WALTER CRONXITE says there were plenty of Croydon mentions at the Labour conference, but few signs that those in charge of the local party are about the embrace enthusiasm for the leadership any time soon
As Croydon’s Labour politicians and activists return for their party’s annual conference in Liverpool, it seems likely that few, if any, took the time to go outside the security cordon to visit the Momentum event, “The World Transformed”.Certainly, Labour’s Croydon councillors and MP have not been won over by party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s ever-growing popularity among the membership.
Only three of Croydon’s 39 Labour councillors – Jane Avis (councillor for South Norwood), Karen Jewitt (Thornton Heath) and Andrew Pelling (Waddon) – have dared to speak openly of voting for Corbyn, who retained the leadership with 62 per cent of the vote. In two of Croydon’s Constituency Labour Parties, Central and North, the members overwhelmingly endorsed Corbyn, despite opposition from the MP, erstwhile Progress vice-chair Steve Reed OBE, and the apparent indifference of their local councillors.
Meanwhile, there appears to be no danger that Tony Newman, the council leader, will end his run of backing losers.
Last year, Newman and his clique of chums who control Labour policy on the council managed to back the well-resourced Dame Tessa “Bunga Bunga” Jowell, the overtly Progress-backed candidate for London Mayor. The former Olympics minister fled from the poll result in some distress when it was announced that, despite all the money she had spent on her selection campaign, she polled just 41 per cent of London Labour members (under the transferable voting system), while Sadiq Khan got 59 per cent, and has, of course, gone on to become London Mayor.
Nothing has been heard of “Team Tessa” since.
Around about the same time, Newman was putting his name to a round-robin urging people to support Caroline Flint for deputy leader of the Labour Party. Flint barely made it through the first-round preference votes, with less than 16 per cent, and eventually finished a well-beaten third in the contest won by Tom Watson.In the 2015 leadership contest, the overtly Progress candidate was Liz “4 per cent” Kendall. Guess which leading figure from Croydon Labour was backing her?
And when Steve Reed and other Blairite MPs tried a coup to remove Corbyn this summer, prompting the latest leadership election, Newman made no secret of his endorsement for the challenger, Owen Smith, even pleading with members to lend their support.
Newman and his clique will argue that they are more representative of voters, who in recent opinion polls give Corbyn’s Labour just 26 per cent support nationally. They will also say that they are also more representative of longer-standing Labour members, while Corbyn’s anti-austerity stance has attracted hundreds of thousands of new members.
Almost all the key positions in Croydon Labour’s party structure are held by Corbyn sceptics. Sarah Jones, the 2015 Labour candidate in Croydon Central – and another who endorsed Owen Smith – is the chair of Croydon Central CLP. In Croydon South, where the members were denied a leadership nomination meeting, the chair is the unashamedly Blairite Andy Bagnall (until recently a senior staffer at the employers’ organisation. the CBI).
Croydon North did have a Momentum supporter as its chair in Patsy Cummings, until its recent annual meeting, where she was blocked by her own ward – Upper Norwood, where Reed aide John Wentworth is a councillor – from standing again, and so was replaced by Ann O’Connor, known to be an enthusiastic supporter of the local MP.
Indeed, when other Corbyn-supporting members manage to get elected to a position of influence, such as David White, the secretary of Croydon Central, they find themselves inexplicably suspended, undermining their ability to campaign for the party or within the CLP.
The prospects for other members who are sympathetic to Corbyn emerging in future party selections in Croydon therefore look limited.
Might this discourage young and radical Labour members from seeking elected office? Croydon Labour had the benefit of the youthful Edie Fairservice and Bart Konechni both being given an opportunity to speak at conference, with Konechni getting a back-handed compliment from Robert Peston, who said on Twitter, “Blimey, it is a young and very socialist and quite posh William Hague on stage now – urging investment in social enterprise”, ITV’s political editor drawing comparison with the precocious speech given at the 1977 Tory conference by the future Foreign Secretary.But in the spirit of unity, olive branches have been proffered, and Croydon’s Progress-dominated Labour group had cause to celebrate a name-check in the leader’s speech yesterday for Alison Butler, the driving force in Newman’s chumocracy, as well as mention of the private company which has been established to build 1,000 new homes. Pity that the mere “detail” was overlooked, that at least half of the houses built on public land with public finance, will be hawked out for private sale. But hey…
Indeed, even the council’s official Twitter feed got in on the act, posting a clip from Jeremy Corbyn’s speech in which the housing scheme was mentioned, with an overtly political message. A day after posting it, the tweet had received the grand total of three “likes”.
Given that the supposedly politically neutral council chief executive, Jo Negrini, has recently drawn questions about her neutrality after plastering the Town Hall intranet with a picture of herself taking a selfie with Sadiq Khan, can it be long before Croydon’s Tories are posing questions about the apparent abuse of Council Tax-payers’ money on party political activities?
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