If you live in one of the Labour-held wards in Croydon, you probably didn’t have an opportunity to meet your publicly funded councillor at a residents’ surgery this weekend.
You definitely would not have seen council leader Tony Newman standing shoulder-to-shoulder with tens of thousands from the public services unions on the march for better pay and against NHS cuts, which was staged in central London yesterday.
Oh no: Croydon’s Labour group has different priorities.
Newman and most of his 40 councillors, who now have political control of Croydon Town Hall, all jumped on board the train to Brighton yesterday morning for an “awayday”. An “awayday” that lasted all the weekend. And ultimately, which was paid for by Croydon’s ratepayers.
With talks from Jim McMahon, the baby-faced leader of Oldham’s “co-operative” council, and Sadiq Khan, one of the front-runners to be Labour’s candidate to become the next London Mayor, the two-day local group session was all about strategy and campaigning in Croydon North and Croydon Central ahead of next May’s General Election.
What the Hon Emily Benn, a newbie councillor for West Thornton, must have made of all this might be interesting. She’s the Labour candidate for Croydon South, a parliamentary constituency which merited not a mention in the Croydon Labour leader’s letters ahead of this “group” love-in.
With Steve Reed OBE a shoo-in to retain his Lambeth South seat, all of Labour’s resources in our three-seat borough seem set to be poured into Croydon Central, which is one of the battleground seats of the 2015 election.
Meanwhile, Labour supporters south of the borough’s version of the Mason-Dixon line don’t count for much as far as Newman and the local leadership is concerned, unless they want to stuff envelopes or knock on doors in Fairfield, Addiscombe or Ashburton wards to get the vote out for Sarah Jones in Croydon Central.
The Hon Emily, daughter of Viscount Stansgate, will still be expected to make token appearances at hustings and on the doorsteps in Croydon South, though she’s hardly got out of her blocks with the speed of Usain Bolt. Selected in July, her first canvassing session – dutifully accompanied by a hereditary peer – was not until this month.
But with so little apparent support, even in internal party documents, from the local Labour group, Benn can hardly be blamed if she takes on the 15,000 Tory majority in Croydon South a little half-heartedly.
For what was supposed to be a Labour party get-together in Brighton this weekend, it is interesting that the council’s chief executive officer, the entrepreneurial Nathan Elvery, was also present for a session with the local politicos. Elvery, of course, was appointed to the post by Newman without the job ever having been advertised, and without proper compliance with the council’s own policies on equality.
Our source in the subsidised bar at Ruskin House suggests that the Brighton weekend has been paid for, quite properly, out of the Croydon Labour group’s own funds. Those in the know, however, point out that these funds – just as with the local Tories – receive substantial income from the “allowances” paid by the council to our elected councillors out of the Council Tax.
This is the secret funding of the main political parties which advantages the Conservatives and Labour, and freezes out smaller political parties, including the impecunious LibDems and cash-strapped Greens.
It is Croydon TUC policy to reduce the amount paid to councillors in allowances. But with cuts being made to staff and services elsewhere at Croydon Town Hall, councillor allowances have remained sacrosanct under Tory and, now, Labour administrations. Indeed, the matter of council allowances was not even discussed when it was on the agenda at a council meeting in July. Just as with the appointment of Elvery to the borough’s top job, Newman ensured that the matter just went through on the nod.
In Croydon in 2012-2013, a total of £1,453,510 was paid out to our 70 part-time Tory and Labour councillors in allowances. Even if only 2 per cent of that is paid over to their political party funds by our councillors, that means that the people of Croydon have unknowingly subsidised the local Labour and Conservative parties with nearly £120,000 since the 2010 Town Hall elections.
How else are they to pay for weekends away in Brighton, after all?
Coming to Croydon
- South London Jobs Fair, Fairfield Halls, Oct 21
- David Lean Cinema: Mood Indigo, Oct 23
- This Was The World and I Was King, Spread Eagle, Oct 23-25
- South Norwood Country Park Family Fun Day, Oct 25
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, 2.30pm, Oct 25
- David Lean Cinema: Ilo Ilo, Oct 28
- CODA’s Wind In The Willows, Charles Cryer, Carshalton, Oct 29-Nov 1
- David Lean Cinema: Belle, Oct 30
- NHS free health fair, Central Parade, New Addington, Oct 31
- MOPAC policing meeting, Surrey Street, Nov 4
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 4
- St Giles School opening morning, Nov 5
- Grange Park bulb-planting event, Nov 8
- Brook recording studio open day and party, Nov 9
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Nov 14
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 17
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- Coulsdon Yulefest, Dec 6-7
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Dec 7
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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