WALTER CRONXITE, our political editor, on how a ward selection meeting last night capped off an altogether bad day for the council leadership
Leila Ben-Hassel was last night selected as Labour’s candidate to stand in the Norbury and Pollards Hill council by-election next month. It means it is very likely that she will therefore be the ward’s new councillor come the day after polling on March 15.
The by-election has been called following the death last month of the long-standing and widely respected councillor, Maggie Mansell.
Ben-Hassel was chosen from a five-strong shortlist, and she was the overwhelming choice of the ward party members, attracting twice as many votes as her closest rival.
Ben-Hassel, who lives in Thornton Heath, has 15 years as a project manager working in public realm planning for the City of London Corporation, so she may have the skills and experience to question many of the assumptions with which council officials and contractors have fobbed off councillors over the seriously over-running projects such as the Fairfield Halls and New Addington leisure centre.
This is the first time Ben-Hassel has sought public office, having not been among the Labour candidates at last May’s local elections.
In addressing the selection meeting, Ben-Hassel defined herself as being Labour, and not from either of the Progress or Momentum factions within the party. Councillors including Nina Degrads, Karen Jewitt, Andrew Pelling and Pat Clouder were among those who had supported her campaign for selection.
But as one senior figure in Croydon Labour suggested last night, with council leader Tony Newman having put his considerable weight behind the well-beaten Caragh Skipper’s candidacy, “This looks like a slap to Tony’s authority.”
Coming within hours of the news that Westfield is “reviewing” (code for abandoning?) their £1.4billion scheme to redevelop Croydon town centre, in which Newman has been an unapologetic cheerleader for the past five years, the selection result rounded off a a pretty crappy day for the council leader.
Newman did at least acknowledge the outcome on social media, while notably failing to congratulate the successful candidate.
“Looking forward to working with Leila and you Shafi to fight for every vote and oppose Tory cuts and austerity,” Newman tweeted in reply to Shafi Khan, the existing ward councillor, while clearly rehearsing his excuses for the failure of the Westfield scheme.
The Croydon North constituency MP, Steve Reed OBE, did have the good grace to applaud Ben-Hassel directly (if not managing to get the spelling of her name correct).
“Huge congratulations to Leila Ben-Hassell [sic],” he wrote, “just selected as Labour candidate for the Norbury and Pollards Hill by-election. Can’t wait to go out campaigning with her – she will be such a powerful advocate for the community.”
The by-election, being held on Thursday, March 14, will likely be a Labour win – Khan and Mansell each gained almost three times as many votes as the top Tory candidate in the local elections in May – with the Conservatives announcing on Wednesday that Tirena Gunter will be their candidate.
The only other party to contest Norbury and Pollards Hill last May were the Greens. The deadline for submitting candidates’ names is today, with the council returning officer expected to confirm all candidates standing on Monday.
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