In the past 18 months, through poorly presented and badly timed policy announcements issued from Croydon Town Hall, Newman and his small clique of close chums have handed a series of gift-wrapped political presents to their opponents, managing to undermine the election chances of their own party’s candidates at the 2015 General Election and in today’s London vote. Probably nothing deliberate. Just crass incompetence let loose.
But by allowing a challenge to one of his deputies, Stuart Collins, at next week’s Croydon Labour group annual meeting, Newman could be wrecking his own hopes of maintaining control of the council after 2018.
Newman’s Labour won control of Croydon Town Hall in 2014 after fighting the local elections on a firm promise to clean up the borough’s streets.
Yet at Monday’s meeting, the cabinet member who Newman put in charge of slogans, T-shirts, fly-tipping and waste collection looks likely to be swept aside from a challenge for his deputy leader position.If Collins does lose, it will not only be a personal slap in the face for the popular Broad Green councillor, but will surely be seized upon by the opposition Tory group on the council as a vote of no confidence in the delivery of Labour’s “clean, green” election promise.
For all Collins’ and his council officials’ efforts over the past two years, and despite their tables of clear-up time statistics and the mounting number of fly-tipping convictions, the perception remains that Croydon’s streets are dirty and litter-strewn.
If Collins does lose his position as deputy leader on Monday, Tim Pollard and the Conservatives will use it right through to the 2018 local elections as an admission of failure by Labour on their key manifesto promise.
Allowing the challenge to Collins is just the latest political misjudgement of Newman’s leadership.
A threat of closure to Purley Pool was felt to have dented the prospects of Sarah Jones winning the Croydon Central marginal seat last year, while house-building proposals on open spaces in Shirley, a vacuous library consultation and the bungled handling of the Fairfields Halls closure in the past couple of months all handed political ammunition to the Tories ahead of today’s London Assembly election.
communities, safety and justice despite his having served a jail sentence for fraud 20 years ago when working at the Home Office.Standing against Collins for the deputy leadership is Mark Watson, the Addiscombe councillor whom Newman appointed as cabinet member for
Together with “Mr and Mrs Scott” – husband and wife councillors Alison Butler and Paul Scott, the planning committee chair – Watson and Newman have formed an inner cabinet which wields increasing influence over key council decisions, and freezes out anyone not in the clique.
It is understood that Newman is actively backing Watson’s candidacy. So he really hasn’t thought this through.
“I am confident that the Labour councillors will do as they have been told,” one Katharine Street figure said. “After all, their allowances depend upon it.”
As leader, Newman hands out many appointments, at cabinet level and down, all of which carry some financial benefit through the system of special responsibilities allowances, all funded by the Council Tax-payers.
Sometime charity worker Watson is a full-time councillor these days, which allows him plenty of time to be at the council’s offices working with Newman and the other deputy leader, Butler.
Newman is also expected to switch cabinet roles for Watson, from the justice brief, which has the potential to cause so much embarrassment, to take on economic development, as Toni Letts stands down to pursue her own ambition as deputy mayor.
The deputy leadership is not the only contested position among various internal Labour group positions at Monday’s AGM.
After a year wrapped in ermine and chains as the borough’s mayor, Patricia Hay-Justice appears to want to get busy, having put her name down as a candidate for group chair (against football-watching John Wentworth), secretary (against Pat Clouder, as Maddie Henson has stood down) and chief whip (against Ollie Lewis).
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