Hundreds turn out to join campaign for directly elected mayor

Hundreds of residents have turned out for meetings held across the borough in support of a directly elected mayor

Political editor WALTER CRONXITE on the mounting numbers behind a campaign seeking to change the way the council is run

The patronage that keeps Croydon’s Town Hall troika of Tony Newman, Alison Butler and Paul Scott in power is looking to be under mounting pressure, following well-attended meetings this month seeking change to the way the council is run.

There may have been but a handful of people out on the streets protesting about the way Brick by Brick schemes are imposed on neighbourhoods, but inside the (relative) warmth of church and community halls in Purley, Sanderstead and Old Coulsdon this month, hundreds of residents have turned out to see what can be done to overturn Newman’s increasingly unpopular regime.

Seven residents associations, Tory MP Chris Philp (pictured below) and the Croydon South Labour Party have hosted the meetings, as they seek support for a referendum on whether the council should be led by a directly elected mayor.

To secure a referendum, petitioners have to secure signatures in hard copy form from registered electors to the equivalent of 5 per cent of all Croydon’s registered voters. In law this is known as the Verification Number. This number has to be published annually. In Croydon, the magic number is 13,291.

Organisers of the meetings say that residents are flocking both to the petition, where they have 9,500 residents have signed up so far, and to give lots of small individual cash donations to the campaign.

Meetings have revolved around explaining mechanics, angry complaining about planning and councillors Scott, Butler and Newman and groaning about Brick by Brick, the council-owned, loss-making in-house house-builder (total purpose-built council homes completed since 2015: three).

Gerry Meredith-Smith, the chairman of the campaign, says that he wants to see Croydon Council “run for the benefit of residents rather than for the benefit of councillors”, with “270,000 voters choosing who leads the council instead of just 21 councillors who make up the majority of the ruling party”.

The DEMOC campaign captures the mood of the people attending

Newman’s position as council leader, which he has held since 2014, is indeed determined at a secret meeting of the (now) 41 Labour councillors; Newman, meanwhile, decides which of those councillors get paid council allowances, and how much. Such patronage is Croydon’s very own version of “cash for votes”.

“Just four of 28 wards decide who runs the council with safe red or blue majorities in all other wards,” Meredith-Smith says, maintaining that this borough version of democracy effectively disenfranchises the majority of voters.

What the DEMOC campaign claims is that by having a democratically elected mayor, candidates would have to appeal to voters across the borough.

But at the meetings held so far (the next is due to take place in Kenley on February 27, with others planned for the north of the borough next month), dry discussion of electoral systems has been overshadowed by the evident anger among residents over the council’s planning system.

Residents talk of social media posts by Councillor Scott boasting of building flats on every road in Croydon.

Philp, who has enjoyed a positive reception at all the meetings, wins ready applause when he details how Croydon Council set a higher target for building homes in the borough than is required by the London Plan. Philp, who until this week’s cabinet reshuffle was the Minister for London, says that 75 per cent of his constituency casework is now about planning.

Philp says that residents are “contemptuously ignored” by Councillor Scott.

Philp alleges that Croydon’s Conservative councillors have been told in confidence by Labour colleagues that “political assumptions are made” about how residents in new developments will vote and that consistent votes on the planning committee of six Labour members winning against four Tories in favour of applications speak of “political direction”.

As Inside Croydon has reported, some members of the planning committee have even said that they have been “whipped” to vote through all Brick by Brick schemes. The whipping of members of planning committees along party lines is illegal.

Outside of planning issues, Meredith-Smith, who is the chair the Whitgift Estate Residents’ Association, hopes that having someone as head of the council elected directly by all the residents will mean that that person will be a “unifier”.

He also expects the council “to be as difficult as they can be” in resisting the petition. The council might try to stop the petition by running down the campaign’s money by recourse to the courts.

Most Labour councillors are opposed to a directly elected mayor, having been told by Newman that his less-than-independent governance review – which has cost more than £100,000 and taken more than a year to deliver its report – will make a few minor recommendations which will cement the status quo.

