WALTER CRONXITE, our political editor, on a local politician who, some might suggest, doth protest too much
A Labour councillor in Croydon has asked party members in the ward he represents whether he should carry on as their elected representative on the cash-strapped council.
The problem for Bensham Manor ward councillor Jamie Audsley is that since he sent out his missive, there’s been the resounding sound of tumbleweed… only one party colleague had actually contacted him to tell him to stay on.
Audsley is one of 37 Labour councillors who in October gave their vote of confidence in the way that the council was being run by the then council leader Tony Newman and the cabinet member for finance, Simon Hall.
Within a matter of a days after that Town Hall vote, both Hall and Newman had resigned, showing that they had no confidence in themselves, just before auditors Grant Thornton published a damning Report In The Public Interest which accused councillors, including Audsley, of “corporate blindness”.
Whether Labour members in the uber-safe Bensham Manor ward do rally round Audsley could ultimately prove academic, as the councillor risks having the party whip removed and potential deselection after he circulated another email which suggests a “clean slate” of 12 potential local election candidates, seven of them for council seats held by sitting Labour councillors.
That email is understood also to be subject to a complaint to the Information Commissioners’ Office because of an allegation that Audsley has used the Croydon Labour database for party members’ email addresses without the individuals’ permission.
As a Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon, “Jamie really ought to know better. He was suspended from the party whip once before, albeit wrongly, on a false charge over encouraging someone to stand for selection as a councillor in a ward already held by Labour.
“This won’t make him any friends in his own party at the Town Hall.”
Another Croydon Labour source suggested that the emails, sent out this week, are part of a personal Audsley campaign to distance himself from the past and present council leadership and position himself for selection to be the party’s candidate for directly-elected mayor.
“It’s conspicuous virtue signalling,” the source said. “It looks all very worthy, but it is also too good to be true.
“No one can remember Jamie speaking out so publicly about the desperate state of the borough’s finances before the council declared itself bankrupt. He was one of those who gave their backing to Newman in a Town Hall vote as recently as October.”
Audsley, at 36, is one of the youngest councillors in Croydon. He has been a councillor since 2014, and represents the same ward as Alison Butler, the former deputy council leader and cabinet member responsible for housing, including Brick by Brick.
Despite having worked together on ward matters for six years, the two councillors are not thought to be close colleagues.
Audsley, an Oxford-educated former schoolteacher, failed to be promoted to the council cabinet under the Newman-Butler regime. “They never trusted anyone who was clearly cleverer than they are, although that doesn’t narrow it down very much,” said one source.
And Audsley was also frustrated in his ambitions for higher political office: a similar emailing campaign to rally support for his selection to be Labour’s candidate for Croydon and Sutton in the (ultimately postponed) 2020 London Assembly elections was thwarted when Newman and his clique connived to exclude him by basing the process on an all-woman shortlist.
This week, in his email to Labour Party members in his ward, Audsley wrote, “Time for me to go? Please tap me on the shoulder!
“Councillor selections will be later this year… please do democratically challenge if you think that’s the right thing, I will really welcome it.” Which is unusually frank and forthcoming by the standards that Labour in Croydon had sunk to during the discredited Newman’s 15 years as group leader at the Town Hall.
It might be a cause for concern for Audsley, however, that a whole day after his email had dropped into email inboxes in the Thornton Heath area, only one party member had bothered to respond.
In a pre-Christmas round-robin email to Labour members across the borough, Audsley had written about “the financial and democratic crisis in Croydon”.
He said then, “There’s huge energy across our borough to tell the truth, take full responsibility and really listen to those who will sadly be most affected.” It was, by Newman-Labour standards, an unusually open way to try to engage with the borough’s voters.
Audsley might have caused bigger problems for himself, though, with his latest campaign email this week, which included 12 potential candidates, a sort of “clean slate” following the scandals of the Labour-run council’s financial collapse.
Under the heading “A year for real Labour leaders, join us”, Audsley listed his dozen potential new brooms, writing, “Real Labour leaders, rooted in and forged from the community are now arising. Their aim? To stand, to speak and to act with their communities. To do the job too many Croydon councillors have forgotten or are unwilling to do – of each being a representative of thousands of people.
“People are demanding to be listened to, heard and want open, honest and accountable leadership that will take real action, that will nurture collective kindness for our town’s future. Would you be willing to support those below to achieve this? Or are you interested in representing your community?”
Inside Croydon asked Audsley whether he had bothered to check his dozen candidates’ individual eligibility to stand in local elections in Croydon: at least one of those on his slate neither lives in the borough nor owns a business based here.
Audsley said, “It will be for the Labour Party to decide who is eligible to stand. I would encourage all citizens who are of age in Croydon to join the Labour Party and put their names forward for selection. It will make for a great revival of party democracy which I feel has been suppressed in recent years.”
He denied that he had done anything deserving of his suspension from the party whip at the Town Hall. “As Inside Croydon has previously reported, I was wrongly suspended by Councillor Oliver Lewis when he was the Chief Whip of the Labour Group.
“There are no rules against encouraging as many Labour members as possible to try and stand for council. In my view Labour needs the best possible candidates for 2022.
“The decisions of 70 councillors have led to our council going bankrupt. My view and motivation is that the fastest and best way for the council to renew is for Labour to have a healthy and respectful competition this year, inviting the widest possible involvement and challenge across Croydon.”
Audsley, who is described as a “centrist” by Labour colleagues, denied that he had declared himself as a potential candidate for selection to run for election as Croydon’s first directly elected mayor. Though that, of course, may change.
- Do your bit to support Inside Croydon’s news-breaking independent local journalism. Sign up today as a supporter. Click here now
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at email@example.com
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and BBC London News
- Inside Croydon: 3million pages views in 2020, viewed by 1.4million unique visitors