Cummings sees off Blairite campaign with win on first ballot

WALTER CRONXITE reports from South Norwood on what may prove to be a significant Labour selection decision

In the end, it wasn’t even close.

Patsy Cummings addresses the meeting after the members’ ballot. A disgruntled Tesfa Mehari is sitting far left

Labour’s selection meeting to choose a candidate to stand in the forthcoming South Norwood by-election overwhelmingly picked Patsy Cummings, the self-acclaimed “pro-Corbyn candidate”.

The result, in the midst of Blairite Steve Reed OBE’s Croydon North constituency and after conspicuous efforts by the MP’s band of loyal supporters to get another candidate selected ahead of Cummings, could yet have ramifications over the way that the Constituency Labour Party and the council is run.

Cummings won on the first ballot with an outright majority.

Cummings polled 34 votes, Tesfa Mehari 14 and Brian Barclay four. A fourth candidate on the all-BAME shortlist, Felicity Triner, withdrew ahead of the contest.

The by-election has been caused by the resignation last month of Labour councillor Kathy Bee, as first reported by Inside Croydon.

The by-election in the safe Labour ward will be held on September 7.

Cummings, after several previous efforts, standing in safe Tory wards or missing out on selection elsewhere, is expected to become a councillor at last, alongside her Labour ward colleagues Wayne Trakas-Lawlor and Jane Avis.

Cummings may, though, face sterner opposition than might normally be expected because of mounting anger and opposition to some of the Labour-run council’s in-fill house-building schemes in the area.

The selection meeting was staged in a church hall near Auckland Rise, where one residents’ group has become so incensed at the conduct of the council and its planning committee that it has joined forces with other associations from around the borough for a petition opposing many developments by Brick by Brick, the council’s development company.The petition is particularly hostile to planning committee chair Paul Scott, a key member of Croydon Labour’s Blairite leadership, and a councillor in neighbouring Woodside ward.

If the residents’ group, which includes many regular Labour supporters, decides to make the council by-election a protest vote over Brick by Brick, Cummings’ expected majority could be eroded. In 2014, Labour’s three South Norwood councillors were re-elected by at least 1,000 votes more than the nearest challengers.

Owen Smith on his secret visit to Croydon during last year’s ‘Chicken coup’ against Jeremy Corbyn. From left: Ann O’Connor, John Wentworth, Shafi Khan, Smith, Steve Reed OBE and Sarah Jones

And nor did Cummings’ selection pass entirely smoothly.

Upper Norwood councillor John Wentworth was active in efforts to rally support for Dr Mehari. Wentworth has been the election agent for Reed, the former vice-chair of right-wing Progress, at the last two General Elections. As well as enjoying watching football in the middle of important Town Hall meetings, Wentworth is also a close associate of council leader Tony Newman.

Some Cummings supporters have been questioning whether Wentworth may have broken party rules by accessing the local ward’s membership list to enable him and Mehari to phone members ahead of the selection meeting.

And even inside the meeting, the Blairites attempted to disrupt proceedings, with Ann O’Connor, who with Reed’s backing had previously ousted Cummings as the chair of the CLP, raising a point of order over the attendance of some non-voting observers at the meeting.

“She wasn’t very happy at the end,” one South Norwood member observed.

O’Connor’s objections had little effect on the outcome, and Cummings, who worked in Jeremy Corbyn’s office during the General Election campaign, may soon enter the Town Hall as a symbol of the growing strength in Croydon of the Labour Party membership, through the Corbyn-supporting Momentum group.

With candidate selections on-going ahead of next May’s local elections, and with those decisions ultimately in the hands of reinvigorated and freshly enthused party members, some of Reed, Wentworth and council leader Tony Newman’s Blairite chums already installed in safe wards on the council may now be fretting over re-selection.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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