Philp says that Newman told him that he did not think the petition for directly elected mayor would get enough signatures, but the packed public meetings show that anger with the attitude of the Town Hall troika is driving evermore people towards supporting the directly elected mayor campaign.

It seems that their slogan “When did the council last listen to you?” has struck a chord throughout Croydon.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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2 Responses to Hundreds turn out to join campaign for directly elected mayor

  1. Chris Flynn says:

    I applaud the hard work involved in corralling support from the community and invoking our democratic processes. I am certain DEMOC will be successful in securing a referendum in Croydon, and it’s exciting to see political movements forming and growing. However, I do have some misgivings about what a subsequent win would mean.

    As this IC report alludes to, the great support in the south of the borough has been driven by planning concerns. Whilst I appreciate the leader of the council (or mayor) sets the borough planning strategy, they don’t have a direct influence on the planning committee. The strategy is also driven by governmental requirements, so even a Mayor will need to uphold such quotas, nor can they influence the committee. So whilst knocking a figurehead off their perch will be immensely satisfying, how will it fundamentally change planning?

    DEMOC say “If we disagree with their policies, we vote them out.” and “Every person in the borough can have their say.”, but how is this not true already? What is to stop a traditional Labour voters voting Conversative to oust a Labour Croydon council? The terms are still the same.

    DEMOC have used a populist playbook, but I wonder if the end will justify the means, and what the other (non-planning) consequences of a single representative being selected would be (interestingly, prospective mayors isn’t something I’ve heard discussed at all). Hartlepool abolished their mayor, after a man in a monkey suit reigned for 10 years – which doesn’t inspire huge confidence. I look forward to DEMOC securing a referendum, so we can engage in an open debate about it in the run-up, as the campaign has perhaps been something of an echo chamber for supporters to date.

  2. sebastiantillinger7694 says:

    In the old days, the Audit Commission would have stopped Cllr Paul Scott in his tracks. It would have put a stop to him imposing his personal agenda on to an entire council planning policy and his undemocratic nefarious behaviour in council planning meetings.

    Because Tony Newman is a fundamentally weak leader, Scott is able to do what he likes without any public oversight or scrutiny. Now, if you wish to complain or ask questions about Scott, Butler and Newman, your only recourse is to contact the council itself or go to the police: the first option is usually doomed, the second is nuclear, and without compelling evidence of criminal activity, is also futile (although some residents are working on this).

    Croydon Council set their own rules, investigate complaints against themselves by themselves, and if they so decide, can banish you from view as a ‘vexatious complainant’.

    Tony Newman’s Labour group, and indeed many of the Tories, are deficient in their performance as councillors; in business-speak, they demonstrate all the “systemic weaknesses” of a failing company. The blurred line between incompetence and malpractice is stretched to breaking.

    An example is the chair of the Planning Committee having zero knowledge of planning, being used as a puppet by Cllr Scott whilst he trousers £40,000 in expenses from Croydon”s cabinet. If Scott was Chair of Planning, he would have to forego the £40k – it’s clear where Scott’s loyalty lies – his bank account.

    Croydon residents have had enough of this sleazy back-scratching or managerial incompetence that surrounds Tony Newman, the shoddy conduct and the lack of accountability.

    Scott and Butler’s ‘screw-you’ approach to planning has developed a political toxicity in Croydon that is approaching lethal concentrations.

    The awful truth is that if you are a first-tier councillor, there really is no sanction against abuse, intimidation, lies, bullying and all the thousand other deplorable little tricks that are endemic at Croydon Council.

    Unmatched in the public sector for amateurism and incompetence, many of Croydon’s councillors are not fit for purpose. An elected Mayor might set the atmosphere that changes all this. Covert little Councillor groups of cronies determined never to let go might get the message. There has to be a rethink. Local activism is important and good, but it is national policy that that has to shifted in favour of genuine local democracy through an elected Mayor that will see the likes of Scott, Butler and Newman being consigned to the local political dustbin.

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