Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, with the latest weekly round-up of the ins, and outs, in a tortuous selection process
Boundary changes, demographic changes and the Jeremy Corbyn-inspired swing towards Labour has made Fairfield ward in the town centre a key battleground in next May’s council elections.
And following a long selection meeting last night, with a voting process almost more complicated than the X Factor’s new format, Labour will seek to win the ward from the Tories with a team which includes a union official who worked in Corbyn’s office during the General Election, an activist who took much credit for the Momentum fringe activities at the party conference, and a single mum who is more closely aligned with former Progress vice-chair Steve Reed OBE.
The Conservatives have already run-up the white flag in Fairfield, which their party officials have designated a “B List” ward, which is “marginal or non-target”.
Their sitting councillors are scarpering, with Vidhi Mohan opting for the safer Tory territory of the new, one-seat Park Hill ward, while Helen Pollard – wife of the leader of the Tory group on the council, Tim Pollard – is about to contest her third different ward in as many elections, and the third, Sue Winborn, is taking retirement.
The Tories’ B List candidates in Fairfield are rookies Elizabeth Agyepong, Ben Joce and Philip Smith, who have been busying themselves doing the obligatory selfies with rubbish for the past two months, while Labour has… well, not been doing much.
With less than six months to go to polling day, Labour has picked Mary Croos, Chris Clark and Niro Sirisena from a six-strong short-list dominated by figures associated with Momentum.
Croos was probably the only short-listed candidate in Fairfield who is not signed up to the Corbyn-supporting group. Croos won the first ballot, for the ring-fenced women’s candidate.
She is a single mother who lives in that part of Broad Green off London Road which is to become part of Fairfield ward. Croos has a reputation for being active in her community and a keen leafleteer – a key skill in some Labour members’ eyes when seeking an able councillor.
But it then took several rounds of exhaustive transferable voting before, finally, Clark and then Sirisena were selected.
Sirisena had told the well-attended meeting of his work on The World Transformed at Labour’s conference in September, an innovative approach to activism, more Glastonbury Festival than conference hall Brighton, which attracted many enthusiastic younger supporters. It is an approach which could play well with Fairfield’s more youthful voters.
And Clark picked himself up and dusted himself off after disappointment in the South Norwood selection at the weekend, the transport union official apparently impressing Fairfield members with his policy ideas, in which he called for developments to meet the needs of local people, not just property speculators (this on the night after Westfield was granted planning permission for a second time), and calling on the Labour-run council to pitch to the Mayor of London for some of his £400million fund to use the money to build council houses. Imagine: council houses!
In South Norwood on Sunday, a former councillor for the ward, Clive Fraser, was selected after a very tightly contested ballot – some observers suggested the margin might at one stage in the process have been a single vote, though all were certain that the tellers appointed by the Local Campaign Forum will have got the count just right.
Especially since Fraser also just happens to be the chair of the LCF.
Fraser will join sitting councillors Jane Avis and Patsy Cummings, both Corbyn supporters, on the Labour slate in South Norwood in May.
In the nearby, re-configured Upper Norwood and Crystal Palace branch, there was what one member has described as a “toxic” short-listing meeting on Saturday. Pat Ryan was automatically re-selected, thus maintaining the Crystal Palace area’s links with its Victorian history.
But Ryan’s son, Paul, stormed out of the meeting angrily, twice. Paul Ryan said that he will file an official complaint over the procedures.
There will be nine candidates on the short-list at Saturday’s selection meeting (Sirisena meanwhile having been selected in Fairfield). With each of them to give a brief speech and answer members’ questions, and then a ballot to choose a woman candidate, followed by round after round of transferable votes to choose the third candidate, it could all take quite some time, endangering members’ chances of making it to the 3pm kick-off at Selhurst Park against Everton.
Not on the short-list is one of the current Upper Norwood ward councillors, cabinet member Alisa Flemming. She has been auto-selected in the neighbouring two-seat ward of Norbury Park.
But news emerged on Monday of another experienced Labour councillor who has decided to stand down from the council. Carole Bonner made the announcement just days before the short-listing meeting in what used to be called Fieldway ward, but which after the boundary review is called New Addington North.
She joins Timothy Godfrey, Wayne Trakas-Lawlor and John Wentworth of current councillors who have opted not to seek stand again in 2018.
Inside Croydon contacted Bonner to ask her reasons for her decision. “I don’t see that it’s anyone’s business at all,” said Bonner, who last month led the Croydon Labour group’s denouncement of this website and its editor, Steven Downes.
Bonner claims that it was “factually inaccurate” for Inside Croydon to report the opinion of one of the attendees at that meeting, who said she gave “a Bafta-winning performance”. Last night she said, “I’ve put out a statement to my residents, I’ve made a statement to the group.
“I don’t think I’m accountable to anyone else.”
Which some might consider a somewhat unusual position to take for someone in elected office, even if only for another six months.
The late timing of Bonner’s withdrawal from the selection process has led some Labour members to voice suspicion that there has been collusion going on. With some candidates reluctant to challenge or unseat elected councillors, few might have put their names forward for a chance of contesting a plum, safe Labour ward such as Fieldway with its two respected and established councillors. So now there’s a short-list of just three (which might be reduced to two by the time of Tuesday’s selection meeting).
“You’ve got to wonder about the lateness of the announcement, and whether Carole was ever intending to stand at all,” one Croydon Labour source said.
“Anyone who might have known about her intentions might have put themselves forward without any fear of unsettling an elected councillor, while the opportunity offered of an empty seat has been denied to others.”
In Bonner’s absence from the Fieldway/New Addington North short-listing meeting, Simon Hall, the council cabinet member for finance, was automatically selected.
The three short-listed women are Felicity Flynn, Janet Campbell, a short-stay ex-chair of Croydon North CLP who is close to Reed, and the Addiscombe councillor Patricia Hay-Justice.
But sources close to Hay-Justice maintain that she had no idea who nominated her in New Addington North, and that she is keen to secure re-selection in area she currently represents, now re-titled Addiscombe West, and which has its short-listing meeting tomorrow night.
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