21,000 residents petition for elected mayor referendum

DEMOC petitioners on the steps of Croydon Town Hall this afternoon, their 21,000 signatures boxed up and needing to be carried in on trolleys

A costly legal battle is expected, as council leader looks to block the democratic will of the people. STEVEN DOWNES reports

After 18 months of meetings and door-knocking, a campaign group led by seven residents’ associations has today handed in the product of their work – a 21,000-signature petition which, they are confident, should be enough to see Croydon hold a borough-wide referendum next spring to decide if the council should be led by a democratically elected mayor.

The campaigners want the referendum to be held on  May 6, the same day as the London Mayoral and Assembly elections.

In correspondence with the council, they say, “The current council’s action in response to the signatures on this petition, secured despite lost months from the covid lockdown, will be an acid test of their approach to democracy and accountability. Will they listen to the will of the people and go ahead with a referendum on May 6 next year?

“Or will Councillor Newman seek to cling on to power and avoid accountability? Introducing better governance for Croydon is more important than ever now.”

The petitioners, including Tory MP Chris Philp and officials from the Croydon South Constituency Labour Party, met on the steps of the Town Hall knowing that they had gathered 50 per cent more signatures than is required by law to trigger such a referendum.

But they also knew that their campaign could yet be in for months of legal wrangling, as the leader of the Labour-run council, Tony Newman, in fear of the loss of his £53,000 per year sinecure, stubbornly hides behind coronavirus to claim that no such petition can be submitted before next year.

At present, the council operates what’s known as a “Strong Leader Model” (try not to laugh), with a council leader and cabinet of just 10 senior councillors making all the key decisions.

The campaigners say, “Crucially, a mayor will be elected directly by the 275,000 voters across Croydon, while under the current system, the council leader is chosen by councillors of the majority party rather than by the voters.”

The Local Authorities (Referendums) (Petitions) (England) Regulations 2011 allow the public in a local authority area to trigger a referendum to move to a directly elected mayor if they secure the signatures of more than 5 per cent of electors in the area – in Croydon’s case, that now stands at 13,788.

Since the Local Government Act was passed in 2000, 24 local authorities in England have moved to the directly elected mayor system. As well as Sadiq Khan in London, these also include the cities of Bristol and Liverpool, and London boroughs Hackney, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets – all Labour-controlled councils.

The handover of DEMOC’s petition was delayed by the covid-19 lockdown, which also saw signature-collecting suspended for three months.

Attending the formal handover this evening were representatives from the founding residents’ associations: Kenley and District, Addington Village, East Coulsdon, Croham Valley, Hartley and District, Purley and Woodcote, Sanderstead, and from the Whitgift Estate.

Other residents’ associations are expected to join forces in the coming weeks, as the campaign shifts from triggering the referendum to put forward the argument for supporting a directly elected mayor.

Gerry Meredith-Smith: DEMOC chair has received strong support for the petition

This being 2020, the 20,978 hard copy signatures on the petition – so many that they needed to be carried into the Town Hall in boxes, on trolleys – also came with a memory stick and Excel spreadsheets that cross-referenced every signatory with the electoral roll, presented for ease of reference of council officials.

In an accompanying letter sent to the council’s head of electoral services, the chair of the campaign committee, Gerry Meredith-Smith, wrote, “We have… removed duplicates electronically from the tally and removed those signatures more than a year old. Having disregarded signatures that are not on the Croydon electoral roll and removed signatures which are duplicates or out of date, we have 17,114 valid signatures that are both on the Croydon electoral roll and also unique and in date.

“We are submitting these valid signatures to you today. The 17,114 valid signatures substantially exceed the threshold of 13,788 signatures required to trigger a referendum for a Directly Elected Executive Mayor of Croydon.”

Meredith-Smith also laid out, at considerable length, DEMOC’s legal arguments, based on counsel’s advice, why the referendum should go ahead next May.

In a statement issued this afternoon, DEMOC said, “There are many good reasons why the people in Croydon want a directly elected mayor. Underlying all of them is the belief that the current council system doesn’t work for residents – whoever is in power, half the borough is ignored because of Croydon’s political landscape where the north votes Labour and the south votes Conservative. The council doesn’t listen and often doesn’t seem to care what large parts of the community think.”

