how effectively they propose to shepherd their local Borough’s fortunes.

    Imagine a situation if MPs saw at a local level the disappearance of their parties majorities and the rise of local councils with either no overall party in control or the actual replacement of their governing bodies by groups more in tune with local issues.

    Croydon voters do not have to be fixated like rabbits in the glare of Conservative/Labour headlights when other options are achievable.

    Two very important results will be obtained by this approach: (a) a local council created by this change will have four years to bed down; if successful in Croydon, this could mean the end of the two-party, undemocratic, cabinet-style system of control and (b) the way the major parties conduct the 2015 general election would be influenced for the better because once it is proved that when everyone casts their vote change will come, the turn-out in 2015 will be up where it is clear that the Country and not narrow financial or political interests have decided the outcome.


  3. davidcallam says:

    Ian: would that be a plea for a hung council?

  4. Ian Hunter says:

    David: I hope the people of Croydon who are registered to vote will all do so. That would be the start of proper democracy wouldn’t it?

    • The penultimate paragraph of Walter’s report outlines how there really is no alternative for voters other than the red-blue consensus/duopoly.

      For a hung council to work for residents, it needs an otherwise-aligned group to have three or more councillors, and therefore hold the balance of power.

      Unless some well-organised residents’ associations get their act together and submit some candidates ahead of the deadline later today, there will be no alternative for voters, and no real prospect of a functioning hung council.

  5. A Labour councillor complained to the head office about the Tamils who recruited more than 60 Labour members so that his selection would be safe.

    The Labour group tried very hard not to select a councillor from the BME community for a particular ward. This councillor who was able to reduce the majority from 45000 to 9000 in the GLA election.

    Perhaps it must be difficult for the leader to play the keyboard and sing from the same hymn sheet .
    Or has Croydon become Lambeth? Who actually leads the Labour group these days?

  6. Ian Hunter says:

    David, A hung Council might be the end result but it need not be inevitable.

  7. davidcallam says:

    A real choice between red and blue is no choice at all: Labour, who instituted councillors’ allowances to offer salaries to people who were otherwise unemployable, or Conservatives, who have accrued one of the highest levels of council tax arrears in Greater London. No wonder less than one voter in three is likely to cast a ballot.

  8. Ian Hunter says:

    Don’t forget, O wise one, that there are red, blue, even yellow, candidates who are willing to abjure party whips in the interests of the Borough and not their careers. All it needs is for a few important committees to be seeded with such people and localism flies.

    • The evidence suggests otherwise, Ian.

      In the past four years, as best we can assess, there was a single vote by a single Tory councillor against the party whip.

      And he has been de-selected as a candidate this time round.

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