KEN LEE, our Town Hall reporter, on an email to Croydon Labour group from a South Norwood councillor that seems to suggest she has the backing of Tony Newman
Patsy Cummings wasted little time after the Christmas holidays to confirm what most Town Hall insiders suspected and that Inside Croydon had already reported: she wants to be her party’s candidate for Croydon and Sutton in the London elections next year.
Cummings is the South Norwood councillor who worked in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s office during the 2017 General Election, though sources at Westminster suggest that that was not an altogether joyful experience, for either Cummings or Corbyn’s other staff.
Inside Croydon reported at the weekend that Cummings is one of two Croydon councillors who are likely to seek selection by Labour for the seemingly winnable London Assembly seat. The other who has been actively campaigning for selection is Bensham Manor councillor Jamie Audsley.
Yesterday morning, Cummings went public (well, she wrote to Croydon’s 40 other Labour councillors) to advise them of her intentions. It was a brief email, though it was heavy with implications of support from council leader Tony Newman.
Under the heading “GLA 2020”, Cummings wrote:
I hope you had a good Christmas and as the New Year starts, I wanted to let you know of my plans for 2019/2020.
As you know I have been a community organiser, activist and campaigner for many years with experience of working with different organisations and stakeholders throughout London. Although I have been a Councillor for a relatively short time, I am proud of the contribution I have been able to make to the different communities in Croydon.
After due consideration and with prior discussions with the Leader and Chief Whip on any implications on my current Councillor role, I have decided to stand for selection for the Constituency Assembly Member candidature for Croydon & Sutton, when the process for selections commence.
I look forward to hearing from you in 2019.
Happy New Year!
It was not long before Cummings’ colleagues were discussing the nudge-nudge, wink-wink nature of Cummings’ use of “after due consideration and prior discussions with the Leader and Chief Whip”, in referring to Newman and her ward colleague, Clive Fraser.
“The leader and chief whip bit is interesting,” said one councillor.
They added: “There’s also a slight hint that she believed there may be a conflict between a borough councillor and Greater London Authority role, which is odd, as there’s so many ‘twin hatters’ at City Hall.”
Indeed, the current London Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton, Steve O’Connell, has made a political career, and a handsome living, out of wearing several hats at once, including as a ward councillor in Kenley.
Another councillor who received Cummings’ email said, “The implied endorsement by Newman and Fraser is clever. Though I doubt that Newman is supporting her.”
For while Cummings is very much associated with Corbyn and the Momentum support group within the Labour Party, Newman and his Blairite mates are certainly not.
Indeed, some cannot hide their contempt for their democratically elected party leader.
Until last May, John Wentworth was a councillor in Upper Norwood whose greatest notoriety came when he was caught watching a Palace football match on a tablet device in the middle of a Town Hall debate. Wentworth was barely reproached for such conduct, probably because he was a key member of Newman’s Town Hall team, as well as working as the parliamentary election agent in 2015 and 2017 for Steve Reed OBE, the sometime Progress vice-chair.
Yesterday, Wentworth tweeted his disdain for the Labour leadership by writing (in response to a rail fares protest tweet from Fraser), “Clive, a Labour government is a possibility if we get rid of #uselesscorbyn”.
Such divisiveness within Labour is unlikely to prove helpful.
Certainly, if Newman is backing Cummings over Audsley, or any other potential Assembly candidate, he has yet to reveal his hand. But nor has he sought to distance himself from Cummings.
With more than half of the Croydon Labour group at Croydon Town Hall in thrall to Newman’s patronage through publicly funded council allowances, who the leader decides to support could prove most influential in the up-coming selection process. Momentum will be busy ensuring the party’s membership plays an equally important part in the candidate selection.
Other potential Labour candidates may soon emerge, with a trades unionist based in Sutton expected to show their hand within days.
Whoever Labour selects, the successful candidate really does have an opportunity to take up a seat at City Hall in May 2020. Sutton and Croydon has always been Conservative-held since the London Assembly was first formed in 2000.
With “Silent Steve” O’Connell standing down from the £56,270 salaried position next year, the Tories will be fielding a new, and unfamiliar candidate, in a campaign which is likely to be dominated by the race for Mayor between Sadiq Khan and the Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey.
The choice of Bailey has coincided with the Tories trailing Labour in London by an unprecedented 2-to-1.
Whoever is lucky enough to get picked to be Labour’s candidate in Croydon and Sutton can therefore enjoy what is, according to a recent opinion survey conducted by Queen Mary College at the University of London and YouGov, a 8.9 per cent swing to Labour, even from the previous London election results in 2016.
Cummings’ email yesterday means that the race to get on the ballot paper in 17 months’ time has started in earnest.
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