STEVEN DOWNES reports on allegations of bullying and racism within the Croydon Labour Party after the local leadership fails to nominate a democratically selected candidate for a ward by-election
The Labour Party in Croydon is in turmoil today, after council leader Tony Newman and his numpties overturned the democratic decision of members in Fairfield ward, and instead chose to impose Caragh “Shoot Trump” Skipper as the candidate for the forthcoming by-election.
“It’s a shameful situation,” one senior Labour member told Inside Croydon. “There’s an awful lot of anger from members of the party.”
The by-election has been called for November 7 following the sudden resignation of Niro Sirisena.
Newman and the Croydon Labour leadership have gone to great efforts to cover-up the real reasons that deputy cabinet member Sirisena was forced to resign. Sirisena, who was elected as a councillor only in May 2018, quit after what Croydon Labour described as “a serious incident”, and which Newman this week admitted was a matter under police investigation.
After doing their utmost to sweep that potential disgrace under the carpet, Newman and his numpties have now excelled themselves in creating a further scandal over the selection of Sirisena’s replacement, opening themselves up to accusations of racism.
Despite repeated efforts to subvert the Fairfield selection process by the clique which controls the Croydon Labour Party, ward members held a properly convened meeting on Thursday night where they voted for Jose Joseph, someone described by fellow party members as “a true socialist”, and who is well-known for running an award-winning fruit and veg stall on Surrey Street Market.
Joseph is a popular figure in Fairfield, where for the past six months or more he has been running a soup kitchen once a week to feed the local homeless and poor. In his speech at the selection meeting on Thursday, Joseph pledged that if elected, his councillor allowances would be used to help feed the homeless in his ward.
It was a promise which went down well with the grassroots members at the meeting, but was not appreciated quite so warmly by the Labour councillors in attendance.
And Joseph won the vote, but only in spite of strenuous efforts to undermine him, even to exclude him from the ballot.
Newman and other Skipper supporters had first tried to make the selection an all-woman shortlist. This was rejected by the Local Campaign Forum, the body which is supposed to manage Labour’s electioneering across the whole borough. “It was clear that they had an agenda to select Caragh from the start,” one source who was at the meeting told Inside Croydon.
Undeterred by that set-back to their plan, on Wednesday night officials with links to the party’s leadership held an informal meeting in which other candidates for selection were invited to stand aside for Skipper.
This move, too, was treated with the contempt it deserved and rejected.
Simultaneously, one of Newman’s most eager minions was trying to find a way to disqualify Joseph from the contest over his party membership subscription. This complaint, too, was rebuffed.
It was evident that Newman and his close allies, such as Town Hall chief whip Clive Fraser, party employee Jack Buck and current Fairfield councillor Chris Clark, between them had a plan to stop Joseph, and that they would use whatever means necessary to get Skipper on the by-election ballot paper.
Such plans took a bit of a dent when, on Thursday night, Skipper was rejected by ward members.
Yet this morning, Newman, accompanied by Progress MP Steve Reed OBE and a bedraggled couple of dozen hard-core loyalists, turned up outside the Fairfield Halls for a damp squib of a “launch” of a campaign with Skipper as the candidate.
The Fairfield Halls is perhaps even more of a suitable symbol for Newman and Skipper’s campaign than they have the wit to realise – the arts centre re-opened 15 months late and £11million over budget, incomplete and failing to deliver on several promised components.
Perhaps significantly, of Croydon Labour’s 40 councillors, 26 did not bother to turn up this morning, for whatever reason…
The Tory election campaign in Fairfield is already well underway, with their new-found activists from the cult-like SPEC Nation Church embarking on a second round of door-to-door canvassing this weekend.
It means that Labour is already having to play catch-up in a by-election which they caused themselves.
But they have now handicapped themselves with a candidate some consider to be a liability (Skipper lost a Labour-held seat in the 2018 council elections, the only seat Labour has lost in Croydon since 2010), while many dedicated party members, even councillors, have opted to avoid providing any support.
“Jose is a true socialist and Corbyn supporter, unlike the so-called Momentum councillors who are all in Newman’s pocket,” said one angry party member. “Newman has been trying to get Caragh elected for more than two years, as he knows she’ll be another one who will never question his actions.”
After the events of yesterday, the anger among Labour activists, especially those to the left of the party, is palpable, with some even suggesting staging a protest on the steps of the Town Hall.
“Jose has been stitched up,” said one Labour loyalist.
