Kathy Bee, the councillor in charge of the state of the roads in the borough, looks set to be another casualty of Tony “Soprano” Newman’s inadvertent reshuffle of Town Hall top jobs expected to be undertaken at a Labour group meeting tonight.
At the midway point in his council administration, Newman already has to replace Selhurst councillor Toni Letts, who is leaving her key regeneration portfolio in order to don the ermin and chains of deputy mayor (with a view to then being mayor in 2017-2018, likely to be her final year on the council).
Inside Croydon understands that Bee, a councillor for South Norwood ward, made it known to the council leader that she was prepared to try a different brief within Newman’s 10-strong council cabinet. Newman has decided that that is an offer that he won’t be taking up.
Unless another senior role is found for Bee among the many cabinet deputies and various committees, the decision will see the former local government worker take a £32,000 per year drop in the “allowances” she receives for being on the council.
A switch in the transport cabinet spokesperson may offer Newman an opportunity to re-set some policies which have caused his Labour council problems. Bee took some quiet criticism for the handling of the first 20mph zone consultation in the north of the borough, but more recently the abandonment of the Labour manifesto pledge to provide one-hour free parking for some district centres has stirred up widespread discontent.
Newman’s “ambitious” manifesto in 2014 said: “A Labour council will support our local street markets. To support our local economies, our district centres will offer free parking for the first hour. This will not only make shopping easier for residents but will also support our local traders in difficult times.”
That pledge has been abandoned, for no apparent, good reason.
Bee reportedly said recently that it was changed because she had decided to – a touch of tetchiness which may have betrayed her feelings over her loss of cabinet position, perhaps?
With Newman doling out cabinet jobs worth many thousands of pounds like bon-bons to kids, his patronage is used to keep his 38 fellow Labour councillors – joined since Thursday by West Thornton’s Callton Young – in line.
So when it comes to a group vote, even a secret ballot over the deputy leadership between Collins and Watson, Newman really ought to expect 20 votes – 10 cabinet members and their deputies – in favour of his preferred candidate. It is an in-built majority which seems unbeatable.
Since Inside Croydon broke the news last week of the challenge to Collins, Newman has been telling anyone who might listen that he is supporting no one in the deputy contest. This, of course, is nonsense. If Newman did not want Collins to be challenged, he could have quite easily asked Watson, a key member of the council leadership clique, not to stand. Newman did no such thing, signalling his tacit approval, even encouragement of this power grab.
Whether Newman is having belated second thoughts about the consequences of allowing a deputy leadership challenge is not known. “Does he ever think-through anything?” one sleep-deprived Katharine Street source said once the London election campaign was over.
“Of course, if Stuart loses the deputyship, that will be made to look as a vote of no confidence in his handling the clean streets campaign, which was a key part of what got Labour elected in 2014.
“But if Newman’s mate, Watson, doesn’t win it, then that leaves Tony’s leadership undermined, too.”
Not for the first time, Newman’s political judgement is looking flawed.
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