WALTER CRONXITE reports on how the slow process of drawing up the political map of the borough is causing anxiety among Croydon’s blue-rinse set
Maybe they thought that, after the Christmas and New Year break, no one would be paying too close attention, but quietly on their website, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England’s timetable to redraw Croydon’s ward boundaries has slipped again.
This latest delay could cause consternation among some local political parties’ officials, who now will have even less time to run their selection processes for candidates to stand in the next Town Hall elections, which are coming up in May 2018.
The Commission’s web page for the Croydon review was altered over the new year and now states that it will publish its initial proposals for wards to elect 70 Croydon councillors on March 14 – a month later than previously planned.
A spokesman told Inside Croydon that the Commission had “given itself additional time to analyse, assess and interpret” the “high-quality proposals” it had received during the last phase of consultation.
The process was already running as late as a Southern train on a non-strike day, after the Commissioners felt that they needed time out to consider carefully Croydon Tories’ (half-baked) proposal to reduce the number of borough councillors to 60. The Croydon review was already the last to begin among London borough reviews ahead of the 2018 local elections.
The Commission, of course, dismissed the Tories’ proposal, which had only been submitted in an effort to take some political advantage. A slightly smaller council would have led to slightly larger wards, and that might have helped balance out any negative effects of a boundary change on the number of Conservative councillors at the Town Hall – currently 30 to Labour’s 39 (with one ex-Labour councillor on the naughty step).
Over the years, Croydon’s Tories have been very successful in resisting house building in the true-blue south of the borough, while the population in Labour-held wards in the north of Croydon has grown much more substantially. This population change justified a redistricting that potentially benefits Labour, though all the Yuppie flats going into the centre of town may soon limit Labour’s possible gains from the change.
Having slightly larger wards would have made it easier to put forward proposals in places like Waddon, Addiscombe and Shirley to fit Labour voting areas into majority Tory wards, so helping the Conservatives. It is all a bit of Town Hall horse-trading in which only the Croydon political duopoly of Labour and Tory have really engaged, each group trying to mould their proposals to the greatest political advantage.
It was late September when the Commission eventually decided to keep to 70 councillors, as Croydon is the largest London borough by population and will still have much more populated wards than many of its neighbours in the capital. The Commission was also convinced that the growing workload of enquiries from residents justified having so many councillors.
The Commission told Croydon Council that it would “publish draft recommendations for new electoral arrangements in February 2017. Public consultation on the draft recommendations is scheduled to take place between February 2017 and April 2017. Once the Commission has considered the representations and evidence as part of that consultation, it intends to publish final recommendations in June 2017”.
But now the Commission is saying that the consultation on the initial proposals will run through to May 8, with final recommendations not due until July 11 – just 10 months before the ward boundaries will be used in the 2018 local elections.
Boundaries are often changed between the initial and final proposals stages, so the July 11 date is important.
Candidate selection cannot start until the parties – including the LibDems, Greens and UKIP – actually know how many wards there are to be, how many council places are to be contested in each ward, and what the boundaries are. The Labour-run council’s own submission suggested 27 wards, three more than at present, and including more two-councillor wards.
So the publication of the final recommendations in July means that candidate selection for the political parties is unlikely to take place until September – the school holidays will be underway by July 11, meaning local politics effectively shuts down for six weeks.
Selection to be on the parties’ approved lists, though, may take place during the summer.
Where there is a major change in ward boundaries the parties will only have six to seven months to secure name recognition for their candidates – a very difficult task in that limited time, although few of Croydon’s 350,000 residents could probably name even one of their councillors if they were asked.
Where wards end up not changing much, the current councillors will probably benefit against any more recently selected challengers.
So that means that this latest delay is probably least helpful to the Tories, although it is possible that they may gamble on how the new ward boundaries will work out and make provisional selections earlier.
The later candidate selections will also help the political group leaders, Tony “Soprano” Newman and Tim “Nice But Dull” Pollard, as they manage their troops in the months before the election. Any de-selected councillors will have less time to mope about the Town Hall chamber, disaffected at the prospect of being dumped from the gravy train that is their council allowances.
For the elections in 2014, the Conservatives delayed their selections until six months before the elections, deliberately done so that no de-selected councillors could resign their seat and so force a by-election (six months before the local election date being the cut-off point for by-elections).
Our mole in the Croydon Tories’ bunker in Purley suggests that the late selections for 2014 are now considered to have harmed their election results, particularly in the Ashburton, Addiscombe and Waddon battleground wards, so there is considerable frustration that such late selections are being imposed on them again, this time from an outside influence.
No wonder the Tories have been expressing their irritation to residents’ associations about how Newman’s Labour council made such a late call for the boundary review – while conveniently forgetting to mention that it was their own politically opportunist call for a reduction in the number of councillors which has delayed the process by around two months.
“The Commission believes that the amended timetable provides adequate time for the council and political parties to prepare for the local elections in May 2018,” a Commission spokesman told Inside Croydon.
They explained the additional delay thus: “The Commission received several high quality proposals for new warding arrangements for Croydon during its last phase of consultation. Given the number and scale of the proposals put forward for the whole borough, the Commission has given itself additional time to analyse, assess and interpret the submissions as it draws up its draft proposals. We therefore plan to publish draft recommendations in March 2017 for public consultation.”
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