Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, reports on the latest clusterfuck in the Croydon Labour group and reveals that a departing councillor had spent six months working for the local MP but had failed to make proper declarations of interest as required by law
Croydon Council’s ruling Labour group was rocked last night when in the midst of their party’s annual conference in Brighton, and just hours after the Supreme Court had declared the Tory Prime Minister a liar and a crook, they were forced to go into full-on crisis management mode over a councillor’s resignation following “a serious incident”.
Niro Sirisena, the newbie Fairfield ward councillor and council deputy cabinet member for butt plugs and shit shows, had been forced to resign as a councillor, with no reasons being offered either by Sirisena nor his erstwhile Labour colleagues.
It all means that Jeremy Corbyn is looking for a new DJ, and that Fairfield ward will be getting a council by-election very soon.
Croydon Labour issued a terse statement early yesterday evening which withheld any further details “so as not to prejudice any possible legal proceedings in relation to this matter”.
Sources confirmed this morning that Sirisena’s resignation was not connected to the fact that he had just completed a six-month spell working for Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones, a fact that he had failed to declare, as he is required to do by law, to council officials in his public councillor’s interests.
Croydon Labour’s statement said, “Following a serious incident involving Councillor Sirisena the Labour leadership in Croydon have [sic] accepted his resignation, effective immediately, as a Labour representative of Fairfield Ward. He has also tendered this [sic] resignation formally to the Chief Executive of Croydon Council.”
And things had been going so well for Sirisena of late, as he thrust himself to the fore in many of the council’s latest initiatives.
Indeed, only yesterday the Financial Times had chosen to make Sirisena – the self-declared “Croydon Momentum founder” and “JC’s DJ” – the face of Labour’s latest grassroots movement, when in an article carrying the headline “Labour infighting raises questions over future of Momentum”, Sirisena allowed himself to muse, somewhat crassly, that, “Corbyn is the Thatcher of the left”.
It is an assessment which betrays Sirisena’s brash and ill-considered approach to politics, as he admitted in the article. “I didn’t know what I was getting into,” he was quoted as saying.
The FT article describes Sirisena as a member of Corbyn’s “praetorian guard”, and it was a role in which he enjoyed a meteoric rise in Croydon Labour, while it lasted.
In 2015, before Corbyn was elected Labour leader, Sirisena was not even a member of the Labour Party.
By June 2018, having only just been elected to the council, he was promoted by council leader Tony Newman to deputy cabinet status and its £22,000-worth of allowances.
And by the end of September 2019, he was no longer a councillor.
“The FT article shows that there’s a weakness in the way we vet potential candidates,” a former Croydon Labour colleague told Inside Croydon. “There’s information in that article that we never knew about when he was being selected.”
Sirisena certainly was never shy about thrusting himself forward, although his ambition to become a prospective parliamentary candidate came to nowt this summer when he withdrew from a Momentum members’ meeting in Croydon South, in order to support Blairite candidate Hamida Ali – it is understood after being leant on by the local party’s leadership.
But there did not seem to be a Croydon Labour selfie on social media that did not include Sirisena’s gurning face, whether it was to mock other members for their initiatives around the borough, or to show-off his attendance at the latest council-funded event or Labour Party party.
Labour councillors were ordered this morning not to speculate on the reasons for Sirisena’s sudden resignation. It is a move which, of course, has only prompted more speculation, linking the now ex-councillor to public spats he has had with colleagues over the in-party factionalism caused by Momentum leader Jon Lansman’s move against party deputy leader Tom Watson, his possible involvement in a loud demonstration at a conference fringe meeting in Brighton or – and this seems the most likely explanation – because Sirisena had defied a Newman edict and made the cardinal error of re-tweeting links to an article on Inside Croydon.
Whatever the real cause, Sirisena – who had a well-earned reputation for a constant, hectoring and sometimes aggressive presence on social media – had wiped clear his Twitter account and other traces of presence on the interweb even before the Croydon Labour statement had been posted.
Such prompt action was not always evident in the personal admin and legal obligations that he acquired once he became a councillor: his council declations, going back over his 18 months at the Town Hall, remained completely blank, not only of his employment details working for a local MP, but there is no mention of any trades union membership (unusual for Labour councillors) nor of any of the gifts and freebies that he had received while in the role of as deputy cabinet member for arts and sport.
The departure leaves Newman with a bit of a problem, or an opportunity – to ensnare another of his 40 councillors into his web of patronage.
Newman had given Sirisena a role in a number of policy initiatives, such as the re-opening of the Fairfield Halls, the staging of music festivals by private companies that required large sections of Lloyd Park to be fenced off from public use for weeks at a time, or in leading the greening of the group’s policies on the climate emergency.
The latter will have provided a tricky conundrum to resolve while the Newman and his close colleagues actively support an extra runway at Gatwick airport, burning rubbish in an incinerator and multi-nationals building 3,000-space car parks in the town centre.
The resignation inevitably led to some Tories – who given the circumstances of their party leader being declared in the Supreme Court as a proven liar and crook, so who really ought to be hiding under a rock for a bit – to emerge and attempt to make political capital out of the situation.
The unctious Mario Creatura, their parliamentary candidate for Croydon Central, was quick to (a) display his ignorance and (b) nevertheless rush to pass judgement, as he tweeted, “Whatever the facts around the resignation, it’s clear…” that residents in Fairfield “…have been badly let down by Labour”.
When approached for comment, Tim Pollard, the leader of the opposition Conservative group at the Town Hall, urged Labour to explain the circumstances behind Sirisena’s shock resignation.
“It is alarming that what must have been a serious transgression is not being disclosed to the people of Fairfield ward,” Pollard said, “and we would urge Croydon Labour to be much more open and honest about the matter.
“Saying, ‘Sorry, but we’re not telling you’ just doesn’t cut it.”
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