‘This is an acid test of council’s approach to democracy’

Here’s the full text of the letter from the democratically elected mayor for Croydon campaign, delivered by hand today at the Town Hall.
It includes the detailed legal argument, based on counsel’s advice, that supports DEMOC’s claim that the referendum could, and should, take place in May 2021

Seth Alker
Head of Electoral Services and Mayor’s Office
Electoral Services
Law and Governance Division
London Borough of Croydon
Town Hall, Katharine Street
Croydon, CR9 1DE

3rd September 2020

Dear Seth,

I am writing in my capacity as Chairman of DEMOC, a residents-led campaign for a democratically elected Mayor of Croydon.

As you will be aware, we have been collecting signatures for some time to trigger a referendum for a Directly Elected Executive Mayor for Croydon.

I am formally submitting this petition to the London Borough of Croydon today, Thursday 3rd September 2020. The petition contains 20,978 signatures.
We have transcribed the names and details of each signatory on to an Excel spreadsheet for your convenience, indexing each entry in the spreadsheet to the physical signature to create a clear audit trail. I also enclose a copy of that spreadsheet on the accompanying data stick.

We have cross-referenced each signatory to the Croydon electoral roll, and where we have found a match, we have entered the electoral roll number on the spreadsheet. We have then 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Having disregarded signatures that are not on the Croydon electoral roll and removed signatures which are duplicates or out of date, we have 17,114 valid signatures that are both on the Croydon electoral roll and also unique and in date.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.

Given that we have cross referenced the petition against the electoral roll, removed duplicates and presented this to you in readily auditable electronic form (ie a spreadsheet cross-referenced to the paper signatures) we hope you will be able to confirm its validity very quickly, by early October.

I turn now to the question of the Referendum which this valid petition will trigger. There has been some question about the implications of Section 12 of the Local Government and Police and Crime Commissioner (Coronavirus) (Postponement of Elections and Referendums) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 (“The 2020 Regulations”), and what this means for the timing of the referendum.

We have taken legal advice from a leading Public Law lawyer on this topic. I am sure that you will find it helpful if we share a summary of that advice received.

In order to interpret the 2020 Regulations we need to know when the referendum triggered by this petition would ordinarily have been held, had Coronavirus not happened. This is governed by the Local Authorities (Referendums) (Petitions) (England) Regulations 2011 (“The 2011 Regulations”), Section 16 (1) of which says:

“(1) Subject to paragraphs (2) and (3) [note: which do not apply here] , a referendum in consequence of a valid petition shall be held no later than the end of the next ordinary day of election after the petition date”.

The next election day after today’s date is Thursday 6th May 2021, and so the referendum triggered by our petition could have been held at any time up to and including Thursday May 6th 2021. This first Thursday in May is the usual time for elections, and so it is reasonable to assume that Thursday 6th May 2021 is when a referendum triggered by this petition would ordinarily have been held.

But we do not have to rely simply on reasonable assumptions, because of the statements made by Cllr Tony Newman, Leader of the Council.

Cllr Newman made it clear to the Labour Group in May 2020 (before he was aware of the 2020 Regulations) that he expected the referendum to happen on 6th May 2021, as reported publicly here: https://insidecroydon.com/2020/05/28/newman-tells-labour-to-prepare-for-mayor-vote-next-may/

Tony Newman: council leader elected by fewer than 41 people, wants to block a petition signed by 21,000

Moreover, once Cllr Newman became aware of the 2020 Regulations in July 2020, he messaged the Labour Group on What’s App on 30th July 2020 saying that: “Therefore there will be no referendum in May”. This establishes clearly, in writing, that absent Coronavirus the referendum would have happened on May 6th 2021. This was Cllr Newman’s clear intention and Cllr Newman is the person who would have ultimately made the decision.

So, it is clear that absent Corona virus and in accordance with common sense the Referendum triggered by this petition would ordinarily have been held on 6th May 2021.

We now turn to the 2020 Regulations. Section 12 (3) prevents the handing in of petitions during the “relevant period” which runs from 16th March 2020 to 5th May 2021 (inclusive). But section 12 (3) only applies to referenda described in Section 12 (2), which are referenda that would have ordinarily been held in the Relevant Period. Since the Relevant Period expires on Wednesday 5th May 2021 and the Referendum triggered by the petition (absent Coronavirus) would have happened on Thursday May 6th 2021 Section 12 (3) does not apply to this petition. This petition therefore can be handed in now, is valid, and the Referendum which it triggers can be held on Thursday 6th May 2021.

This again accords with common sense – it would be absurd to allow a London Mayoral Election, London Assembly Elections and local elections across the UK to happen on Thursday 6th May 2021, but to prohibit Referenda on that very same day.

Clause 12 (2) also says that referenda that would otherwise happen in the restricted period should instead happen on Thursday 6th May 2021, giving further weight to the idea that Referenda can take place on that day.

Please be aware that the 2020 Regulations themselves are the only definitively legally binding documents in relation to this matter.

It is therefore clear the 2020 Regulations allow for the Referendum triggered by this petition to take place on May 6th 2021. This will also save money, since on this day Croydon is already having the London Mayoral and London Assembly elections.

I am sure that Croydon Council will wish to save taxpayers money by holding the referendum on the same day as these existing elections.

Clearly the incremental cost of an additional ballot paper on 6th May 2021 would be a small fraction of the cost involved if the Council mandated the opening of the polling stations for just a single ballot paper at some other date. Councillor Hall’s comments at the Council budget meeting on 2nd March this year made this point.

The current Council’s action in response to the signatures on this petition, secured despite lost months from the Covid lock down, 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 – thus giving the people the choice as regards how their town is to be run and how those responsible are chosen by the people and how they are accountable to the people? Or will Cllr Newman seek to cling on to power and avoid accountability?

Introducing better governance for Croydon is more important than ever now.

Cllr Newman has been quoted on several occasions as saying “bring it on” in relation to this referendum – and now we have the legal analysis showing that he can do exactly that.

I look forward to your urgent confirmation that:
(1) This petition is valid and exceeds the required threshold, and
(2) That the Referendum will take place on Thursday 6th May 2021

We expect to receive your definitive and detailed response in this matter in less than one month indicating the schedule that you will meet. In the event of unjustified delay, we reserve the right to take whatever legal action, including but not limited to a Judicial Review, that we may deem necessary.

All personal data that is being provided to Croydon Council as part of this petition is governed by General Data Protection Regulations. The use of this personal data by Croydon Council is restricted to what is reasonable for the purposes of validation of signatures against the electoral roll and the legitimacy of the petition, and the data may not be passed to third parties. No other use or uses of the personal data should occur. If in doubt we urge you to identify your intentions in writing to the DEMOC committee and gain our permission before any other types of processing occur.

Please note that both the ownership and the intellectual property of the physical signatures and electronic data remains with DEMOC, and we reserve the right to request them back at any time.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely
Gerald Meredith-Smith
Chairman Campaign Committee

Read more: 21,000 petition council for a directly elected mayor

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, Croydon Council, East Coulsdon Residents' Association, HADRA, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to ‘This is an acid test of council’s approach to democracy’

  1. Sebastian Tillinger says:

    If Newman spends a penny of Croydon Council money paying lawyers to oppose this democratic process, there will be hell to pay.

    If Newman wants to use money ‘donated’ from the Local Government Association to pay lawyers to oppose this process, go ahead and waste it.

Leave a Reply