Just days before he faces a no-confidence motion at the Town Hall, the council leader has committed Labour to ignore the outcome of a democratic borough-wide referendum. WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, reports
Tony Newman, the part-time council leader who after six years in charge has seen Croydon go broke, has given a “‘a very, very clear manifesto pledge” to protect his £56,000 annual allowances by refusing to implement the outcome of a borough-wide referendum.
The only problem is that Newman has made this pledge without any reference to the Labour group at Croydon Town Hall, nor discussion with the party’s wider membership, in the latest demonstration that the Woodside councillor puts his self-interest ahead of all else.
Newman’s timing, as usual, is impeccably flawed, with his comments being published on the same day that an emergency budget is to be discussed at a council cabinet meeting, which includes proposals under which hundreds of council staff are set to lose their jobs, services are to be axed and Council Tax hiked.
Newman is also just a week away from facing a Town Hall motion of no confidence.
Newman has been leader of the Labour group at Croydon Town Hall for 15 years. During his time as leader and deputy leader in Croydon, his achievements have included:
- Putting through a 27per cent Council Tax increase in a single year;
- The failure to secure Westfield’s redevelopment of the town centre;
- The council’s children’s services being declared a danger to the youngsters in their care by Ofsted inspectors;
- The establishment of a housing company that delivered just three purpose-build council flats in four years;
- Handing £440,000 of public money as a “reward for failure” to the departing council CEO; and
- Increasing the council’s debts to £1.5billion.
Newman is the council’s “strong leader”, selected in a secret meeting by fewer than 40 Labour councillors, the majority of whom receive generous council allowances decided by Newman himself.
Earlier this month, a campaign group, DEMOC – Democratically Elected Mayor of Croydon – handed in a petition with 21,000 signatures calling for a referendum to be staged on May 6 next year – the same day as the London elections – to ask the public whether they want to replace the council’s “strong leader” with an elected mayor.
The petitioners reckon that at least 17,000 signatures collected can be validated against the electoral roll. They had needed fewer than 14,000 signatures to trigger the referendum, something which DEMOC had hoped to have done this spring. And then coronavirus came along.
And as the campaigners feared that he might, Newman is now using covid-19 as an excuse to block any referendum being held next year – so giving himself another 12 months on the Council Tax-funded gravy train.
Earlier this year, when it became apparent that DEMOC would achieve their signature target to trigger the referendum, Newman was boasting to party colleagues “Bring it on”.
He has since performed a 180-degree U-turn – notably since he has realised that he would have no chance of being selected as Labour’s candidate to stand as Mayor of Croydon.
Extraordinarily, even by Newman’s low-grade standards of logic, today he has even committed the Croydon Labour Party to opposing the democratic outcome of the referendum, whenever it might be held.
Newman claims that the council’s lawyers have advised that it is currently impossible for Town Hall staff to carry out the work to verify the signatures on the petition and that under coronavirus emergency legislation such work cannot be started until May 6 next year.
“Legally, the council, under national legislation, can’t even start the process of verifying those signatures before next May, whether we want to or not,” Newman told ex-Grauniad hack Dave Hill (who just happens to be related by marriage to one of Newman’s most loyal councillors. It is astonishing how much integrity can be bought with £42,000 of other people’s money…).
Hill added, “Newman expressed confidence that Croydon’s voters will reject the chance to adopt a mayoral system, and predicted that if a referendum is not held before the next local elections in 2022 – which he said ‘has to be a possibility’ – there would be ‘a very, very clear manifesto pledge’ not to ‘go down that route’.”
Newman appears to have fallen into a trap carefully laid for him by DEMOC, one which potentially could contribute to Labour losing control of the Town Hall in 2022.
When the petition was handed over, DEMOC provided a covering letter that stated, “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?”
DEMOC have now had an answer to that question.
And Newman’s “clear manifesto pledge” given to a north London journalist has caused outrage among some Croydon Labour councillors this morning.
Backbench councillors were already furious that Newman has failed to consult or inform them for months over the council’s cash crisis. This latest assertion from their increasingly out-of-touch leader will do nothing to reassure them that his judgement is sound.
“He makes it crystal clear that Labour would go into the referendum promising to ignore a positive result in a referendum,” said one. “It is like a kind of Brexit nightmare all over again.”
And another said, “So Tony’s promising a ‘very clear manifesto pledge’. Let’s just check a moment… of course, it’s the party that decides on what is in the manifesto, not him. DEMOC came into being as a very clear response to Tony’s autocratic leadership style, and his response to it has been wrong at every turn.
“Now, it seems, he doesn’t care if he drags the Labour Party down with him, as we’re all to stand on an election platform that says we’ll ignore a democratic vote. It really is not good enough.”
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