Newman is ‘running scared’ from ballot for borough mayor

With a referendum for a democratically-elected mayor now inevitable, Croydon’s council leader is behaving increasingly like a small-town Donald Trump. Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, reports

Tony Newman: increasingly Trump-like

In a remarkable piece of transatlantic coincidence, just as the President of the United States was making moves to delay November’s election in a desperate bid to cling on to power for just a little bit longer, so in Croydon, our very own Tammany Hall Trump was also working hard to defer democracy and the termination of his own political career.

Council leader Tony Newman yesterday morning announced to his Labour councillor colleagues that any borough-wide referendum on the issue of Croydon having a democratically-elected mayor would “not even be looked at before May 2021”.

Newman cited coronavirus legislation. “Therefore no referendum in May, or any time soon after that,” Croydon’s increasingly Trump-like leader wrote to the Labour councillors’ WhatsApp group.

DEMOC, the campaign for a democratically-elected mayor of Croydon, had been expected to deliver their petition, with tens of thousands of signatures, to the Town Hall yesterday.

The petition would have triggered the process for a borough-wide referendum on the issue of whether to have a mayor elected by all 250,000 eligible voters in Croydon, or stick with the current system of a “strong leader”, under which Newman has been in charge of the Labour group at the Town Hall for more than 15  years, having been chosen in secret meetings held behind closed doors by fewer than 40 people, most of whom he has on his council-funded pay-roll.

As recently as the end of May, having accepted that DEMOC would gather enough signatures to trigger the referendum, Newman was boldly telling anyone who would listen to “Bring it on!”

There were even suggestions that Newman was seriously considering putting himself up for selection as Labour’s candidate for elected mayor.

Yesterday, Newman was describing those campaigning for a democratically-elected mayor – which includes at least seven large residents’ associations, and the Croydon South Constituency Labour Party – as “reprobates”.

The DEMOC campaigners had 12 months to collect at least 13,000 signatures, enough to force the staging of a referendum. Other Labour-run London boroughs, including Lewisham and Tower Hamlets, have gone through the same process in the past 20 years. DEMOC hoped to submit their petition in May, with the possibility of the referendum being held in October and then a mayoral election in spring 2021.

The coronavirus pandemic wrecked that timetable, but there had been a suggestion that the petition could be submitted and the Croydon referendum held on May 6, 2021 – the same date as the London elections which have been postponed from this year.

Gerry Meredith-Smith: DEMOC has collected 17,000-plus verified signatures

Rules that were drafted quickly and rushed through with the Coronavirus Act in April are, it is widely agreed, often ambiguous and open to interpretation. DEMOC have taken legal advice from senior counsel which suggests that a May 2021 referendum is still possible.

But Newman’s self-interested about-turn yesterday suggests he intends to use the council’s legal department to block that. By his own estimates, an additional polling day could cost his cash-strapped council an extra £1million to organise the polling stations and stage the referendum separately from the London vote in May.

Gerry Meredith-Smith is the chair of the Whitgift Estate Residents’ Association, and chair the DEMOC campaign committee. Today he said, “We have collected more than 20,000 signatures and so far we have verified more than 17,000 as being on the most recent electoral roll. Verification continues.

“We have taken legal advice and believe that a petition handed in now is valid and should trigger a referendum on May 6, 2021.

“We, therefore, intend to hand in the petition signatures in the first week of September.

“It will save the council money to hold the referendum on May 6, the same day as the 2021 London Mayoral election.

“If the council leadership refuses to hold the referendum on May 6 and insist on clinging to office and running scared of the electorate, they will be insulting the 20,000 Croydon residents who have signed the petition.”

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6 Responses to Newman is ‘running scared’ from ballot for borough mayor

  1. At its simplest, some change has to happen in Croydon.

    It would be good if it happened peacefully and in the normal way. That would allow for the election of a new Labour leader in a new Labour council with new systems and new and more logical policies.

    Unfortunately it’s not going to happen that way and the only way that change may come about is through the election of a Mayor. One can only hope that Tony does not indulge his vainglorious side and stand for election.

    In this sort of election, charisma is very important and if Tony lacks anything, it is that, in spades.

    If he put himself forward it would simply open the door to the Tories who would simply be servants of Boris.

    Labour must find a candidate with some sort of presence, both in person and on the media, and someone with real gravitas. Perhaps the only way will be a “Croydon’s Got Talent” political reality show? Don’t scoff. It could easily come to that!

  2. Geoff James says:

    Tony Newman should do what he said and “Bring it on”. What has he got to be scared of?

    The fact that he won’t speaks volumes for this leadership’s view of democracy and whether it really is listening to the people of Croydon.

  3. Sebastian Tillinger says:

    I did my bit, as did many others, to secure signatures for DEMOC campaign.

    The thing which was the biggest chore at every front door was spending 5 mins explaining just who Tony Newman is.

    Nobody had heard of him.

    Doesn’t it appear strange that in the age of social media and mass communication residents don’t know the leader of the borough’s ruling political party?

    This demonstrates the extent to which Newman is disconnected from the electorate and the futility of restricting communication to a small group of people he has awarded cabinet posts to and distributes generous allowances to funded from the public purse.

    The fact that he has only communicated his plan to dodge the mayoral bullet to his ‘paid’ councillor mates says it all. I and countless thousands of people in this borough will not countenance Newman attempting to avoid a May mayoral election. That’s a given.

  4. Tim Rodgers says:

    Tower Hamlets in 2010 ran the General Election, the local election and the Mayoral referendum on the same day. Well I say day… they were still counting Saturday… but you get my point!

  5. Sebastian Tillinger says:

    There again, if Tony Newman doesn’t want a Mayoral Election when the electorate wants it, what can he do?

    I know, he gets the borough’s returning officer to concoct a little smoke screen so nobody can see what’s happening.

    And who is our returning officer – a job that involves about three days’ work a year and is paid an exceedingly handsome £20,000 pa? It’s none other than Jo Negrini. She literally gave herself the job (and salary) and Tony Newman nodded it through.

    You cannot make this sort of greed up.

    • Colin Cooper says:

      Does anybody know if the flights to Guantanamo Bay have resumed? We could make better use of our rapidly dwindling local resources, bag up the ‘ring leaders’ and buy them all a non-return ticket! This would appear to fall in line with level of democratic process we can expect from Tony and Co.

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