Our political editor WALTER CRONXITE, on how a drawn-out selection process has hampered any prospects of electoral success for Labour in Croydon and Sutton in May’s elections to City Hall
In a primary contest that has lasted longer than that needed to elect the President in America, the 3,500 Labour Party members in Croydon and Sutton who are allowed to vote see polls close at noon tomorrow to select a candidate for their Assembly seat in May’s London elections.
Back in 2018, when aspiring candidates began their selection campaigns, there were reasonable hopes that they might be picked for a south London super-constituency that could, for the first time in history, be a Labour gain from the Tories.
But a change in Labour’s fortunes since then means that this is now looking like just a contest for the privilege of coming second to the Conservative candidate, Neil “Father Jack” Garratt.
Between the 2017 and 2019 General Elections, Labour managed to “mislay” a whopping 20,491 votes across the five parliamentary seats that make up the Croydon and Sutton London Assembly seat.
Labour’s candidate selection in Croydon and Sutton also comes a mere 356 days since the Tories selected Sutton councillor Garratt as their candidate.
It is fair to say, too, that Croydon and Sutton’s Labour members are not exactly spoilt for choice in terms of who to pick.
Patsy Cummings, the councillor for South Norwood, is the local Labour leadership’s establishment candidate, with the backing of Tony Newman, the key endorsement of Momentum and supporting nominations from UNITE, UNISON, GMB, CWU, the Co-op and four of the five constituency Labour parties in the seat.
Cummings has been telling her supporters since autumn 2018 that she has the nomination in the bag, and suggesting some fore-knowledge that selection in this seat would be an all-woman shortlist.
Cummings boasts of having worked in Jeremy Corbyn’s office. The implication is that a vote for Cummings is a vote of support for Corbyn. However, the circumstances of her leaving that job have never been fully explained.
She is a community campaigner, including supporting Labour Against Racism and Fascism.
And Cummings says she is proud of her Caribbean heritage, and her supporters see her as an especially relevant candidate in Croydon, with its majority BME communities. Cummings ran an extended festival of the Windrush generation with support from the council and a controversial private sector developer.
But as with her departure from her Corbyn job, Cummings has been less forthcoming over a dispute over fees which were not paid to a Windrush performer she hired.
By contrast, Rowenna Davis has a job outside of politics, having been a teacher for the last five years, though as “Blue Labour royalty”, she has a wider experience, including as a Parliamentary candidate in a target seat.
Davis has highlighted her teaching job in her campaign saying that, “I teach in a local secondary school, and together I want us to build the best city for a child to grow up in without hunger, free from the fear of knife crime, and breathing clean, safe air.”
Davis has brought delivery to those themes by running foodbank collections, working with businesses to create safe spaces for those escaping from knife crime, while also highlighting air pollution spots with on-street measurements or identifying places where trees can be planted.
But whoever wins, however an outstanding candidate they might be, Labour now look unlikely to gain the seat.
Labour lost just short of one-third of its parliamentary vote in Sutton and Cheam in December’s General Election. It was even worse for them in Carshalton and Wallington, where the battle between the LibDems’ Tom Brake and Tory Elliot Colburn squeezed Labour.
Tory MPs now being in place in both Sutton seats, after Brake’s defeat, will further boost Garratt’s chances. Labour has been reduced to an irrelevance in Sutton in all but GLA elections.
But the long-delayed selection of a candidate leaves no time for either Cummings or Davis to get the message across in Sutton that a vote for them in the London elections is not a wasted vote.
In Croydon North, between 2017 and 2019, 7,718 Labour voters went missing with the 54th worst swing against Labour in Greater London on General Election night.
Croydon Central, by contrast to retreats elsewhere in Croydon and Sutton, saw the fifth best swing for Labour in London, with 0.55 per cent.
Croydon South also saw 3,282 Labour votes “evaporate”, with the 19th best result from Greater London’s 73 parliamentary seats for Labour, and an increased majority for Tory MP Chris Philp.
In the 2017 General Election Labour beat the Conservatives across the five Croydon and Sutton seats by 0.2 per cent, or just 617 votes. But in this most recent election Lab, our were back almost to where they were in the 2015 General Election, when they were 7.2 per cent behind the Tories.
At the Greater London Assembly election in 2016 Labour lost to the Tories’ Steve O’Connell by 6.5 per cent.
Labour’s best Croydon and Sutton result was in 2012 when they closed the gap to 4.3 per cent.
This recent 2019 General Election saw Labour trailing, the gap this time being 5.4 per cent.
So in this very large seat, Labour might hope to beat their 2012 result but must be very long odds to capture the seat.
And that’s probably exactly how Labour’s London region organisation would like it.
Because of the mix-and-match structure of the Assembly elections, for every extra constituency seat won by the first-past-the-post system, it means that there is one less seat for Labour members elected through the proportional representation, London-wide list system.
With that expected to be dominated by candidates from the Corbyn-backing Momentum group, it seems unlikely that Cummings’ mates at London region will be pulling out all the stops to help her, or Davis, win the Croydon and Sutton seat, and with it the £54,000 annual salary that goes to all Assembly Members.
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