WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, reports from the Town Hall, where the council leader is playing hard to get
Tony Newman, Labour’s leader on Croydon Council, has cancelled December’s full meeting of the council, using the General Election on December 12 as an excuse.
But sources on Katharine Street are not convinced and believe that Newman is trying to avoid scrutiny, not only from the Conservative opposition but also from the public he is supposed to serve, and his own Labour councillors.
“Tony’s running scared,” one back-bench councillor told Inside Croydon last night.
Newman has also cancelled the scheduled November meeting for the Labour council group, which was due to be attended by his party’s 40 other councillors. Croydon Labour’s Local Campaign Forum, which is supposed to co-ordinate election activity and oversee candidate selection, has not met since September and is due to reconvene on November 11, though even this is in some doubt now.
“They have not cancelled a meeting of full council because of a General Election in the recent past, so the excuse that Tony and Jo Negrini have cooked up that it is somehow to do with ‘purdah’ for the General Election just doesn’t wash,” said a Katharine Street source.
The December 12 General Election will be the fourth since 2010. Croydon was supposed to have a meeting of the full council on December 2.
In 2015, when the General Election was held on May 7, Croydon went ahead with a full council meeting on April 20 – just 17 days beforehand. Then, one of the councillors, the Hon Emily Benn, was also a parliamentary candidate standing in Croydon South. In 2017, Croydon’s full council met on May 22, again, 17 days before “strong and stable” Theresa May’s snap election was held on June 8.
The cancellation of December’s meeting means that there will have been just one meeting of Croydon’s full council in six months.
“It’s a scandal,” said another council figure.
“It means that the council leader is directing all councillors to be little more than Council Tax-funded leaflet-deliverers for six weeks. Council allowances for the period amount to £240,000 – should that money be stopped?”
The Katharine Street source said: “When Boris Johson tried to shut down parliament, he was accused of being anti-democratic. What Newman’s doing is no different.
“Tony doesn’t fancy the public scrutiny after the Fairfield by-election, something which he has mishandled from beginning to end. And he really can’t face up to a meeting with all his own party’s councillors – as the truth emerges about how Tony stitched up Jose Joseph as the Fairfield candidate, he was due to get a pasting.
“Replacing the group meeting with a canvassing session and a budget briefing is all about saving Tony’s blushes.”
The Fairfield by-election takes place next Thursday, November 7. It has been called after one of Newman’s promoted lackeys, Niro Sirisena, was involved in “a serious incident” and resigned as a councillor in September. The matter is now subject to a police investigation.
The candidate selected by party members, Jose Joseph, was not nominated by local Labour officials, who instead submitted forms for Caragh Skipper to be the candidate. Skipper, a Labour Party employee who lives in Shirley, stood as a candidate in Addiscombe East in 2018, which was notable as the only council seat that Labour lost at the local elections.
Such has been the anger among local Labour members over the mishandling of the Sirisena matter and the subsequent candidate selection that many have been boycotting campaign sessions. One constituency Labour party, Croydon South, even passed a condemnatory motion in which they said that they would not endorse Skipper as a candidate.
In recent days, the local party leadership has demonstrated some signs of concern over the by-election result in what was a safe, Labour-held ward. Campaign sessions have been arranged with three members of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet – MPs John Healey, the shadow housing minister, Marsha De Cordova, the disability spokesperson, and the women’s and equalities shadow, Dawn Butler.
Sarah Jones, the MP for Croydon Central, is known to be a close party colleague of Skipper.
“This raises the stakes considerably,” said our Town Hall source of the high-profile visitors.
“Sarah’s had to call in some serious favours on behalf of Skipper to deliver up three shadow ministers for what is, after all, just a very winnable by-election in a safe council ward.”
Yet even this late effort has not gone smoothly for Croydon Labour.
Healey’s visit on Tuesday was cancelled on the day because there was a three-line whip at Westminster to ensure that the General Election was called.
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