Black Lives Matter. But in Orwellian Croydon, some matter more than others, as our political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports
While many in England will be rushing off to the pub tomorrow, Tony Newman will be using a Croydon Labour councillors’ group “awayday” to demonstrate what he describes as his “commitment” to diversity.
Newman, though, runs a real risk of exposing his own, long-term empty rhetoric and hypocrisy.
Because of coronavirus, Newman’s awayday will be conducted from the 41 Labour councillors’ Zoom rooms. Newman, in his attempt to show his credentials as someone who backs the borough’s multi-ethnic and diverse communities, plans to hand over the running of the meeting to loyal BAME – black and minority ethnic – councillors in his team.
Likely to go unmentioned through all of this is that, for six consecutive years, ever since Labour won control of the Town Hall, Newman and his two deputies have always been white.
What ought to be even more embarrassing for someone who claims to be committed to diversity is the fact that Newman has never once appointed a BAME man to be a front-bench cabinet member, enabling them to get a bigger share of those juicy allowances he and deputies Alison Butler and Stuart Collins manage to enjoy.
For the council leader and two deputies’ appointments to be truly representative in a borough in which nearly 60 per cent of its residents are black, Asian or from a minority group, two of those three jobs should be held by someone from a BAME background. By the same reckoning, in Newman’s 12-strong cabinet front bench, seven positions should go to BAME councillors. In fact, only five front-bench jobs will be confirmed as being held by BAME councillors when the council’s delayed annual meeting takes place on Monday.
Newman’s Labour group recently underwent its annual cabinet election process, which as usual was a case of The Great Leader doling out rewards for unquestioning loyalty and devotion. Close mates and the best-behaved get around £45,000 per year council allowances as a reward.
But you get next-to-nothing if you’re a black man, the evidence shows.
The closest a black man got to a top job in Croydon this year was Selhurst councillor David Wood being retained as Hamida Ali’s deputy covering “Safer Croydon and Communities”.
Callton Young, who became a Croydon councillor after an honoured career in the civil service and many years working in the BAME community in Thornton Heath, was overlooked again. Young was handed just the consolation prize of chairing the licensing committee – a job Newman previously sacked him from because of his principled position on the town centre’s racist “Bashment Ban”.
Publicly, when trying to attract attention to himself at Black Lives Matter protests and courting BAME votes, Newman has wrung his hands over the issue of diversity. In his leader’s report to the next full council, Newman goes full-on virtue signalling.
“Here in Croydon we have rightly stood in solidarity with our black community and have been lighting up our Town Hall in purple at night in remembrance of George Floyd.
“Black Lives Matter. Words and expressions of solidarity matter, but what matters most are actions and recognising the need for change.
“Croydon is one of London’s most diverse boroughs and that is something we have always celebrated and are all proud of… But we need to be clear – all political parties in Croydon need to up their game so that we see a greater elected representation from all our black and minority ethnic communities.”
This, from a man who barely six months ago allowed a democratically selected BAME candidate, chosen by Labour party members to stand in a by-election in a safe ward, to be bullied off the ballot paper in favour of a white woman.
“Whilst we continue to make progress, there is clearly still more to do,” Newman has said, to anyone who would listen. Conveniently, for him, he failed to point out that the power to make a change rests in his very own hands, and has been so since 2014.
Labour has strict party rules about ensuring gender balance among its candidates and appointments, and Newman has used that, usually to his own advantage, often to disadvantage other councillors he perceives to be a threat to his own position.
Thus, when he sacked Jane Avis from his cabinet last month (without advising her in advance, and much to her dismay), he did so to remove a paid-up member of Momentum from his largely centrist cabinet, and then crowed again about his diversity credentials over his choice of her replacement, Janet Campbell.
Avis had been noted for doing a decent job in charge of her families, health and social care brief, but was nonetheless removed in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, favoured time-servers remain, such as Alissa Flemming – who was in charge when the borough’s children’s services was declared a danger to the vulnerable youngsters in its care – and Louisa Woodley, who pockets a cabinet-sized allowance for chairing half-a-dozen meetings a year of the health and well-being board (a position in the direct gift of the council leader himself).
Despite the urgency of the coronavirus crisis, Woodley has failed to hold over a health and well-being board meeting for six months.
As well as Newman’s leadership trio remaining steadfastly all-white, his cabinet front-benchers also include white men in the form of the sometime golf caddy Ollie “Butt Plugs and Shit Shows” Lewis, Paul Scott, the controversial planning figure (and Newman’s best mate), and Simon Hall, someone whose record on the finance brief is probably overdue for some serious scrutiny.
There has never been any question of any of these three white men being moved aside by Newman in the interests of improved diversity, or competency.
There are other well-rewarded jobs in Newman’s council which are decided by the group. Yet even most of these key positions somehow fail to help Newman’s declared campaign for greater diversity.
Old white bloke Clive Fraser remains in the non-job of group chief whip, with 26,000 beer vouchers a year to help buffer his Lambeth Council pension pot.
Chair of the planning committee (and £27,000) has gone to Chris Clark who is, you’ve guessed it, a white man.
And Sean Fitzsimons is another white male who is paid cabinet-level allowances – indeed, his unswerving loyalty was bought by Newman when the special responsibility allowance for the scrutiny chair was almost doubled shortly after the Addiscombe councillor was made redundant from his proper job.
As Newman himself has said, words and expressions of solidarity matter, but what matters most are actions and recognising the need for change.
Might someone have the backbone to read that sentence back to him during the Labour group’s awayday tomorrow?
From our archive: Beenie Man accuses Newman of stealing music festival idea
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