WALTER CRONXITE on an expression of public opinion that should be a cause of grave concern for whoever becomes Croydon Labour’s new Town Hall leader tonight
Nearly half of Inside Croydon readers in an online poll published yesterday preferred “None of the above” ahead of the uninspiring choice of candidates to become the next leader of the Labour group at the Town Hall.
Only two candidates – Alisa Flemming and Hamida Ali – will be standing when the Labour group holds its virtual meeting tonight, after Stuart Collins withdrew his candidacy yesterday. No one else came forward as a candidate before today’s noon deadline.
Whoever wins tonight’s internal Labour group vote will become the leader of the council.
Flemming and Ali are seeking the backing of the majority of the borough’s 41 Labour councillors. The winner will be the borough’s first council leader from a BAME – black, Asian or minority ethnic – background.
The leadership election is taking place because Tony Newman was forced to stand down after 15 years in charge, the last six running a Town Hall administration which has brought the council to the brink of bankruptcy.
Both Ali and Flemming are Newman loyalists and have been long-term members of his council cabinet that has failed to deliver on a range of significant public projects, run up debts of £1.5billion and which consultants hired by the council have said broke financial regulations in some of its multi-million-pound property deals.
Given their very close associations with Newman, Ali and Flemming may struggle to distance themselves from his discredited administration and avoid accusations of being Newman’s “puppet”.
Certainly, that’s the view of the poll of hundreds of Inside Croydon readers where 47.2per cent voted for “Other” in our online poll.
Invited to suggest an alternative when they voted “Other”, the most popular, unprompted choice among our readers was backbench Labour councillor Andrew Pelling.
Some offered some not altogether serious suggestions, including “Caligula”, “Jabba the Hutt” and “Beaker from the Muppets”.
Ali polled only 16.3per cent – hardly a ringing public endorsement of the potential new council leader before they go, cap-in-hand, to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government next month hoping for a bail-out deal.
Flemming ought to be even more concerned. Only 3.4 per cent thought that she should be the council’s next leader.
Some even managed to vote for Newman – offering some confirmation that, despite his claims to the contrary, the now ex-leader remains a regular reader of our news pages.
Of other councillors listed as possible leaders, Jerry Fitzpatrick, a former Labour deputy leader, polled 12.5 per cent of the votes, suggesting that the retired lawyer represents a more credible answer than most to the question of who should be the next council leader.
Both Ali, who is councillor for the same Woodside ward as Newman and Paul Scott, and Flemming are struggling to shrug off the perception that they carry the Newman “seal of approval”, even among their fellow councillors.
“I think Hamida could do very well as leader as long as she is free from the shadow of Newman, Scott and [Alison] Butler and can assert herself,” said a Katharine Street source.
“That said, if she doesn’t immediately sack Scott and try to rebuild relations with voters in the south of the borough on planning matters, then we’ll know that nothing is actually going to change and that Newman and Scott will be Hamida’s back seat drivers.”
One of our readers, a Labour Party member, described themselves as “very disappointed” with the choice offered, and with the way the council has been run.
“All the councillors are complicit either by their action or their inaction for current financial state and allowing the administration to arrogantly believe and act as if they are not accountable to residents,” they said.
Two weeks before Newman stood down, he had survived a vote of no-confidence only because all but one of Labour’s councillors voted against the Conservative motion. “I view the result of the no-confidence vote as an admission of collective responsibility,” said the Labour member.
Tonight’s leadership ballot among councillors only comes despite moves from the Croydon Central constituency party to broaden the electorate to include members and trades unionists.
Indeed, among Newman’s last acts as leader was to use council lawyers to reject a 17,000-signature petition calling for a referendum on the borough switching to a directly-elected mayor.
As another reader observed, “Instead of just 41 people deciding, we should all have a say.”
Inside Croydon’s polls are entirely unscientific, of course. We’re not Ipsos Mori, after all. But they do offer a snapshot of public opinion. Nearly 300 people had taken part in our poll by the time of publication of this report – or nearly eight times as many as will be allowed a vote in the leadership contest tonight.
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