There is to be a council by-election in the safe Labour ward of South Norwood, after former Town Hall cabinet member Kathy Bee announced that she is to resign as a councillor in order to pursue a Civil Service job in a politically restricted role.The announcement today by council leader Tony Newman, via Twitter, caused disquiet among his fellow Labour councillors, some of whom have suggested that they really ought to have been notified first.
“The first I heard about it was when I saw a re-Tweet by the head prefect,” one senior Labour figure told Inside Croydon, believed to be a reference to Oliver Lewis, the Labour group’s chief whip.
“So the leader has managed to put the news out there in the public domain, and the Tories know all about it, before we within the group have had a chance to discuss the matter, think about recommending members as candidates, or consider anything else related to the matter. It’s pretty typical, to be honest.”
Like all of the wards in the borough, South Norwood is due to have its boundaries changed following a recent review, but any by-election will be contested under the “old” boundaries, since the measures needed to alter the electoral area will not have been completed by the time of the vote, which is likely to take place in September.
In any case, the lines on the map are not thought likely to affect the outcome: in recent elections, Labour had 53 per cent of the vote in South Norwood, the Tories 19 per cent; in the 2014 council elections, Bee polled more than any other candidate.
This will be the second council by-election this term caused because the councillor has opted to pursue their career outside of politics. Previously, The Hon Emily Benn gave up her West Thornton councillor seat to work for a merchant bank in New York. The local Tory opposition might well ask awkward questions why Councillor Bee could not have stayed on until next May’s scheduled local elections, or at least within six months of that vote, to avoid the need for a by-election at public expense.Bee was first elected to the council in 2010. Professionally, she had worked in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister during the Blair government, but for the past 14 years has been a consultant on housing issues who says that she specialises “in strategic work, undertaking reviews of service and helping organisations chart their future direction”.
In Croydon, Bee has worked closely with Paul Scott, one of Croydon Labour’s “Gang of Four”, on the board of the Stanley Halls community cultural venue, and her career on the council seemed to be on the up when she was appointed as cabinet member for transport and environment, handling the early consultation on the borough’s 20mph zones.
But Newman shuffled her out of the post, and its generous extra allowances, and Bee has been on the back benches for the past year.
All political parties, suitably alerted by Newman’s tweet, will now set about candidate selection. For Labour in Croydon North, this will be another arm wrestle between the Blairites who back local MP Steve Reed OBE and the growing band of Corbyn supporters for control and influence.
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