Our political correspondent WALTER CRONXITE reports that moves to have Tony Newman replaced by a more accountable, directly elected Mayor, are gathering pace
Tony Newman’s having a mayor.
Around 60 people turned up at Christchurch, Purley, last night for the first meeting arranged to rally support behind the idea of introducing a directly elected mayor in Croydon, to replace the current system of cronyism and tax-funded patronage, to which Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour-run council, owes his position.
Most of those attending came from south of Croydon’s version of the Mason-Dixon line, and many represented established residents’ associations, who have a fine line to navigate as they almost all want to maintain their apolitical status.
And because of that, the local politicians who attended were strictly sidelined until close to the end of the meeting. It will have been of little surprise that Chris Philp, the Tory MP for Croydon South, gave a speech strongly in favour (he’s probably never heard of the excesses under the directly elected mayor in Tower Hamlets), while Tim Pollard, the leader of the Conservative opposition at the Town Hall, was also in favour, but assured attendees that his 28 councillors would not be whipped on the issue.
The majority of the meeting was given over to residents, and RA officials, to discuss the merits, and otherwise, of the suggestion, and how to achieve it.
There were speakers at the meeting known to be Labour Party members who strongly supported the move, while the LibDems – who have failed to get a single councillor elected in Croydon for almost 20 years – turned up, though no one paid much attention to what they had to say.
It is fair to say that had the meeting been chaired more firmly, then attempts to take it over by full-time blow-hard Elizabeth Ash (who failed to state who she was representing, other than herself) and Peter Morgan might have been more robustly dealt with.
Morgan, just as he has always been with the tram network, was against the idea of a directly elected mayor. Yet at least three of the residents’ associations represented at the meeting – Whitgift, Kenley and District and Croham Valley – say that they have already determined to support moves to bring about a borough-wide ballot on the issue.
Directly elected mayors were made possible under the Local Government Act 2000. London has had a citywide Mayor for the past 19 years, and the capital already has directly elected mayors in the boroughs of Hackney, Lewisham, Newham and, notoriously, Tower Hamlets. All the current post-holders are Labour politicians.
By law, Croydon’s residents will need to collect 13,291 signatures – the “verification number”, 5 per cent of the borough’s population of eligible voters – to force the council to hold a referendum across Croydon on whether the people want a directly elected mayor. These signatures will need to be pukka, paper and ink scribbles, and none of the modern, too-easy-to-do online nonsense.
The residents’ associations already committed to the idea are hopeful of achieving their goal. A poll conducted by Survation on the day of the last borough elections, in May last year, found 55 per cent of residents want a directly elected mayor for Croydon.
First, they will need to win over the support of other RAs.
East Coulsdon and Old Coulsdon residents’ associations and Purley and Woodcote RA, all represented at last night’s meeting, have yet to decide on their position.
And HADRA, the Hartley and District residents’ association, is canvassing the views of its members.
In a social media posting today, they said that at the meeting, “the vast majority of residents agreed that a DEMOC…” their choice of acronym for democratically elected mayor of Croydon, “… would benefit the community. There were only three abstentions and three residents who objected.”
As HADRA put the proposition to their residents, “A DEM would have the same powers as the existing council leader and they would be responsible for setting planning policy and the Local Plan. The main difference being that residents could vote-out a mayor whose policies they disagree with.
“Critically, the Croydon Council planning committee would have to adhere to the policy and plan set by the DEM when making their planning decisions.”
Indeed, it was over planning matters that the meeting became most animated, with the conduct over the past five years of Newman’s chief crony, Paul Scott, the de facto chair of the council planning committee, causing greatest concern.
A previous proposition from the Tories, to have locally based planning committees, was roundly rejected by Newman. And Scott.
HADRA noted, “In light of the many planning applications which Croydon Council has approved in our area which go against the wishes of the residents, we feel that supporting this initiative would be in the best interest of our members.”
The meeting determined that Gerry Meredith-Smith, from the Whitgift estate, should chair the campaign’s fledgeling organisation.
Not until the very end of the meeting were politicians given the floor, and probably with some deserved trepidation: the majority of attendees seemed to support with some enthusiasm the notion that a candidate for Mayor of Croydon independent of any party political ties would be a preferred option. Finding such a “white knight” candidate might be more difficult than getting the 13,000 signatures needed to force a ballot on the issue.
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