“This is an outrage by Newman and his cronies.”
“It is evil what they have done to Jose,” said another.
“Someone needs to take responsibility for this mess and explain what happened,” said another.
“I will not campaign in the wake of this outrage.”
“It’s utterly disgusting that a BAME man and immigrant should be treated like this, after winning selection fair and square.”
Allegations of bullying, intimidation and racism
HAVING battled through Newman’s concerted efforts to block his candidacy and won selection by a proper ballot, on Friday morning Joseph got back to work at the market, eager to take his opportunity to become a representative of the community where he has lived and worked ever since first coming to Croydon.
Yet that enthusiasm was short-lived.
He and his supporters were already suspicious. There had been complete silence from the usually gobby Croydon Labour Twitter account about the result of the selection meeting. There was not a self-serving selfie with the victorious candidate to be seen. This despite Fairfield councillor Clark, the Labour group’s comms officer, having been at the selection meeting.
“It was as if they did not want anyone to know what the outcome had really been,” said one source who had been at the meeting.
It was not long on Friday morning before Joseph was confronted in Surrey Street by a party apparatchik who ordered him to sign some form of letter of apology. They had belatedly discovered some perceived flaw in Joseph’s form-filling, and now were demanding an apology to the Local Campaign Forum.
There were just hours to go before the 4pm Town Hall deadline for nominations.
Joseph came to Croydon from India 10 years ago. English is not his first language. Those close to him suggest that what happened on Friday was a clear example of bullying.
When Joseph declined to write the letter of apology in the middle of the busy market, he was taken off to a meeting, without the opportunity to have help or advice from a representative. At the meeting, he was challenged by two Croydon Labour officials over allegations of unpaid market fees.
“It was a clear, premeditated attempt to brow-beat the man into signing away his selection,” said a friend of Joseph’s. “A couple of barrack-room lawyers, waiving the Labour rule book about. Joseph was clearly panicked and intimidated. It was exactly what they had planned.”
Significantly, Joseph says that he did not receive a single email from the Local Campaign Forum on Friday regarding his selection, or about any of the perceived doubts about his eligibility. There was nothing in writing…
And time was running out.
According to a document from a Croydon Labour official who took part in the brow-beating process, they had obtained details of money owed to Croydon Council over market fees.
“This proves that this was a concerted campaign to stop Jose,” his friend said.
“They didn’t just stumble across this information on Friday morning – someone had been doing some digging beforehand. They could have asked him about it at any time in the week. This was all premeditated, it was their ‘Plan B’ in case Caragh couldn’t manage to win the vote on her own merit.
“This could have very serious ramifications for Newman and his administration.”
Elected councillors must never owe their council any money (councillors in Council Tax arrears, for example, are barred from voting on financial measures at the Town Hall). But in this case, the debt – less than £500 – was owed by Joseph’s business, not by him personally (and it was the person, not the business, who was up for selection).
Inside Croydon has seen documented evidence that the money had been paid.
That, though, was never going to be good enough for Newman and his numpties.
“We could not take the risk of having someone with that question mark hanging over them,” the anonymous clerk of the party’s briefing memo wrote, “especially when we couldn’t trust that he was telling the truth.”
Suddenly, the local Labour Party was demanding that Joseph should meet the highest standards of conduct in public life.
That’s the same Croydon Labour Party where one deputy cabinet member never bothered to declare that they were employed by the local MP, or in which the deputy leader failed to declare that her son was working at an agency which was hired by Brick by Brick, or where the planning chair has happily accepted “donations” from a property developer.
No matter what Joseph did on Friday to maintain his status as the selected candidate for Fairfield, Newman’s little clique had their foregone conclusion to reach.
Just before 4pm, Labour’s nomination forms were submitted, with Caragh Skipper’s name on the in the box for the party’s candidate.
“Nothing can undo the undoubted wrong the group leadership has done here,” another friend of Joseph’s told Inside Croydon last night.
“Newman has overstepped the mark this time. This matter won’t end here.”
For his part, Joseph was working on his stall in Surrey Street Market this morning. He had been unfairly denied being selected as a candidate for the council before, in 2017.
He told Inside Croydon that he intends to fight his case to the highest level possible. “I am the victim of racism inside the party,” Joseph said. “I am against Mafia leadership in Croydon Labour, and because of that, they always try to block me standing for the council.”
Which all goes to make the outcome of the Fairfield by-election on November 7 just a tad more interesting.
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