‘It’s time to clean things up. It’s time for the truth to be told,’ according to one Labour councillor. WALTER CRONXITE, our political editor, on the growing calls for the council’s discredited former leaders to stand down immediately
Tony Newman, until last month the leader of crisis-hit Croydon Council, Alison Butler, his former deputy, her husband Paul Scott and Simon Hall, the one-time cabinet member for finance, should all resign as councillors and be expelled from the Labour Party.
That’s the view not just of the Town Hall’s opposition Tories after the council was yesterday forced to admit it was broke and issued a Section 114 notice. It is the opinion of a growing number of local Labour Party members, including some who worked as councillors under Newman’s “Gang of Four”.
The Town Hall Labour group held an emergency briefing meeting last night, just a couple of hours after the council which they have controlled since 2014 was forced into the ignominious position of becoming a by-word nationally for local authority failure and mismanagement.
Newman, Butler and Hall are understood to have attended the meeting, chaired by the council’s new leader, Hamida Ali. But none of them made significant contributions to the discussions, nor did any offer any apologies to their colleagues for the state in which they have left the borough.
But one Labour councillor who was at the meeting has expressed a view which appears to be gaining traction among rank-and-file party members. “With the issuing of the official S114 notice it’s time for real responsibility,” they told a journalist, on condition of anonymity.
“It’s time to clean things up.
“It’s time for the truth to be told.
“People in Croydon have enough to deal with: covid, an economic crisis, caring for their families. To move on, to get this sort, we must start with the truth.”
Those sentiments were echoed this morning by Jamie Audsley, the Labour councillor for Bensham Manor and never one of Newman’s favoured colleagues. Audsley tweeted, “It’s time for truth, citizens deserve it, [Labour Party] members deserve it, our borough’s future deserves it. Let’s clean-up to revive.”
There remain concerns that Ali, a rising star in Newman’s council cabinet as well as a Woodside ward colleague of the ex-leader and Scott, has been too close to the discredited administration that created the financial crisis the borough now finds itself in.
Ali has certainly managed to duck all questions from party colleagues about what she did to question and scrutinise some of the dodgier decisions pushed through by Newman and Butler – such as the £30million borrowed without proper discussion by the council to buy the already struggling Croydon Park Hotel, or another wedge of £30million, borrowed by the council just four months ago on Butler’s say-so, in order to buy from Brick by Brick 180 flats that the loss-making house-builders, through their own incompetence, could not sell as shared-ownership homes.
Under their new leader, Jason Perry, Croydon’s Conservatives have been generating some damning social media messaging, including one which uses clips of Ali having voted for, or even proposed, the Labour council’s budgets repeatedly during her time as a Newman loyalist on the council. Left unsaid has been the fact that under previous leader Tim Pollard, Croydon’s Tory councillors also voted in favour of the council budgets in 2019 and 2020.
The next local elections are just 18 months away (covid permitting), with a dwindlingly small prospect of Labour maintaining control of the Town Hall. Not least of the problems facing the local party, with its omnishambles record to campaign on, will be getting activists to turn out to leaflet and canvass the borough’s residents.
“Can you imagine the abuse we are likely to face if we turn-out and try to suggest that people actually vote for Newman, Butler and these other jokers?” one loyal Labour member said this morning.
The London Labour regional organisation was aware of the mounting issues in Croydon when it intervened behind the scenes to force Newman into his resignation as leader after 15 years at the head of the party in the borough.
But the clusterfuck that Newman and his numpties have left behind – with the S114, a hugely critical Report in the Public Interest, and still-to-come reviews into council-owned companies and from Robert Jenrick’s Housing, Communities and Local Government ministry – seem likely to cost Labour hard-won gains elsewhere, too.
With Jenrick hanging the Labour-run council out to dry (might the MHCLG’s not-so-rapid review have been deliberately delayed to cause problems for Croydon?), the ultra-marginal Croydon Central parliamentary seat which was won from Tory Gavin Barwell in 2017 looks at risk. “If we can’t win marginals like Croydon Central, we can’t win a General Election,” according to one party insider.
Silent throughout the drawn-out death-throes of Newman’s Blairite administration has been Steve Reed OBE. It is all a bit awkward for the Croydon North MP, who from his time as council leader in Lambeth advocated many of the same policies enthusiastically followed in Croydon by his mate Newman.
Reed, of course, is also Labour’s shadow spokesman on local government, which makes his continuing silence on Croydon matters all the more noticeable.
That may be, in part, at least, not just embarrassment but also because he has a unique insight into the events at Croydon Town Hall: managing his office at Westminster is Louise Szpera, who just happens to be the partner of… Tony Newman.
Far-from-silent has been Chris Philp, the unctious Conservative junior minister and MP for Croydon South, who made merry with a serious of television appearances yesterday, and as might be expected, his party colleagues at the Town Hall have also been busy.
“This cannot go on,” Perry tweeted indignantly last night.
Perry offered his opposite number some advice, while channelling his inner Oliver Cromwell. “These Labour [councillors] have bankrupted our borough. Hamida Ali must immediately remove the whip and demand their resignations. They in turn should do the decent thing and GO!”
A Katharine Street source said this afternoon: “Perry might not realise it, but the sooner his advice is taken, the sooner that Labour in Croydon might be able to regroup and start to win back the trust of its members and the voters.”
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
Read more: What is a S114 notice? What will it mean for the council?
Read more: ‘Tony Newman always has been a coward’
Read more: Jenrick orders urgent inquiry into ‘unacceptable’ council
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