‘Centrist’ Labour MP and councillors turn out for local party meeting to defend Sir Keir Starmer and David Evans, where a debate on freedom of speech was banned. Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, reports
Tony Newman, the discredited and increasingly widely distrusted former leader of the Labour group at the Town Hall which ended up bankrupting Croydon Council, made a rare appearance at a local party meeting last night.
Newman and his sidekick, Simon Hall, formerly the council’s cabinet member for finance who left behind a £1.5billion mountain of debt, both attended the latest meeting of the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party, where up for debate was a motion of no confidence in the party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, and David Evans, the party’s general secretary.
There were two other motions which grassroots Labour members had hoped to discuss, one which called for the Labour whip at Westminster to be restored to former leader Jeremy Corbyn. Both motions were ruled out of order by officials at Labour’s London Region, thought to be acting on behalf of Evans. The second motion to be banned was one which opposed restrictions on freedom of speech.
Members in CLPs all over the country have expressed their anger about Starmer and Evans stopping political debate at party meetings, while they themselves appear on to news media all the time to speak about the same subjects.
The Croydon Central CLP meeting, conducted remotely by Zoom, had an unusually high attendance from Labour councillors. These included Paul Scott, Sean Fitzsimons, Oliver Lewis, Chris Clark, Jerry Fitzpatrick, Jamie Audsley, Stuart Collins, Stephen Mann and Maddie Henson – seven of whom benefited directly from patronage when Newman was in charge.
Hamida Ali, who is a councillor for the same Woodside ward as Newman and Scott and who replaced her mentor as council leader last month, also attended the meeting in a non-voting capacity (although she represents a ward in Croydon Central, Ali lives in an area of true-blue Croydon South).
Sarah Jones, the MP for Croydon Central and a member of Starmer’s shadow team at Westminster, also attended last night’s meeting.
She spoke and voted against the motion. Having narrowly failing to win the seat from the Tories in 2015, in 2017, after winning Croydon Central buoyed on a wave of pro-Corbyn Momentum support, Jones admitted that she could not have done so without the popularity of the then Labour leader.
Evans, now in charge of the day-to-day running of the Labour Party nationally, has been a key figure in Croydon politics for the past decade or more. Evans is known to have worked very closely with Newman and his former deputy leader, Alison Butler.
After helping Tony Blair win two General Elections, in the early years of this century Evans established a consultancy in Croydon, The Campaign Company, which from 2014, after Labour won control of Croydon Town Hall, received contracts from the council and the council-owned house-builders, Brick by Brick, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
But in just a few months since Starmer oversaw Evans’s appointment to the party’s top job, the General Secretary has managed to antagonise huge numbers of Labour members.
According to one member at last night’s Croydon Central meeting, “The conspicuously high turnout of councillors was definitely a concerted move. I can’t remember the last time Newman even bothered to attend a CLP meeting.
“Also there were quite a lot of faces we haven’t seen before, no doubt encouraged to come and vote against the motion.”
Croydon Central CLP’s no-confidence motion in Starmer and Evans was defeated, 49-39 (with a handful of abstentions). “I think the vote was an encouraging result, particularly in view of the organised opposition by councillors and other Labour Establishment figures,” said a member who attended the meeting.
“I’m also hearing of lots of other protests up and down the country. Party members want unity but will not tolerate a respected former Leader being denied the right to be a Labour MP, or the silencing of discussion of this and a raft of other issues.”
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
Read more: ‘Tony Newman always has been a coward’
Read more: Newman won’t say sorry, even to colleagues
Read more: Council staff ‘are angry, upset and want answers’
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