WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, on the latest blow to the leadership of the local Labour Party
Jose Joseph, a stall-holder in Croydon’s historic Surrey Street Market, was selected last night to be the Labour Party’s candidate in the Fairfield ward by-election next month.
Joseph won by a single vote in the final round from Caragh Skipper, the candidate favoured by council leader Tony Newman and his numpties.
The by-election has been called for November 7 following the sudden resignation last month of Niro Sirisena, another who had enjoyed patronage from Newman.
Sirisena, who was elected as a councillor only in May 2018, resigned after what Croydon Labour described as “a serious incident”, and which Newman this week blurted out was a matter under police investigation.
Skipper’s failure to win selection is the third knock-back that Newman and the council leadership has suffered over the Fairfield selection process.
First, local members rejected a suggestion that the short-list should be all-women (Fairfield is a three-seat council ward, with Mary Croos and Chris Clark its existing councillors), a ploy which would clearly have favoured Skipper by removing many other candidates.
Then, earlier this week, there was a move by the local leadership to remove Joseph from the list of candidates altogether, in a dispute over eligibility rules. With support from other members, this was rejected and Joseph went forward on a six-strong shortlist for selection by ward members last night.
Joseph seems likely to be a popular choice among grassroots Labour members from across the borough, his family-run fruit and veg stall at the Church Street end of the market being among the longest established and best-known among the thousands of locals who daily shop for good-value produce.
Croydon Tories, who held Fairfield ward before boundary changes ahead of the May 2018 local elections, have chosen a 20-year-old single mum connected to the cult-like SPAC Nation church, Jayde Edwards, who has been busy campaigning with members of her congregation for the past 10 days.
There is a sense of nervousness among some senior Croydon Central CLP figures about the possible outcome of the by-election, as they have started referring to Fairfield as “a marginal ward”, even though in 2018 Sirisena, the Labour candidate with fewest votes, was 434 ahead of the top-polling Tory.
But the active campaign being run by Edwards and her SPAC Nation congregation, with strings being pulled by the former Downing Street social media adviser Mario Creatura, and resident resentment over the circumstances of Sirisena’s departure, and the reasons for it, could play against Joseph, who will need to be convincing on the doorstep about the Labour council’s record.
Labour is due to stage its campaign launch outside the Fairfield Halls tomorrow morning at 10.30am, although by 11am today – more than 12 hours since Joseph had been selected – there had not been a peep about the decision on Croydon Labour’s usually hyperactive social media accounts. In March, at the last Labour ward by-election selection meeting, photographs of the winning candidate, surrounded by banner-waving activists, appeared on Twitter and Facebook within minutes of the ballot being determined.
This (stunned?) silence is especially odd, since the Labour group of councillors’ communications officer is supposed to be Clark – who is thought to have attended last night’s selection meeting.
“Chris has played a blinder this time,” one cynic attending the meeting told Inside Croydon.
“He’s managed to make himself appear to be supporting both of the two leading candidates. Which, even by his usual standards, is going some.”
Several grassroots Croydon Central members said that they resented attempts at “being bounced” into selecting Skipper, who in 2018 managed to lose a previously Labour-held seat in what is now Addiscombe East ward. So confident had Newman and his numpties been that Skipper would join them on the council that she had been lined up for immediate promotion, as deputy cabinet member to Alison Butler on housing.
“We knew Caragh would be a candidate in Fairfield the moment she turned up for one of our regular canvassing sessions about a week back,” one member said. “We hadn’t seen or heard from her in ages.
“Now she’s not been selected, it will be interesting to see when we see her again next.”
It is the second time in six months that Skipper has been rejected by members in a ward selection ballot, having been well-beaten in Norbury and Pollards Hill in March.
The deadline for candidates’ nomination forms to be submitted is 4pm today, with Esther Sutton being chosen last night to be the candidate for the Green Party.
And if Joseph proves to be a popular candidate with voters because of his fruit and veg stall, then Sutton could be even more of a vote-winner with locals: she runs The Oval Tavern pub.
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