The political map of Croydon is about to be re-drawn – literally – over the next few weeks.And key changes to the number of borough councillors and the lay-out of the borough’s wards could deal a serious reverse to Labour’s council leader, Tony Newman, and force his party to re-select most, if not all, of their 40 current elected councillors.
There are two separate boundary commission reviews taking place at the moment, one for the parliamentary constituencies and another by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England.
In an exclusive interview with Inside Croydon today, Jolyon Jackson, the chief executive of the LGBCE, said that change of the former is “almost certain”, and indicated that his body is also likely to make far-reaching recommendations for the number of councillors and the areas that they represent.
The Local Government Boundary Commissioners was supposed to deliver a report with recommendations by the end of July, but Jackson said today that that was postponed after they had received two separate, conflicting submissions: one defending the status quo of 70 councillors, provided by the Labour group which currently controls the council, and another suggesting that Croydon can get by with just 60 councillors.
The last time Croydon’s borough wards were reviewed was in 1999. That review (which can be seen here), divided Croydon into 24 electoral wards, 22 of them served by three councillors and two – the conjoined Fieldway and New Addington wards – electing two each so that the borough sends a total of 70 councillors to the Town Hall.
There have been significant demographic changes in the borough since then, with some wards – mainly those in the north and centre of the borough – becoming far more densely populated. This has created an imbalance in terms of the number of residents each councillor is supposed to represent, and at least part of the task of the LGBCE’s commissioners is to address that.
“The process takes place in two stages,” Jackson said today. “First, how many councillors should there be. And once we’ve established that, you can decide warding patterns.”
Jackson said that a draft Croydon report is now likely to be published on September 27. Explaining the two-month delay from the original timetable, he said, “We received two submissions, so we asked for more information from both.”
The Commission is unlikely to come up with a “third way”, of recommendations of its own devising, Jackson said.The deferral can only suggest that the Commission is considering very carefully the Tory recommendation to reduce the number of councillors, and therefore costs, something which Labour’s Newman has opposed.
“The Commissioners will have agreed a minded number of councillors. And effectively, they will then start with a clean map,” Jackson said.
The changed ward boundaries should be in place in time for the 2018 local elections, which will mean that the various political parties will all have to begin a selection process to choose candidates for the revised ward seats.
For Labour, which has doubled its number of party members in Croydon in the past year since Jeremy Corbyn stood for the leadership on an anti-austerity platform, it could prove to be a messy process for the likes of Newman and his controlling clique at Croydon Town Hall, who have openly supported the likes of leadership challenger Owen Smith or other figures from Progress, the party-within-a-party which has opposed Corbyn, such as Steve Reed OBE, Dame Tessa Jowell and Liz “4.5 per cent” Kendall.
On September 13, a fortnight before the local ward boundaries report is released, the Parliamentary Boundary Commissioners are due to publish their own report. Tasked by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600, Jackson said that “it is almost certain” there will be changes to the three Croydon parliamentary constituencies.
At present, Croydon North (held by Labour), Croydon South (a safe Tory seat) and the marginal Croydon Central seats correspond exactly to the borough’s wards, the parliamentary maps neatly overlaying the ward boundaries. By the end of this month, that, too, will have changed.
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