WALTER CRONXITE on the north-south divide over candidate selection for next year’s council electionsA war of words has broken out between rival right-wingers in Croydon’s Labour Party, as they fight to retain positions, patronage and power following their stunning over-performance in all three of the borough’s constituencies at last month’s General Election.
Open hostilities have been declared between the couple which control Croydon South’s Constituency Labour Party and the Blairite party officials from Croydon North and Croydon Central.
And this is all kicking off just as the selection process for candidates to run at next May’s council elections is getting underway, with many newcomers suspicious that members of Momentum, the Corbyn-supporting group, could get frozen-out of the process.
There have been tensions between former councillor Andy Bagnall, Croydon South’s chair, and his partner, CLP secretary Jo Milligan, and the rest of the Labour Party in Croydon for several years.
Labour’s powerbase in Croydon has traditionally been in the north of the borough, where every ward is held by Labour. But victory in the 2014 local elections was in some part due to campaigning organised by Bagnall and Milligan to help win Waddon ward from the Tories in true blue Croydon South.Recently, Bagnall and Milligan’s relationship with the local party leadership, headed by Tony Newman and Paul Scott, which has never been warm, has broken down altogether.
“It is as if they’ve declared UDI from the rest of the party, to form their own Utopian Blairite group in the south of the borough,” one Croydon South member of many years standing said.
“It’s hard not to respect some of their views and the time and effort that they put in to the party, but it is a real worry that their positions can undermine the party’s election performance locally.”
Croydon South CLP, with Milligan and Bagnall at the helm, has refused to make any contribution to the staffing of the local party offices in Ruskin House.
Somewhat pointedly, during the General Election campaign, the CLP officers chose to canvass in Hove (constituency of anti-Corbyn MP Peter Kyle) perhaps as often as they made any effort to join the hordes of Momentum supporters campaigning for Sarah Jones in Croydon Central.
Then, last weekend, Bagnall and Milligan sent an email to all members in their CLP with a dire warning over candidate selection in Croydon. It pulled few punches.
“You should also be aware,” a sub-heading said, in meaningful bold print.
In Croydon, Labour candidate selection is managed by a body called the Local Campaign Forum. Each CLP has four delegates, while the Labour group on the council has three delegates and there is also one Co-operative delegate. Historically, this body has been dominated by right-wingers, and it has an in-built majority favouring Newman and the leadership.
Delayed, at least in part, because of the hiatus over the local ward boundary review, the LCF has decided that all applications for members who want to be Labour candidates at the next Town Hall elections have to be submitted by July 21.
The Bagnall/Milligan letter states: “Croydon South Labour Party representatives on the LCF have tried to make sure that the LCF makes this process as open, fair and transparent as possible with a level playing field for all applicants. We argued for, among other things, a slightly longer window for interviews and for the involvement of impartial, experienced and trained local members in the interviewing process (as has happened before and is set out in the Labour Party Rule Book).
“However, the existing councillors who sit on the LCF – Tony Newman, Paul Scott and Alisa Flemming (who are expected to be applicants themselves) – and the Chair and Secretary of Croydon North Labour Party, Clive Fraser and Janet Campbell, voted for measures that will make the process less transparent and potentially make it harder for people who aren’t currently councillors to get through the process, including:
“a very short, and potentially restrictive, window for Labour members to apply and be interviewed – interviews are scheduled for only the first two weekends of the school holidays. Extending the interview period one week before schools break up and in to the third weekend of the school holidays could easily have been accommodated in the scheduled timetable.
“all interviews being conducted by as yet unknown people from outside Croydon – rather than involving local members as the rule book requires. It is not clear, and hasn’t been agreed by the LCF, exactly who will decide who is conducting the interviews and what criteria is being used to assess their suitability for conducting those interviews. Those opposing the rule book argued that local members couldn’t be impartial in conducting interviews while ignoring the participation of likely applicants in making decisions about the application and interview process.
“If you apply, and encounter any difficulties such as not being available in the interview window (as set out in the timetable) or being failed at interview without proper and justified explanation, please get in touch with Joanne or Andy who can help advise you.”
Which is nice of them.But they do have a point, and some within Momentum, the Corbyn-supporting group which did so much to get Jones elected last month, suspect that the LCF interview panel might be hand-picked by Newman and his clique to block new, young candidates from getting selected for some of the safer wards in the borough.
Over the last couple of years, some within Croydon Labour have done their utmost to kick out of the party those who have embraced the return to more socialist policies and the abandonment of Blairism.
Radical comedian Mark Steel was blocked from joining the party, while David White, the long-serving Secretary of Croydon Central and Corbyn aide Andrew Fisher both had their membership suspended, largely thought to be a result of vexatious or vindictive complaints from established right-wingers.
Given the burgeoning popularity of Corbyn and the success of the manifesto, which was authored in large part by Fisher, should Newman want to continue to surf that wave of support through to the polls next May, he may need to dilute some of his more control-freakery, Blairite tendancies.
For now, though, there’s no sign of Soprano singing a different tune.
This week, in an apparent riposte to Croydon South, Newman circulated Labour members in all corners of the borough. It didn’t take much reading between the lines to see who’s in Soprano’s bad books.
Referring to the Local Boundary Commission’s report, which averted a Tory carve-up of the borough’s wards (though no thanks to Newman’s mate Scott, who was behind Labour’s near-disastrous original submission), Newman wrote, “Can I therefore thank all those who led by Councillors Simon Hall and Paul Scott, worked so hard on our submission as a Labour Group. Also to both Croydon North CLP and Croydon Central CLP for their unstinting support from the start of the process, to ensure maximum support for a Croydon Labour submission.”
Sources close to the very well-staffed council leader’s office at the Town Hall say that the omission of any mention of “unstinting support” from Croydon South CLP was not due to forgetfulness on Newman’s part.
Mind you, Newman still needs some hands-on help making sure that what he writes for public consumption makes sense.
Explaining – or defending? – his ploy of bringing in unspecified outsiders to conduct candidate interviews, Newman wrote, “In terms of the interviewing panels for potential candidates we have supported having independent panels made up of experienced Party colleagues from across London, this is to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and equally and any locally challenging issues are allowed to prejudice the process.”
Or maybe it was not a slip of the keyboard, and Newman really does want “locally challenging issues… to prejudice the process”.
However bitter the split between the right-wing factions in Croydon Labour, their vindictive grudge against one of the chief architects of their election success, Fisher, won’t be dropped.According to posts on social media, at a recent Croydon South CLP meeting there was a proposal from the floor to send a message of congratulations to those involved in drafting the manifesto. The proposal included the suggestion to invite Fisher to a future meeting to address members.
Given Fisher’s suspension arose largely because he could not take seriously the 2015 parliamentary candidacy of The Hon Emily Benn (and who could blame him?), Milligan and Bagnall did their best to make sure that no such motion was passed.
Instead, a resolution including this statement was agreed: “Croydon South CLP congratulates… the Labour leadership team for an inspirational manifesto and all those who worked so hard to increase the Labour vote across Croydon and the UK.” And it was agreed to invite another Corbyn staffer from Croydon, Patsy Cummings, to speak at a future meeting.
Maybe Tony Newman could be invited along to listen?
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