CROYDON IN CRISIS: Splits in the local Labour Party are deepening as recriminations mount over Tony Newman’s 15 years of misrule.
By STEVEN DOWNES
Hamida Ali, the one-time political protégé of discredited council leader Tony Newman, yesterday refused to offer her support to him for any future public role.
Councillor Ali, the leader of Croydon Council who succeeded Newman in that role, was being questioned by MPs in a Parliamentary select committee that spent two hours picking over the bones of the council’s financial collapse.
Andrew Lewer is a member of the committee and the Conservative MP for Northampton South, so has some direct experience of local authorities that go bust and are forced to issue a Section 114 notice: before Croydon issued its S114 in November 2020, Tory-run Northamptonshire County Council in 2018 had been the first authority in 20 years to effectively declare itself bankrupt.
Ali had already been nearly two hours’ worth of grilling by the MPs when Lewer was called upon to take his turn in the round of questioning.
Ali had been a cabinet member for nearly five years under Newman, Lewer observed. Why had she failed to notice, or do anything, about the impending disaster that was facing the council?
Ali spoke about her last 18 months as a cabinet member, when she said she had become “increasingly concerned about the budget-setting” and had been “more and more frustrated” by a lack of detailed and reliable information, both from her cabinet colleagues and from council officials, with many of the more important discussions happening in non-public meetings of the cabinet and Labour group.
Lewer sprang his trap. “Given that frustration and not having the full picture, that you’ve described very well, would I be right in assuming that the previous leader and cabinet lead finance wouldn’t have your support for future public office?” Lewer said.
It is, in essence, a pretty binary question.
But Ali refused to voice her support for Newman or Simon Hall, the former cabinet member for finance, ever holding public office again.
Noting that both Newman and Hall had stood down from their council positions and had resigned as councillors, Ali said, “I’m conscious they’re not here to reply for themselves, so I’ll leave it at that.”
Newman and Hall have engaged lawyers (“leading Counsel’s” [sic] according to Newman) over references to them in the council’s Penn Report, which was commissioned to look into possible wrong-doing over the past four years at the Town Hall. That report led to a complaint to the Labour Party nationally and their suspension from the party.
The knowledge of that legal dispute probably restricted Ali in her comments in response to Lewer’s question. Parliamentary privilege only goes so far…
The internecine fighting within Croydon Labour appears to be ramping up, too, as Ali effectively turned her back on two of her erstwhile closest colleagues at the council.
On Wednesday night, as the scandal over the state of some council flats in South Norwood was played out across national television, Hall broke cover to tweet in response to a public plea from Fransoy Hewitt, the young mother featured in the ITV News reports.
“Can councillors [Patsy Cummings] and [Clive Fraser] please help this victim of [Hamida Ali’s] administration?” Hall tweeted, somewhat disingenuously. Hewitt and her neighbours’ complaints had begun before Ali had become leader, and while Alison Butler, another member of Newman and Hall’s clique, was still in charge of housing in the borough.
Hall quickly deleted his ill-considered bit of grandstanding, though not before Inside Croydon’s loyal reader screengrabbed it.
Ali and her Labour colleagues have five ward by-elections to contest on May 6, and as a consequence of the bitter recriminations following 15 years of Newman’s leadership of the local party, may struggle to find activists prepared to canvass or leaflet on their behalf.
- The full two-hour Parliamentary select committee evidence session is available to watch online. Click here
Read more: Newman and Hall resign as councillors claiming a ‘witchhunt’
Read more: ‘Why do you appear not to know the answer to anything?’
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
Read more: ‘Is it because the council don’t care? Where is their humanity?’
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