WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, on the latest developments in the race to become Croydon and Sutton’s next London Assembly Member
Rowenna Davis, a Croydon Labour Party member with a national profile, is to seek selection to be her party’s candidate in Croydon and Sutton at next year’s London Assembly elections.
Davis, previously a councillor in Southwark and a parliamentary candidate in Southampton, has effectively pitched herself as the “Alternative Audsley” candidate, putting herself forward after Jamie Audsley was ruled out of the selection process when Labour decided that Croydon and Sutton should be an all-woman shortlist.
Davis, 34, is regarded as “Blue Labour royalty”, having written national newspaper articles and a book on the post-Blair movement. Davis is married to Marcus Roberts, a former aide to Ed Miliband who now works for YouGov. The couple moved to South Croydon last year, with Davis working as an English teacher at the Harris Invictus Academy on London Road.
Davis had tried to win a council seat earlier this year but was ruled out of Croydon Labour’s selection process by the Local Campaign Forum on the grounds that she had not lived in the borough for long enough.
There’s no risk of that happening this time, although in her Facebook post Davis did explain that it was the selection system misfortunes of her friend, Audsley, the councillor for Bensham Manor, which had prompted her to put her name forward for the City Hall elections next May. Davis and Audsley have known each other since their student days at Oxford.
“Big news for me friends,” Davis wrote.
“I’ve decided to run to be Labour’s London Assembly candidate for Croydon and Sutton…
“… I was incredibly inspired by the campaign of my friend Jamie Audsley. Many of you know that he wanted to run for this position and built a brilliant campaign that would have made him a great candidate and an even greater Assembly Member. He brought together a wonderful group of activists with some really exciting and positive policies that would actually change things. I was dedicated to helping him win and, although I support all-woman shortlists, I was gutted when it was announced on Monday that he wasn’t eligible to apply.
“So when Jamie and members and friends who I trust said they’d support me if I carried on this work as the candidate, I said I would be proud to do so. The ideas and energy he started are fantastic and I want to see them live on…
“Croydon and Sutton is my home. My husband and I are lucky enough to have bought our home here and I’ve been teaching down the road for two years. I love this place and want to see it flourish. If we raise a family here, I want it to be in a neighbourhood that is cleaner, safer and fairer than it is right now.
“I want to see outer boroughs like ours get the attention and power they deserve. I want to build on the good work of the Labour council and our strong GLA team. With so many changes coming and so many good people involved in Labour and the community here, it feels like this is our time.”
Audsley was quick to offer his endorsement.
“Really excited to be backing Rowenna Davis,” he tweeted. “Rowenna… has been playing a huge part in the campaign so far and has the drive to see outer boroughs like ours get the attention and power they deserve.”
The suggestion that London Mayor Sadiq Khan, like his Labour predecessor, Ken Livingstone, needs to shift his focus away from inner London boroughs is a message which could resonate with voters, from Coulsdon to Worcester Park, from Crystal Palace to Cheam.
The Croydon and Sutton super-constituency has been a Tory seat since the first London Assembly elections in 2000. But with the incumbent, “Silent” Steve O’Connell, standing down next year and with London politics in such a state of flux around Brexit, Labour could have a chance to win the seat if they select a strong enough candidate.
So far, the only other woman to confirm that she will be seeking selection by Labour is Patsy Cummings, the South Norwood councillor and former aide to Jeremy Corbyn.
“Looks like it could be a real ‘Blue on Red’ battle,” one senior Labour activist said today.
With no candidates yet coming forward from Sutton’s two constituencies, the well-placed source suggests that Labour’s selection may be a two-woman race.
“It looks like Croydon and Sutton will now simply be Patsy v Rowenna, with Rowenna’s national media articles that backed Liz Kendall and Owen Smith in 2015 and 2016 making this much less an internal Croydon Labour proxy war than it might have been between Patsy and Jamie, and much more a simple left-right battle in wider Labour politics.”
Because of the way the Labour process works out, and because of the summer hiatus of constituency meetings and the party conference season in September, the outcome of this contest won’t be determined before November.
In the meantime, the other main parties have candidates selected and out on the campaign trail, if only in a low-key manner to establish recognition with voters.
The Greens, too, have chosen their candidate: Peter Underwood, the former senior civil servant, now conservation manager, who has been a serial candidate in elections in and around Croydon for the past decade.
For candidates from all the parties, there are two routes to becoming an Assembly Member and collecting the £55,000 a year salary that goes with it. Labour is slowly working towards selecting its candidates for the list system, which is determined by proportional representation, depending on the number of votes received across the capital.
Labour currently has three London-wide AMs, though of those, only Tom Copley is seeking re-selection. It is expected that Copley will automatically go on the list, and in one of the top two or three positions.
To be considered for Labour’s list ballot, a candidate needs to be nominated by at least five Constituency Labour Parties out of London’s 73 CLPs.
“The list nominations in Croydon and Sutton so far look to be between two men, Murad Qureshi and Liam Young,” according to our insider. “For the women’s list nominations, Marina Ahmad is the only name I have heard mentioned.” Ahmad, a lawyer and now a councillor in Bromley, was Labour’s candidate in Croydon and Sutton in 2016.
“The list nominations from Croydon and Sutton go into the pot with all the other CLPs and there will be a London-wide ballot in the autumn. We should know more about who is applying after July 8, when the CVs for Croydon and Sutton and the list are circulated to CLPs,” the activist said.
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