WALTER CRONXITE on the latest set of objections levelled at Croydon Labour’s leader
With Jeremy Corbyn’s insistence on the need for “competence” in government ringing in his ears from the Labour Party conference, Tony “Soprano” Newman, the leader of the Labour group on Croydon Council, now faces a showdown meeting next week.
There, he is expected to have to deal with a batch of complaints alleging maladministration, malpractice, abuse of authority, fabrication of process and interference in the selection of candidates to stand in next May’s local elections.
Croydon Labour’s selection of candidates to fight the Town Hall elections is already a month behind schedule.
Newman is under severe pressure over his leadership style and achievements, or lack of them.
Ofsted’s highly critical report on the borough’s failing children’s services, published earlier this month, led to the Tory opposition calling for his immediate resignation. Inside Croydon has learned that some of Newman’s closest colleagues in his cabinet have demanded that he sacks another ally, Alisa Flemming, for her mishandling of the children’s services debacle.
One senior local party official has described Newman’s behaviour recently as “more evasive and dissembling than usual”.
Croydon Tories have already run their selection process and announced their candidates – albeit having not bothered to name their candidates for five wards in the north of the borough which they have clearly disregarded as unwinnable.
Croydon Council currently has 39 Labour councillors and 29 Tories, from the last local elections in 2014, with two “independents”.
The 2018 elections will again return 70 councillors, but with the borough’s ward boundaries having been redrawn, a number of sitting councillors may need to find new areas to represent, in a grand game of musical chairs.
Labour’s council candidate selection in Croydon is managed by a body called the Local Campaign Forum, or LCF (they luv an acronym, do Labour). They have had all the applications from their local members who want to try to become councillors since July 21.
According to the LCF’s own selection timetable, “interviews for inclusion on the panel of potential candidates” were due to be completed by the weekend of August 5-6. This allowed for a four-week window, to September 3, for appeals.
Members in each ward were then supposed to be able to stage selection meetings from September 11. To date, not a single one of Croydon’s 28 new wards has been able to select a candidate because the LCF has not had any meetings in the past month to approve the panel of candidates.
The LCF will meet next Saturday, October 4, ostensibly for its annual meeting but what promises to be a bit of a bun fight over the shambles that the local party’s selections have become.
“The Tories have had their selection and are now out, campaigning in our ward, and we’re supposed to twiddle our thumbs waiting for the party’s leadership to sort out the selections mess,” one councillor in central Croydon told Inside Croydon.
“We might have had a good chance of winning next May. But now, with the uncertainties over the boundary changes, that Newman asked for, the failure to make any selections, and the terrible Ofsted report, we’re feeling badly undermined.”
Before the selection process began, Newman had distributed a typically poorly drafted email in which he defended the decision to have the candidate interviews conducted (ostensibly) by “impartial” outsiders. This decision, Newman claimed, would “ensure that everyone is treated fairly and equally and any locally challenging issues are allowed to prejudice the process”.
It was thought that Newman had meant to include the word “not” between “are” and “allowed”.
Or maybe he did not.
The outside interviewers move was criticised from the start, as some party officials claimed that it broke Labour rules which require the interviews to be conducted by local members. Some suggested that Newman was hand-picking the interview panels from old mates and colleagues from London councils whom he could readily influence.
On at least one instance, Newman was observed visiting the interview panel immediately before they conducted a candidate interview. Presumably, he would deny that this might in any way allow him to “prejudice the process”.
Although a local party member was appointed to manage the LCF’s work, senior officials have suggested that much of the selection administration has been handled by Newman, Clive Fraser, the chair of Croydon North CLP, and Jack Buck, the local party administrator whose wages are funded out of the allowances of Labour councillors – all of whom are understood to be seeking re-selection.
Each Constituency Labour Party (CLP) in Croydon – North, Central and South – is allowed four delegates to attend next week’s Local Campaign Forum meeting. Also there will be one co-operative delegate and three serving councillors, namely Newman, Newman’s close mate Paul Scott and the under-a-cloud Alisa Flemming.
This, again, provides Newman with an overview, and control, of the selection process.
In his leader’s speech in Brighton this week, Jeremy Corbyn said he wanted to see Labour’s “aspirations matched by our competence”. Given the lengthy delays over candidate selection, the slow progress and multiple complaints about maladministration, Newman can ill-afford to have further questions raised about his own competence.
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