Jowell ducks Croydon hustings as Berlusconi link questioned

Dame Tessa Jowell, the favourite to win selection to stand as Labour’s candidate in next May’s London Mayoral election, is to snub the south London hustings being staged in Croydon on Monday. But she is able to fit in a visit to Croydon two days later for an event organised by her own campaign.

Dame Tessa Jowell: ducking Croydon hustings. Will she also duck awkward questions about Silvio Berlusconi?

Dame Tessa Jowell: ducking Croydon hustings. Will she also duck awkward questions about Silvio Berlusconi?

The hustings have been organised by Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party and officials from nine other outer south London CLPs, because all the previous events staged by their party had been staged in the centre or north of the city. Five of Labour’s six Mayoral candidates have confirmed their attendance, but not former Dulwich and West Norwood MP Dame Tessa.

The event is to be staged at Ruskin House, scene of this week’s Jeremy Corbyn meeting which was attended by around 400 people from across south London eager to hear what the underdog in the Labour leadership race had to say.

The Croydon organisers had delayed announcing their Labour Mayoral hustings until Sadiq Khan, the Tooting MP, confirmed his attendance. With barely two days to go, the event’s Facebook page continues to have Dame Tessa listed as “TBC” – to be confirmed.

Inside Croydon understands that Dame Tessa has indeed confirmed that she will not be attending the hustings to face questions alongside her Labour rivals.

Yet two days ago, Dame Tessa’s campaign – which has received tens of thousands of pounds of funding from backers who work closely with Thatcher’s favourite spin doctor, Tim Bell – issued an invitation for another event, being staged at the very same Ruskin House on Wednesday. “This will be … a fantastic opportunity to hear from Tessa in person, as well as speak to other Labour Party members about the future of London and how we can build One London together,” the email gushed.

Dame Tessa’s supporters locally include Croydon council leader Tony Newman and Sarah Jones, the Labour candidate who lost Croydon Central at May’s General Election by fewer than 200 votes.

According to a poll conducted by the Labour List website this week, Dame Tessa has the support of 36 per cent of its readership to become the party’s Mayoral candidate, well ahead of closest challengers Khan and Diane Abbott, who both polled 23 per cent.

With such an apparently unassailable lead, it appears that Dame Tessa now wants to avoid too many awkward questions, and instead rely on a series of expensively shot campaign videos to promote her case.

Jowell’s campaign received a £10,000 donation from Mervyn Davies, the chairman of Chime Communications, just weeks before the 67-year-old former Blair cabinet minister was given an executive job with one of Chime’s companies. It is unclear whether her rally in Croydon will allow local Labour members to question her about her links to  Chime, the company founded by Lord Tim Bell, the former close adviser to Maggie Thatcher.

Silvio Berlusconi: Tessa Jowell's husband worked for the Italian media mogul for 20 years

Silvio Berlusconi: Tessa Jowell’s husband worked for the Italian media mogul for 20 years

Also likely to be off-limits at Dame Tessa’s love-in with her friends and supporters will be questions about her family’s links to the disgraced former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

This week’s issue of Private Eye magazine reports that Dame Tessa has threatened legal action against one of her Labour Mayoral rivals, David Lammy, if his campaign was to dare even mention the link between “bunga bunga” Berlusconi and her husband, David Mills, who acted as a tax and legal adviser to the Italian media mogul for 20 years.

The Eye reports: “Lammy and his staff were intrigued. What was worrying her? What did Jowell not want to come out? And what, precisely, was she threatening to sue them for saying? When they asked Jowell, the previously loquacious candidate fell strangely silent. But she will not be able to keep quiet for much longer.”

Although ducking out of open and public hustings is one way of avoiding too much scrutiny.

About insidecroydon

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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