WALTER CRONXITE reports on a Lambeth by-election result which offers a warning to Croydon Labour
Steve Reed OBE, the Progress MP for Lambeth South/Croydon North (delete to distaste) got a bit of a warning overnight, after a Lambeth council by-election in Gipsy Hill saw the Green Party come within 36 votes of breaking Labour’s iron grip on power at Brixton Town Hall.
Gipsy Hill is the ward next door to Upper Norwood in Croydon. The by-election was called after the death in April of sitting councillor Niranjan Francis.
Progress’s Luke Murphy held on to the council seat, just, by 1,220 votes to 1,184 votes for the Green candidate, Pete Elliott. That represents a swing of 27per cent against Labour compared to the 2014 local elections.
That sort of swing, if repeated at the 2018 local elections in Croydon, would see the Greens gain 47 Town Hall seats, the Tories 20 and Labour just 3.
That’s hardly likely to happen, except in Caroline Lucas’s most fervent dreams. But it does give an indication of how the strength of feeling in the Crystal Palace area has turned many people, including some Labour members, away from the Progress-run local council.
The reason for the electoral shot across the bows is local residents’ disgust at Lambeth Progress’s sell-off of the Cressingham Gardens council estate and its mishandling of local libraries, including the now closed Carnegie – as it awaits for the expensive installation of an unwanted bookish gym – and Upper Norwood, which it funds jointly with Croydon Council. Elliott had been one of the local residents who occupied the Carnegie Library for a week after Lambeth closed the community facility against the wishes of the community it serves.
The Gipsy Hill by-election also came soon after the Progress faction which runs Brixton Town Hall suspended a Labour councillor, Rachel Heywood, for daring to vote against its proposed library closures and actually represent the views of the residents she was elected to represent.
Murphy, an enthusiastic member of the Progress party-within-a-party, was selected as Lambeth Labour’s candidate for the usually safe ward seat after a process which reportedly included this interview question: “Explain the importance of the chief whip and the importance of party discipline”.
The ill-feeling towards Lambeth’s “co-operative” council risks spilling over into Reed’s Croydon constituency. Until he was selected as Labour’s parliamentary candidate for the safe Croydon seat, Reed had been the poster boy for Progress as the leader of Lambeth Council, and with his own taste for suspending fellow party members who disagreed with him.
Reed is a deputy chair of Progress, the Blairite faction which is funded by Lord Sainsbury’s millions and whose members have been responsible for leading the rearguard action against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in a damaging internal party battle.
The library dispute, with simmering discontent among some Crystal Palace residents on both sides of the Lambeth-Croydon borough boundary, is not a direct threat to Reed’s parliamentary seat, with its hefty 21,000 majority.
But it may yet shape party selections in Upper Norwood ward, where tensions between power-hungry Blairites and real socialists have already been noted.
When he is not enjoying a round at Denis Thatcher’s favourite golf course at Dulwich and Sydenham, Croydon councillor John Wentworth is Reed’s election agent.
Which makes him a gofer as well as a golfer.
Wentworth was recently promoted on Croydon Council, just a few months after being caught watching football in the middle of an important Town Hall debate (though woe betide any Croydon employee caught watching the footie on council time).
Goodness knows what Reed’s trusted gofer/golfer’s fondness for library closures would do for his re-selection prospects if that information ever seeped out to the library vigilantes in Crystal Palace, who yesterday almost over-turned the previous safe council seat of Gipsy Hill.
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