Ignore the pointless “debate” on the EU referendum and badly sung versions of Land of Hope and Glory. Monday’s council meeting was in fact a thinly disguised contest to judge the performances in the Town Hall chamber of some of Labour’s councillors ahead of a soft-shoe reshuffle. This was ball room with loads of balls ups.
WALTER CRONXITE, who looks nothing like a Strictly Come Dancing judge, was watching for who had two left feet
Two or three vacant positions seem certain to come up among Labour’s cabinet members and their deputies over the coming weeks. And council leader Tony Newman lined up those reckoned to be in contention by giving them a platform to speak at Monday’s council meeting.
But as some tried to strut their stuff in pursuit of promotion and potentially more than £40,000 in council “allowances”, it was a case of murder on the dance floor beneath the Town Hall chandeliers for at least one contestant.
Toni Letts, the cabinet member for regeneration, is certainly off to do other, less daunting tasks as deputy mayor, with Kathy Bee, the former local government official who has held the roads and road safety cabinet brief for two years, also thought likely to be “redeployed” by Newman, who is strongly rumoured on Katharine Street to be looking at the position of one of his deputies, Stuart Collins, whose clean and green brief has hardly been a waltz.
On Monday, it meant that some of Labour’s newer councillors, and one long-standing figure who’s been left,almost forgotten, on the back benches since 2014, stepped out into the spotlight: Hamida Ali, Jane Avis, Stuart King and Oliver Lewis were all keen to put their best foot forward, while Newman deliberately avoided picking anyone who he thought might step on too many toes.
With Nathan Elvery appearing more relaxed than usual as he prepares to move on to his own end-of-the-pier show in Tory-run West Sussex, the entrepreneurial chief executive – a self-professed Labour supporter, apparently – clearly enjoyed telling Croydon’s Conservatives to “calm down” when they took to some over-excited screeching.
And he took evident delight in painstakingly, at a deliberately exaggerated and pedestrian pace, explaining to Sara Bashford, the over-promoted Tory deputy leader, why she had herself abstained in two votes in the chamber when she claimed that she could not understand how or why she had not voted. Matters were clearly moving on at a quick-step too fast for Gavin Barwell’s office manager.
Then Elvery went all Len Goodman as he found Lewis’s speech full of illegal lifts and lacking in any ballroom content. Twice Elvery was forced to warn the first-term councillor that he was not to mention the London Asssembly and Mayoral elections because of the requirements of strict purdah rules about the use of public resources in a period immediately before residents go to the polling stations.
Croydon’s Mayor, chairing the meeting, attempted to emulate the serenity of Darcy Bussell and seemed to hope that Lewis could escape from his leaden-footed reading of all the words he’d carefully written down on his sheet of paper, but he lacked the natural balance to be able to change his steps mid-performance, and so Patricia Hay-Justice was forced to get the councillor to stop his speech well before his allotted time ran out.
It may well be that the ever more dapper and rakishly bearded deputy mayor, Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, truly looks the part up on the judging dias when done up in his Trumptonesque robes, but it was left to Tory councillor Vidhi Mohan to act as a fourth judge with a snide put-down of the Lewis performance which would have been worthy of Craig Revel Horwood: “Thought Oliver Lewis was a Croydon Labour rising star. Not sure after that shambolic speech where he repeatedly broke purdah rules,” the failed Tory parliamentary candidate tweeted.
With a stumbling performance that would have embarrassed Ann Widdecombe, Oliver Lewis scored:
Councillor Hamida Ali had been allocated the tough routine of speaking on a subject entirely irrelevant to the council – the EU referendum. If that’s the best routine that her ward colleague, Newman, can pick for her to shine, then she might need to find a better choreographer.
As ever, the Woodside first-termer was graciously tentative but she got a few steps wrong when she implied that it was the EU, and not Britain’s own trades union movement, that won workers’ rights on such matters as holiday entitlement.
Ballroom might not have been on the curriculum at Croydon High when Ali was a pupil there, but she’s the voting public’s favourite who’ll likely win the final show in the series.
Hamida Ali scored:
Stuart King showed the manly self-assurance and professionalism of a Jay McGuiness, as he got all the steps bang on right. Just like someone who had spent their formative years learning the fox-trot at stage school, King’s experience of having been a parliamentary candidate, albeit a failed one, and a one-time councillor in Wandsworth shone through.
He even used all that old traditional footwork that so impresses Len, as he trotted out that increasingly unbelievable old line that Croydon is about to receive £ 5.25 billion-worth of public infrastructure investment.
King would clearly fit in with Labour’s current front bench in terms of their Blairite outlook, and might prove useful with his long-standing connections with Tooting MP and would-be London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Or maybe not, as this performance on Monday showed how he might easily outshine the current “top team” on the Town Hall dance floor, so he’s probably too big a threat to be a likely final winner.
Stuart King scored:
At the top of the judges’ leader board this week was ex-mayor Jane Avis, who came up with the type of energetic and innovative routine which got the audience especially enthused.
Not much has been seen – or heard – from Avis these past two years. Maybe Labour’s chief choreographers, Alison Butler and Mark Watson, dislike the sort of sequins she has stitched into her walking boots? So the former front-bencher has been forced to wait in the wings for her big chance.
And like the seasoned trouper that she is, Avis really took her chance. You really believed that South Norwood is a happening place from Avis’s jive.
According to Avis, her ward is a part of Croydon apparently blessed with dynamically ballooning house prices, arty coffee shops sprouting up everywhere and numerous community initiatives.
Shame she won’t make it to the final.
Jane Avis scored:
What do you mean, you never realised that Strictly Come Dancing was all a big stitch-up by the judges?
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