Joanne Milligan: wants to boost accountability

And Jo Milligan, the vice-chair of Croydon South CLP, said, “This campaign is about what is best for democracy and best for Croydon – not which political party is in charge. Residents’ associations, members of all political parties and of none, have come together to change the way local government in Croydon works – to boost accountability.

“We want to change the system so that whichever political party the mayor comes from, they have to listen to people right across the borough from Norbury to Coulsdon, New Addington to Waddon.”

But Meredith-Smith is prepared for the council, and Newman, to try to stall and frustrate the call for a referendum. “Will they hide behind covid legislation, using it as an excuse to ignore what a large number of the people of Croydon now demand?” he said.

“Will they prioritise holding on to their current positions and their council allowances for a few more months, rather than giving the people the chance of a better system and a better future for our town?”

The campaign team say that they are prepared to crowdfund for a Judicial Review at the High Court if necessary to secure the referendum.

Read more: Click here to read DEMOC’s “acid test” letter to Croydon Council

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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2021 London elections, 2021 Mayor Referendum, Addington Residents' Association, Chris Philp MP, Community associations, Croydon Council, Croydon South, East Coulsdon Residents' Association, HADRA, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to 21,000 residents petition for elected mayor referendum

  1. Bob Hewlett says:

    Jo Milligan hahahahahahaha
    Chris Philp hohohohohohoho
    Gerry Meredith-Smith heeheeheehee

    and I see from the photo a mixture of Trump supporters, Covid deniers, evolution disbelievers, climate change deniers and superstitionists although I did not recognise any Flat Earth supporters. They probably thought the group too nutty to be associated with. Cannot wait for them to announce their mayoral candidate!!

    • Sebastian Tillinger says:

      I hear where you’re coming, from Bob. And many will agree with you; the fear of change is one of the most common fears that people face. Change is difficult for everyone; there are few people that don’t feel somewhat anxious at the prospect of a major upheaval in their lives.

      I suggest you might look at it another way – imagine having an elected Mayor in Croydon, someone who is voted in by the electorate and stands on a platform of aims and visions for the future of our borough.

      Then, one day, someone says ‘no, we want to ditch all that and let a local political party which has the support of less than 25% of the electorate decide everything. They can choose amongst themselves who the council leader will be and then the new council leader can give money allowances to those in his party who voted for him. And then there’ll be little accountability and lots of meeting behind closed doors.

      Enter stage left, Tony Newman

      • Robert Hewlett says:

        Thank you for your response Sebastian.

        First of all is the notion that I could be afraid of change. I can assure you that I am not, in fact, in many many cases I am for change. I can give you some examples… a change to a total secular society, a change to a democratically elected President to replace the unelected Germano-Greek dynasty that we have at the moment, a change from a produce for greed society to a produce for need society.

        But back to your response, as I read it your response seems to put the cart in front of the horse as the basic political history of Croydon was Mayor and Alderman (elected from amongst themselves ; see City of London governance) and councillors elected by voters to the present day of elected governance of all councillors being elected by voters. As far as I have researched no single someone said anything similar, even in the most vaguest sense, to your quote. I may seem a little pedantic but I do tend to deal with facts.

        I have to wonder if the change to electoral accountability you profess to support is more to do with personality rather than policy. I hope it is the latter and I am sure the editor would allow you to expound in full the political reasons for the proposed electoral change with all the possible benefits and possible disadvantages.

        There have been many decisions this Council has made over the years I have disagreed with for many reasons and there is a school of thought within the local Labour parties that Labour Party members should elect the local Labour Leader, as per national, and even electing successfully elected Labour councillors for the various responsibilities. But that is for party members to decide and I am not privvy to those discussions nor decisions.

        I am minded by Churchill’s observation that democracy is not perfect but will do until something better comes along, and to that end the present system is not perfect but I do not believe a directly elected mayor is a progressive step. Convince me!

        • Sebastian Tillinger says:

          A directly elected Mayor of Croydon will be chair of this area’s combined authority, elected by the residents of Croydon. It’s not the Central Government model you may be more comfortable with Bob – it’s purpose is to address the failure and lack of accountability in local Government. Tony Newman and his ‘administration’ is the embodiment of this.

