Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on the latest massive set-back for the council’s crumbling administration
In what will be a withering blow for the Labour Party in Croydon, the Government has this afternoon ordered Hamida Ali, the leader of the council, to make arrangements to hold a referendum for a directly-elected mayor as soon as May 6.
“I would expect Croydon to take this opportunity to hold the referendum on May 6, if the petition is valid, with the cost savings that will have for your authority,” Luke Hall, the Tory junior minister for local government, wrote to Ali in a letter seen by Inside Croydon.
“This will be a real kick in the teeth for Labour,” a Katharine Street source said.
“Tomorrow, the MHCLG is sending in Tony McArdle and their Improvement Board because they don’t trust the council to run Croydon properly. Now, with this letter, they have basically signalled the end of the Labour administration later this year.”
Ali’s mentor and predecessor as leader of the council, the discredited Tony Newman, had tried to ignore a 21,000-signature petition handed in last September that was meant to trigger a referendum over how the council should be governed – with most of those signing wanting a directly-elected mayor. Newman hid behind coronavirus as an excuse for not validating the petition.
Just last week, Ali bowed to public opinion and agreed to stage a referendum, but with the intention of doing so in October, on the assumption that if the borough’s residents voted in favour of having a directly-elected mayor, that position would then have to be voted on within six months – in May 2022, at the time of the next scheduled borough elections.
Hall’s letter today has effectively fast-tracked that process. By ordering Croydon to have its referendum in the spring, it means that the borough will possibly then have to go to the polls again six months later to vote for its first directly elected mayor.
And while it is very possible that a Labour mayoral candidate could win such a borough-wide vote, it would nonetheless mark effectively the end of the Labour administration under Newman and more recently Ali that has been in charge of the Town Hall since 2014 and which saw the council go broke last year.
Hall’s letter could also catch the borough’s other political groups on the back-foot: neither Labour nor Conservatives have selected a candidate to stand as Croydon mayor. Even DEMOC, the campaign which collected the thousands of signatures in favour of at least having the referendum, is understood to have liked the options presented by the October date, in order to give themselves time to organise their own campaign in a period after the covid lockdown.
According to Newman henchman Simon Hall last year, a standalone referendum would cost the borough £1million to stage. And while running the referendum alongside the London elections on May 6 will save that cash, and also boost the turnout for the referendum, there remains the possibility of incurring a cost when it comes to hold an election for mayor.
In his letter to Councillor Ali, Hall said, “I am writing to let you know that I have today laid the Local Government and Police and Crime Commissioner (Coronavirus) (Postponement of Elections and Referendums) (England and Wales) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2021before Parliament. These Regulations relax the restrictions on governance referendum petitions that were imposed by the Local Government and Police and Crime Commissioner (Coronavirus) (Postponement of Elections and Referendums) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 (the ‘2020 regulations’).
“Specifically,the Regulations enable a governance petition presented to a council between 16 March 2020 and 8 February 2021 to be treated as having been presented on 9 February 2021.
“This means that your authority will be able to validate, by 12 February, the petition which it has received and issue the required notice, allowing the referendum to be held on 6 May 2021, alongside the elections to the Greater London Authority and London Mayor also being held on that date.
“This will avoid the referendum being held as a free-standing poll at a later date with the additional costs that would arise for your council and with the risk of a low turnout.
“I would expect Croydon to take this opportunity to hold the referendum on the 6 May, if the petition is valid, with the cost savings that will have for your authority.”
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