Anyone who watches the full horror of the 17-minute unedited interview conducted by ITV News’s Dan Hewitt with Hamida Ali last night will quickly realise why Croydon was so reluctant to put up the council leader to talk about the appalling conditions that its tenants were living under in a South Norwood block.
ITV News producers had approached Croydon Council last Friday with what they had discovered in the council flats on Regina Road – “the worst conditions I’ve ever seen”, according to the head of a homelessness charity. Five days later, Councillor Ali finally appeared for interview via the internet.
With the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, being asked questions about housing in Croydon during his national press conference yesterday, it was the council’s bungling and neglect of its residents that led the News At Ten bulletin, for a second night running. And this on the one-year anniversary of the start of the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
The Hamida Ali interview featured only briefly, as the television reporter provided an update on the plight of the two council tenants featured in the original news item aired 24 hours before, Fransoy Hewitt and Leroy McNally. Councillor Ali ought to be grateful that her part on the programme was so curtailed; the unedited interview has since been released, and shows someone flailing way out of their depth.
Ali’s previous brush with serious media – her interview with Vanessa Feltz six months ago when she had just taken over the bankrupt borough as leader of the council – was rightly described as a car crash interview.
By comparison, the councillor’s encounter with ITV’s Hewitt was a full-on motorway pile-up.
There was a Donald Rumsfeld-like quality to Hamida Ali’s interview: she didn’t know what she didn’t know, and that’s completely unacceptable, but she’s determined to find out what she didn’t know, and that will be done immediately by an independently led inquiry. Tomorrow.
Hewitt crystalised the issues when he asked, “You’re the council leader. Why do you appear not to know the answer to anything?”
Ali kept returning to a handful of key phrases, possibly as rehearsed, and perhaps intended to make her appear as righteously outraged by Croydon Council’s callous neglect as the next person.
Yet as the interview unwinds, so did Councillor Ali’s lines.
“You’re absolutely right.”
“It’s completely unacceptable.”
“That is one of the most fundamental questions…”.
“Why on Earth could this have happened?”
“I can’t answer that question tonight. That’s not acceptable.”
When Ali was asked whether she had visited the block of flats, her answer was telling. “I haven’t as yet. I am very keen to get to see for myself,” was the best she could offer.
Asked by the reporter if she had met with or spoken to Fransoy Hewitt, Ali was forced to admit that she had not. “You don’t need an inquiry to pick up a phone, councillor,” said the reporter, the disdain clear in his voice.
Ali did try to make clear that her council’s disastrous financial position had nothing to do with the terrible state of disrepair of its residential properties (as if that, in any way, makes things any better), since the housing revenue fund is ringfenced from other council spending.
And on one matter, Ali made a statement with which most people could agree. “It should not have taken your report to bring this to our attention for us to act. I don’t accept this situation.”
The reporter asked whether the council leader, or others in her council, had “considered their position”. Ali replied, “We will need to look at ourselves, and our contractors.”
Councillor Ali has never replied to Inside Croydon’s repeated requests for an interview.
Tomorrow, the council leader is due to appear before a parliamentary select committee to discuss the borough’s finances.
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