Punch and Judy’s back on at the Town Hall tomorrow night, with the latest full meeting of the council.
Nothing of note is likely to be decided. Little of real interest will be announced. That’s transparent and accountable democracy in action for you in Croydon in 2016.This will be the last full council meeting for three months in which the public is allowed to ask any questions. Not that the public seems to matter much for those running the local authority. And while all power is supposed to reside with the “strong leader” Tony Newman and his cabinet colleagues, in truth, it is council CEO Nathan Elvery and his small coterie of six-figure-salaried executive directors such as Jo Negrini who carry on, unchallenged and virtually unaccountable.
One minor matter of interest to be announced tomorrow evening will be the identity of who will be Deputy Mayor in 2016-2017. Given the ineptitude over the management of council politics that has been shown by Newman in the past 18 months, whoever is announced tomorrow could become the last Labour councillor to be Mayor of Croydon until 2026…
South Norwood councillor Wayne Lawlor, who has had the deputy mayor’s role for the past year, is expected to take on the Trumptonesque robes and civic responsibility for opening primary school fetes when Patricia Hay-Justice steps down at the end of her tri-corned term. Lawlor will do well to match the abilities of his three predecessors, including Yvette Hopley and Manju Shahul Hameed, in chairing the sometimes boisterous Town Hall meetings. Or dealing with Phil Thomas.
Being deputy and then mayor largely sidelines any councillor from the political fray for two years. It is not a job for someone who is politically ambitious within their party group. Newman, as council leader, might arrange to confer the “honour” on some worthy backbencher and time-server. Being deputy mayor and then mayor for the next 24 months would, for instance, put a stop to John Wentworth watching football in the Town Hall chamber. Bernadette Khan, the conscientious veteran West Thornton councillor, has been lobbying for the deputy mayor’s job among her Katharine Street colleagues. And she does turn up to a lot of meetings already. Mike Selva, the almost invisible Broad Green councillor, is someone who has long craved a touch of faux ermine.
Whoever comes in as deputy mayor is, by turn, expected to have the tough task of chairing full council in what are likely to be more fractious months leading up to the next local elections in May 2018. So while the position of Mayor is largely honorary and usually vacuous, a firm hand on the tiller might be required.
Or Newman could use the honorary position to retire one of his current cabinet members from front bench duty. Despite various gaffes and errors, Newman’s cabinet has remained unaltered since Labour won the May 2014 elections, and it had been largely fixed in place in the years of opposition.
With his pet project, the Fairness Commission, due to publish its final report next week, Newman may think he needs to find a cabinet task worthy of the talents of his group’s rising star, Hamida Ali, who was the commission’s deputy chair (or “Newman’s insider”, if you prefer).
But if Ali is to be given a new job, who might make way for her?
In truth, apart from restrictions imposed by Labour’s equality policies, there’s plenty of candidates.
Some of the Labour cabinet members might argue that the circumstances have seen them operating with at least one hand tied behind their backs, as they’ve been expected to carry out Tory spending cuts and implement unquestioningly the speculators’ development agenda established by their Conservative council predecessors. It’s been continuity all-round after Newman confirmed Elvery’s appointment as the borough’s CEO.
Few Town Hall observers, though, have been impressed with Alisa Flemming’s handling of her education brief, which in any case has become a much diminished portfolio as so many local authority schools have endured academisation.
Toni Letts, with the strategic development brief, is unlikely to be moved and besides, she has been Mayor before. Timothy Godfrey has been handed the steaming turd of the Fairfield Halls scheme to unravel and is unlikely to be relieved of that task.Nor will Newman dare to offer the chains of office to either of his two deputies – Alison “12 council homes built in 18 months” Butler or his head of T-shirts, Stuart Collins – since either would look like a sacking, and could be seized upon even by the somnambulist leader of Croydon Tories, Tim Pollard. The same could apply to Labour’s finance chief Simon Hall, who has worked very hard with some near impossible figures, but is still remembered for allowing even the suggestion of selling off school playing fields to appear in an official council report.
Which sort of leaves Louisa Woodley.
Four years since she was Labour’s London Assembly candidate in Croydon and Sutton and managed to out-poll the Tories in this borough for the first time in history, her political fortunes have been waning ever since. She was de-selected by party members in her own ward in 2013, and her handling of the health and social services brief has been… under-whelming. Now a councillor in New Addington, having a Mayor of Croydon from that part of the borough might, of itself, offer an attractive option for Newman’s Labour group.
But some Katharine Street sources suggest that Newman would never dream of moving Woodley on from the £40,000-plus cabinet position she currently holds.
Coming up to halfway in Newman and Labour’s term of office, if he opts not to make any changes in personnel now, he may never have a better chance.
Or maybe, as with Elvery, “continuity” is Newman’s answer to everything, not least his own position.
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