- 76% of readers think Tony Newman is not fit to be council leader
- 21,000 residents sign petition calling for a democratically elected mayor
- Whitehall bail-out for cash-strapped council to carry onerous conditions
Tony Newman might be wishing he never came back from holiday last month, as he has returned to discover that the crisis he left behind has turned into mounting calamity, with his time in charge of the borough – and his 15-year reign over the Labour group on the council – rapidly coming to an end.
The part-time leader of Croydon’s Labour-run council took time out on Tuesday night to see Croydon Athletic play at the Mayfield Stadium. That decision did nothing to improve his record of backing lost causes. If Newman thought watching some live football for the first time in months would cheer him up, he probably wasn’t reckoning on his side being knocked out of the FA Cup at the very first stage, losing 3-0 at home.
But that’s nothing to the hat-trick of blows his leadership looks set to suffer in quick succession.
Ahead of tonight’s Town Hall event, when members of DEMOC, the campaign for a democratically elected mayor in Croydon, are expected to hand in their petition which is expected to trigger a borough-wide referendum on the issue, Inside Croydon has run a poll of our readership asking whether, with the council burdened by £1.5billion ddebt and having to make 400 job cuts, they think Newman is fit to be leader of the council.
A damning 76 per cent answered our poll* saying that he is not.
And that poll was conducted before the bungled handling of the exit from Fisher’s Folly of chief exec Jo Negrini with a pay-off expected to come to more than £200,000, which Newman is thought to have signed off.
Negrini has been back at the council offices this week for a handover process, and enjoying lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant with her new-found riches. She’s probably also hoping to be around to hear what kind of settlement the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is likely to impose on Croydon for bailing out the cash-strapped council.
Well-placed sources at the council say that MHCLG is expected to deliver its decision imminently.
The reason for the urgency is that the council is rapidly running out of cash, with the finance director, Lisa Taylor, warning last week that without a substantial bail-out, she may have no alternative but to issue a Section 114 notice, and so admit that under the leadership of Newman and his cabal of Alison Butler, Paul Scott and Simon Hall, the council has gone bust.
But any Whitehall bail-out will come at a cost, and there is a strong suggestion that the London-hating Tory government will want to seize an opportunity to make an example of a failing Labour-run council in the capital. Some council insiders suggest that Newman may have no alternative but to resign as leader.
Whether central government is prepared to take such a drastic step, only time will tell, though hey may not need to push too hard, as other events may yet achieve the same end.
Last night, Newman was described by councillor colleagues as “ranting again” on social media, with DEMOC the focus of his attention. With the petition and referendum now very much a reality, the Woodside councillor appears to have forgotten his previous bold challenges of “Bring it on!”
Now Newman appears to be determined to do everything he can – using council legal resources – to block the referendum ever taking place. Not for the first time, Newman appears to be hiding behind coronavirus.
“Our legal advice remains crystal clear – no petition can even be considered before May 2021,” Newman wrote to colleagues.
DEMOC, Newman wrote to members of the Town Hall Labour group’s WhatsApp, “is at its heart against new affordable homes being built in the south of the borough”.
Said the source, “Given how few truly affordable homes the council has built in the past six years on Newman’s watch, it’s hardly a winning argument, is it?”
Among the DEMOC activists expected to attend tonight’s petition handover are a handful of Labour Party members, including at least one former councillor, as well as officials from the Croydon South Constituency Labour Party, indicative of how support is seeping away from Newman even within his own party.
If the petitioners are successful and get the council to hold a borough-wide referendum on whether the council should have a democratically elected mayor, then the political parties will need candidates to stand for the role.
Labour councillors are already positioning themselves to win selection. Few, if any, within the Labour group think Newman would ever be picked. “It would be electoral suicide to put Tony up as candidate for mayor,” one said.
It appears that Newman’s grip on power is weakening as rapidly as his grasp on political realities.
*Inside Croydon’s polls are not scientific but serve as a snapshot of public opinion among our readers. Nearly 600 readers responded to our online question
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