The ‘Starmerisation’ of the Labour Party last week saw supporters of Croydon’s disgraced former council leader rally to his cause.
By WALTER CRONXITE, political editor
Friends and supporters of Tony Newman staged a takeover of his local Labour Party last week.
The carefully co-ordinated move is a clear signal that, despite all the public claims of reform and change at the council that their former leader helped to bankrupt, Newman’s fellow Blairites are determined to cling on to what power they can.
In the latest episode in the Starmarisation of the Labour Party, members of Momentum, the group set up in 2017 to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and who helped to win the parliamentary seat for Sarah Jones, were roundly defeated within the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party.
Newman and his former cabinet member for finance, Simon Hall, were banned from taking part in the annual meeting of the CLP last Thursday, after they were suspended by the national Labour Party, pending an investigation into their conduct during the period that led to the council’s financial collapse.
But their influence was there for all to see throughout the evening’s procedures, including the important election of the CLP’s officials for the coming year.
Multiple candidates from the right were nominated either by Woodside ward or by Rob Elliott. Woodside is the ward which Newman is supposed to represent (though suspended by the national party, he has neither had the Labour whip withdrawn nor resigned his council seat), while Elliott is Hall’s partner.
The Woodside connection is particularly awkward for Newman’s replacement as council leader, Hamida Ali: she, too, is a councillor for Woodside ward, and therefore should have been well aware of the branch’s support for so many pro-Newman candidates.
Some observers suggest that Jones, too, was involved in what amounted to a clear-out of Corbynistas from the local party, a move which she may yet rue when it comes to the next General Election.
Maddie Henson, the current (ceremonial) Mayor of Croydon, and former councillor Carole Bonner were among those who helped to fill the virtual meeting with members who CLP regulars claim have rarely, if ever, been seen before.
There were also at least 10 Labour councillors “present”, including Alison Butler and Paul Scott, key members of Newman’s “inner circle” which was so strongly criticised for its “controlling” approach to running the council.
Scott’s camera for the CLP meeting was never switched on – probably because he was supposed to be attending a council planning meeting at the same time. But by registering as being “present” at the virtual CLP meeting, it meant Scott was able to provide another vote for the Newman-friendly slate of candidates.
Another name of note among the attendees was that of “Stephen Benn”, someone so devoted to socialist principles that when his father, Tony Benn, died, he hastily over-turned the former Labour Party government minister’s lifetime struggle to shed his hereditary peerage by reactivating the title Viscount Stansgate for himself.
Bonner, a long-time Newman fan, was elected as CLP chair by 54 votes to 49 over incumbent Rachel Krengel. As one observer put it, “I think there was a reaction to Krenkel’s rather draining attitude to running meetings. Rachel seemed to take pride in saying how she hadn’t prepared a speech. It just looked like she did not value the role.”
A previously little-seen black union official, Ava Payne, won the vote to be the CLP’s BAME officer, beating Surrey Street stall-holder Jose Joseph by 60-38, while another candidate of the left, Eleni Loukopoulou, lost to Yvonne Green – a union officer who has worked closely with Newman – as the CLP’s vice-chair.
But perhaps the big crunch vote came for places on the Local Campaign Forum, Labour’s borough-wide committee which determines spending on elections and oversees the selection of candidates – something which will be high on its agenda over the next few months ahead of the 2022 Town Hall elections.
The LCF will also determine the selection process for Labour’s candidate to become Croydon’s first elected mayor.
According to the meeting agenda, the runners and riders were: “Local Campaign Forum delegates x 4 – Carole Bonner (nominated by Woodside, Shirley North, Robert Elliott, New Addington), Nuala O’Neill (nominated by Woodside, Shirley North, Addiscombe East, New Addington), Yvonne Green (nominated by David White, Woodside, Shirley North, Eleni Loukopoulou, New Addington), Robert Elliott (nominated by Woodside, Shirley North, Addiscombe East, New Addington), Paul Scott (nominated by Addiscombe East, Robert Elliott), Joyce Reid (nominated by David White, Addiscombe East, Eleni Loukopoulou), Eleni Loukopoulou (nominated by David White, Addiscombe West, Eleni Loukopoulou), David White (nominated by David White, Eleni Loukopoulou).”
Under the robust leadership of Joyce Reid, in the past couple of years the LCF had insisted on an investigation into the dodgy goings-on over fixing of the selection of the Fairfield ward by-election candidate in 2019 – a shabby episode which reflected very badly on Newman and his clique.
When the first round of voting was held (to ensure at least 50 per cent of those elected to the LCF were women), Reid came out bottom of the poll, as Bonner and Nuala O’Neill were installed.
In the second round of voting, Green – who ran the selection process for Newman before the 2018 local elections – and veteran David White were voted on to the LCF. It makes White the only left-winger to be voted into any Croydon Central position. Scott’s attempt to get on the LCF failed, possibly in part because he had the deeply dull Bonner read out his speech for him (Scott himself was busy at the planning committee, voting as ever to concrete over more of the borough).
“Even with a meeting packed with Blairites and right-wingers, Scott couldn’t get elected,” said one source.
“Perhaps there is some hope after all,” the source said, not sounding entirely convinced.
Other than White, the only other “success” for the left on the night was Julie Setchfield, who continues as the CLP secretary, a position for which there were no other candidates.
As one attendee at the meeting said, “It all has the look of Newman’s old guard circling the wagons, a sort of pre-emptive strike to make sure Tony and Simon are able to be selected again.
“The harm the party will do to itself locally if they allow that to happen will be immense.
“There is a growing public clamour for those responsible – Newman and Hall, Butler and Scott – to be held responsible, to resign as councillors or be sacked by their party.
“Yet this lot just can’t see it. The council’s auditors accused Newman and his cabal of ‘corporate blindness’ over the collapse of the council’s finances, but it seems that there’s plenty more in the local party, starting with Sarah Jones, prepared to turn a blind eye to all that’s gone on.”
One factor which played into the Blairite’s hands was the absence from the meeting of many of the left. According to sources with Croydon Central CLP, “A lot of left-wingers are leaving the party, in protest at the antics of Starmer and David Evans, such as the silencing of debate in the party.”
Sir Keir Starmer was elected as Labour Party leader a year ago, with the claim that he would make Labour more “electable”. In Croydon Central, the conduct of Starmer’s supporters look set to make Labour even less electable.
Read more: Tawdry affair of Fairfield candidate coup and the double agent
Read more: Newman and Hall are ‘administratively suspended’ by Labour
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
Read more: Officials to investigate possible wrong-doing at council
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