Croydon Labour’s long-delayed local election candidate selection process is beginning to look like a cross between House of Cards and Game of Thrones, as WALTER CRONXITE reportsAlison Butler, the all-powerful deputy leader of the Labour group on Croydon Council, is at real risk of being de-selected when members of her Bensham Manor ward meet to pick two candidates to stand for the party at next May’s Town Hall elections.
On Wednesday night, an unusually well-attended shortlisting meeting of the branch decided that one sitting councillor, Jamie Audsley, should be re-selected automatically, but that the two others – Butler and Humayun Kabir – would need to go before a selection meeting against four other candidates next week.
It is the latest twist in Labour’s long-delayed selection process, which has already seen two sitting councillors de-selected and three other senior Croydon Labour figures announce that they will not be standing.
The selection process has been complicated because of the raft of new and re-shaped wards across the borough, following the review – requested by Labour leader Tony Newman – of Croydon’s electoral geography.
Then throw into the mix a rejuvenated and much-enlarged membership, with many new members drawn to Labour by the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and you arrive at a fetid mix of intrigue and power plays. “I’m not sure whether I’m living through an episode of House of Cards or Game of Thrones,” one Labour councillor was heard to mutter as they scurried into the Town Hall today to look for the refuge of selection in a safe ward.
Butler is seen by many within the local Labour party as the real power in the Town Hall, dominating her long-time colleague and family friend Newman. As the cabinet member for housing and regeneration, it has been Butler who has overseen the controversial Brick by Brick housing company and planning applications, and who has also worked closely with council chief executive Jo Negrini on the stalled Westfield development in the town centre.
A confirmed Blairite, Butler previously ran the constituency office of the Malcolm Wicks, the MP for Croydon North until his death in 2012. Her attempt to win selection as the parliamentary candidate for Croydon Central a year later failed, and now, after having been a Croydon councillor for 15 years (in two spells; she has represented Bensham Manor ward since 2007), she faces a fight for her political career.The six candidates for two remaining places (with at least one woman to be selected) for this safe Labour ward are Butler and Kabir, Felicity Flynn (a member from South Norwood), Felicity Triner (from Bensham Manor), Janet Campbell (the Constituency Labour Party Secretary for Croydon North), and Momentum big cheese Cornelius Lionel.
Lionel, also known as Niro, is regarded as something of a hero by some in Momentum, after he punched a Tory player in the face during last year’s Labour v Conservatives football match. He has also, more recently, been a key figure in the highly successful The World Transformed events staged at the party conference in Brighton last month.
Under new selection rules, when a ward is largely the same area as was previously contested, it is possible that sitting councillors can be automatically re-selected at the shortlisting meeting, as happened with Audsley.
Audsley’s auto-selection may well be due to the community action he has been leading in and around the Thornton Heath area, but it will also be seen as a snub to the Croydon leadership, which tried – and through administrative incompetence, failed – to have the first-term councillor suspended earlier this year on grounds that were never adequately explained.
And earlier this month, Audsley again demonstrated he can be independently minded when he defied the chair of the planning committee, Paul Scott – Butler’s husband – and voted against granting planning permission to the Queen’s Hotel redevelopment.
In other wards, established Labour councillors have also been re-selected in a similar manner.
At Broad Green’s shortlisting meeting last night, councillors Manju Shahul Hameed and Stuart Collins – Labour’s other deputy leader – were automatically selected, while the underwhelming Mike Selva now faces a challenge from four ward members next week. Selva has failed to speak at a single council meeting or address a Labour group meeting at the Town Hall since 2014. If he is de-selected, it could be the first time that a deputy mayor of the borough has been de-selected while in office.In the newly named Norbury and Pollards Hill, which offers just two seats to the councillors in the current Norbury ward, Maggie Mansell and Shafi Khan have been automatically re-selected without having to face a ballot of local members; Sherwan Chowdhury will need to seek selection elsewhere if he is to remain a councillor.
Given all that, Butler’s own position must be regarded as perilous.
According to sources at this week’s Bensham Manor shortlisting, there were more than two dozen members present. “That’s many more than is required for a quorum, and suggests that if that number of members are not prepared to put Butler through automatically, they’re unlikely to vote for her next week.
“The sitting councillors will have a lot to do to win through if there’s already a minimum of 14 people who voted against their automatic re-selection.”
It is the change in the make-up of Labour’s membership which is thought to have accounted for the de-selection of Blairite councillors such as Andrew Rendle in Addiscombe East earlier in the week.
Rendle was a signatory last year to a letter of more than 500 councillors calling for Jeremy Corbyn to stand down as leader of the party.There were four other Croydon councillors who signed the same letter: Oliver Lewis and Louisa Woodley (both councillors in New Addington), Pat Ryan (Upper Norwood) and Mansell, who has already survived to contest an election 32 years after she first won a seat on the council.
John Wentworth, another signatory of the letter, has already smelt the coffee and is standing down in Upper Norwood to concentrate on a very well-paid job with an academy chain. Others who supported Corbyn leadership challenger Owen Smith were Shafi Khan and Croydon Labour leader Newman.
Only three Croydon councillors openly backed Corbyn when his leadership was challenged last year: South Norwood councillor Jane Avis, Karen Jewitt (Thornton Heath) and Andrew Pelling (Waddon ward). None of those wards have yet had selection shortlisting meetings.
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