          Central Government believes the elected mayoral role will ensure clear accountability over the powers, functions and funding that is devolved from national to local level. This I agree with.

          The current administration under Tony Newman is voted in at the start of four years but beyond that, there is no real accountability. The electorate choose councillors to represent them, but then have to sit back and watch a council leader being selected by a narrow band of 40 people and the controlling cabinet selected by the leader himself. And these all happen to be members of some tin-pot local political party which is awash with publicly funded allowances payments in the hundreds of thousands.

          What unites these people is their mediocrity. You can select the reasons for this mediocrity, be it lack of engagement at local level, dissatisfaction within local political parties, or the relevance and lack of ability of individuals who put themselves for elected office.

          In Croydon we see these failures in current and past council administrations. When important local matters need to be addressed there is no engagement or communication between Tony Newman and the residents of Croydon; it’s the reverse, he sends emails to an inner cabinet he has personally appointed.

          I do not want a leader, be it Tony Newman or anybody else, having this level of control at local level with no accountability or mandate to communicate with the electorate beyond the bare minimum. Have an engaged, functioning person in power and you’ll probably just get away with it. But have the likes of Tony Newman or Tim Pollard and you can kiss goodbye to anything that might resemble good local governance.

          You maybe happy with this Bob, for old times sake or whatever, but I’m not.

          The state Croydon Council finds itself in today is directly related to the failure of its leadership.

          Progressive councils such as Suffolk embrace this change and encourage debate on the elected mayoral route on their website and public forums. In Croydon, Tony Newman desperately clings on to power, debate is stifled, whilst he thuggishly threatens to ignore our public petition for change and he now threatens legal action to overturn it.

          • Robert Hewlett says:

            My last two words in my last post was ‘convince me!’ and had hoped for a mature, analytical, political and reasoned exposition but alas it was not to be. I am, however, grateful to you for not disagreeing with me on my first post analysis. I will leave it there.

  2. I’m fairly sure that use of public funds to block the DEMOC campaign is illegal. Does anyone with experience know how to check this out?

  3. Jigsaw Puzzle says:

    Croydon Council must be one of the worst managed councils in the country. The business has been systematically destroyed by wishful thinking. For any region, the local businesses play such a key in income generation and creating employment.
    By constantly harping on Westfield and hoping that the deal would go through, the Council had driven businesses away. The entrepreneurial spirit was just taken away.
    To make matters worse, the residential population rose with more house/flats being built.
    This resulted in an increasing demand for goods and services whilst the supply went down as businesses began to evaporate.
    It is mind-boggling that such basic understanding of balancing between supply and demand was lost in some airy-fairy management and leadership.

  4. Michael O'Connor says:

    I live in Lewisham, I have lived under the dictatorship of a directly elected Mayor for over a decade now. If you think having a directly elected Mayor is democratic please think again, it is not. The Mayor and his click cabinet make decisions in secret, then they are rubber stamped by the rest of the Councillors.

    I wish to have a referendum to move back to the old system where the Mayor was a figure head and Councillors voted in the chamber before a change was made. You don’t know what you are doing giving one person the amount of power what a directly Mayor has.

    Lewisham has been ruined by the Mayors push to gentrify the area. Damien Egan pledged to house 10,000 refugee’s in Lewisham if elected, we don’t even have enough social housing for local people. He said cars on the roads will be guests with pedestrians and cyclist given priority. Now we have gridlock. Our last directly elected Mayor Steve Bullock was not democratic. My friend went to a meeting what he attended, the public at the meeting did not agree with what Steve Bullock was saying. If said to the public you either agree with my proposals or I will walk out. Then we had the Millwall Football ground scandal what Bullock was at the heart of.

    Just like the Mayor of London is the dictator of London, and so is every directly elected Mayor the dictator of the council they run.

  5. John Harvey says:

    No sooner had Democ presented its petition than today the government publishes a paper on English local government reform stating “Everywhere will have a directly-elected leader — voters will have a clear choice about who will be in charge and they will have clear four-year mandate to act”.

    IE There will be one size for all to make it easier for Central Government to control Local.

    Why isn’t Philp sufficiently in the loop to warn local activists not to waste their time?

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