WALTER CRONXITE reports on an extraordinary attack on the council’s boundary proposals for the borough’s electoral wards
A turf war has broken out in the north of the borough between the local Labour leadership and its grassroots members over how Thornton Heath should be carved up into election wards ahead of the 2018 Town Hall ballot.
Submissions to the Local Government Boundary Commission were published this morning, as part of the on-going review to update the political map of Croydon.
In the published papers, one senior Labour figure in Thornton Heath accuses his local party leadership of being “deceitful” and “fraudulent” over the boundary changes proposed for his ward.
Adrian Dennis has stated in his evidence to the Boundary Commission that Croydon Council’s boundary recommendations, “… demonstrate the serious problems that can occur when people start carving up areas of which they know nothing and care even less about.”
Notably, Croydon Conservatives have been hard at work, their councillors filing submissions in their official capacity, as well as some of them filing as individuals alongside ex-councillors and past candidates, while getting the many well-organised residents’ associations in the south of the borough to file their thoughts and objections.
Both of Croydon’s Tory MPs have found time in their busy schedules to submit recommendations, too.
But Steve Reed OBE, the arriviste Progress MP for Lambeth South/Croydon North (delete to taste) is missing from the submissions. Perhaps such local matters are not enough about Lambeth for him, or perhaps he just doesn’t think the boundaries near his £1million house in Shirley need any changing anyway.
The council has made a significant report to the Commission, which has been dictated largely by the clique which controls the Labour group: leader Tony Newman, his deputy Alison Butler, plus her husband, Paul Scott, and Mark Watson.
This effort was organised by architect Scott, assisted by trusted Fieldway councillor Simon Hall. “No other councillors or party members were invited to be part of that process,” one of Labour’s most senior councillors told Inside Croydon. “Another example of Councillor Scott’s inability to work in a team.”
The Croydon Gang of Four’s control-freakery is such that it was made known that the participation of others in Croydon Labour in the consultation was unwelcome. It is a decision which has proved to be ill-judged (yet again), since the Labour/council proposals have been swamped by the welter of Tory objections.
There are submissions from 15 Conservative councillors. Not one Labour councillor of the 39 on the council made a personal submission to share their thoughts on their ward’s future boundaries with the Commission.
All political parties were able to make submissions, but neither the Greens nor the FibDems expressed any views on behalf of their parties.
It is true that many of the Conservative-inspired submissions look to have been done in haste, are often ill-considered or sometimes blatantly self-serving. The presentation of one elected Tory councillor appears to be nothing more than an appeal to the Commissioners to draw boundaries which will provide him with a job-for-life sinecure.
Others, meanwhile, let the mask slip that this is anything other than an exercise in gerrymandering for political advantage. “We are also alarmed for the whole of Croydon for potential political demographics of the current proposed changes which would result in Croydon being under a permanent Labour control,” is included in the somewhat over-wrought submission from the supposedly apolitical East Coulsdon Residents’ Association.
“The prospect of Croydon becoming a one-party administration control is undemocratic as such control is a dictatorship and without a credible opposition Croydon residents will be denied a voice.”
But it is the no-holds-barred, detailed and well-mapped objections from Adrian Dennis over the council’s – that is, Newman and Butler’s – plans for Thornton Heath which expose the gathering tensions between Labour members and their Croydon leadership.
Dennis is a former Labour councillor for the ward who has participated in previous boundary reviews. This time he has written his 15-page report on behalf of the Thornton Heath Neighbourhood Association. In it, he accuses the council’s proposals of being deceitful and says that they would “smash the community apart”.
Dennis’s report may startle the independent commissioners. It is certain to see Newman in (another) rage.
“This is a deceitful way of destroying the area which is a genuine place and community, for mischievous and political reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the requirements of a boundary review and should not be allowed to divide the existing community area for petty personal reasons which have no place in this review,” Dennis writes.
Dennis does not attempt to disguise where his ire is directed: Butler is councillor for the nearby Bensham Manor ward, along with “rising star” of the Labour group, Jamie Audsley, who has been very active with some community groups in areas outside his existing ward, to the discomfort of the sitting Thornton Heath ward councillors.
Dennis has put on record to the Commission: “Those who do not live or work in Thornton Heath do not understand the local identity (believing that it is merely a postal delivery area). Those of us within it certainly do and feel that the proposals by the Labour Group or Croydon South Labour Party are at very least daft or appear to have malicious intent, based upon someone’s personal ambitions.
“The real issue behind the proposals appears to be an attempt to carve up the very distinct and important Thornton Heath district centre so that councillors representing an adjoining ward may take control of the district centre and key activities that occur here.
“The proposal is either a careless result of not being able to get other wards to fit their political ambitions elsewhere without collateral damage, or there is a malicious alternative agenda which has nothing to do with a boundary review.
“Bearing in mind the simple fact that there is no justifiable reason or necessity for any changes to the Thornton Heath boundary, any such drastic and disruptive proposals have to be due to ulterior motives and should be rejected by the boundary commission for the fraudulent or mischievous proposals that they are.
And just to emphasise his point, Dennis writes that the council “… submissions smash the community area apart with a careless abandon for ulterior motives. They should not be allowed to destroy Thornton Heath”.
The Boundary Commissioners are now considering all the evidence submitted (which can be viewed here, then click on “Consultation on warding arrangements”). They are expected to publish their own recommendations on March 14.
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