Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, on the step up for one of Croydon’s MPs
Steve Reed, the MP for Croydon North, has been appointed to the shadow cabinet by the Labour Party’s new leader, Sir Keir Starmer.
It’s the dream job for Reed, with his background in local government, as he has been made Labour’s parliamentary lead on communities and local government.
But there was no similarly good news for Sarah Jones, the well-regarded MP for Croydon Central, who some had tipped for a promotion to Sir Keir’s front-bench – especially since members of her Westminster staff had run social media during the Starmer leadership campaign.
Reed is a former leader of Lambeth Council, the deputy chair of the Local Government Association and a former shadow junior local government minister.
He was made OBE for his services to local government shortly after he became MP for Croydon North in 2012, at a by-election following the death of the constituency’s previous MP, Malcolm Wicks.
Today, Reed said he was delighted by his appointment. “Honoured to be appointed Shadow Local Gov Secretary at a time when councillors and council workers are responding so heroically to coronavirus – our councils are the best of Labour, so proud to work with you all again,” he said on Twitter.
Reed’s comments echo Sir Keir’s, when the new Leader of the Opposition said of his just confirmed shadow cabinet, “This is a new team that will be relentlessly focused on acting in the national interest to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and rebuilding Labour so that it can win the next election.”
Reed’s role is very much up-front and central in those two tasks, with government blowing hot and cold about the role of local councils in dealing with covid-19 and in how local councillors, when elected, make up the core of activists that get governments elected.
Reed will be partly judged on whether Labour overtakes the Tories in terms of the number of councillors across the country, something not achieved since the early part of this century. Reed’s support of “co-operative councils” might also provide a blueprint for Labour’s public policy generally, as it is expected to edge away from full-scale 1945-style nationalisations of key industries as its main policy thrust.
Reed is steeped in local government, having been a shadow junior local government minister, before being part of the “chicken coup” to remove the previous Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. More importantly, he remains regarded as a successful leader of Lambeth Council who transformed the very negative reputation of that borough.
Although Reed would later return to Corbyn’s shadow team at Westminster, he is well-known as being on the right of the party, and is a former deputy chair of Progress, the Blairite party-within-the-party.
Under Reed, during the first decade of this century and under a Labour government, Brixton Town Hall was seen as “the John Lewis council”, giving residents a greater input into the way their services were run. For Reed, then the aspiration was that, “Mutual and co-operative values will be our compass”.
That approach had its difficulties, as later admitted by Reed, as residents complained that the Town Hall took their Council Tax but expected them to provide the services that the council should be doing. The approach also provided the foundation for controversial private sector partnership redevelopments of social housing estates, to the detriment of council tenants’ interests.
But the co-operative approach in local government, as seen in local councils like Preston building up community capital, will very likely be something that Reed will back.
Speaking to the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network last October, Reed said, “We don’t talk enough about power, but power is central to the political crisis our country finds itself in today. Too many people feel they lack the power to make the changes they want to see in their own lives and communities.”
So expect to hear a lot about empowerment from Reed in his new high-profile role.
Perhaps significantly for Croydon, Sir Keir has decided to continue to split the local government and communities shadow role away from housing, meaning he will have two spokespeople shadowing the Tories’ Robert Jenrick, the Minister of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The other half of the Labour tag-team as housing shadow is Thangam Debbonaire, the MP for Bristol West.
Some at Croydon Town Hall may be slightly relieved at this, since Reed has more than once criticised the council’s loss-making house-builders, Brick by Brick, for their lack of consideration for existing residents and over-densification of developments in Croydon North.
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