CROYDON IN CRISIS: Starmer’s front-bench spokesman on local government is accused of trying to exploit the Regina Road council flats scandal to boost the election chances of his Westminster assistant.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Steve Reed OBE, the Progress MP for Croydon North, has been accused of a possible breach of data protection law by passing a vulnerable constituent’s personal details on to a work colleague for them to use as part of an election campaign.
Loizos “Louis” Carserides is the Labour candidate in next week’s South Norwood council by-election. He also just happens to be a member of Reed’s parliamentary staff.
At least one council tenant who has been living in appalling conditions in a block of flats on Regina Road says that having written last year to their MP, Reed, seeking his help, they have recently been contacted by Carserides, apparently in relation to his election campaign.
They accuse Reed of misusing their personal details by passing them on for use without their explicit permission. Such conduct could lead to formal complaints to the Parliamentary standards office and the Information Commissioner.
But worse, according to Regina Road campaigners, is the cynicism with which their members, who have already been so badly failed by their Labour-run council, are now being used by Reed as pawns in a political game to get his staffer Carserides a seat on the council.
The scandal over the neglect and disrepair of the flats in Regina Road, with leaks, mould and potentially deadly electrical faults, has been a massive embarrassment for Reed, who as well as being the MP for the area is also Labour’s shadow spokesman on local government.
The dividing lines between an MP’s legitimate use of constituents’ contact details and political campaigning are blurred, something often exploited by less scrupulous politicians. Within his usual work, it would be expected that an MP would share constituents’ details with staff who might be handling the casework.
But in this case, after hearing nothing from Reed for months on end, the resident has this month received calls to their private phone number from Carserides, whose name will be on South Norwood ballot papers on May 6.
Soon after Carserides was selected as Labour’s candidate, he was been promising to hold meetings with South Norwood residents. The candidate’s tweets are, perhaps inadvertently, an implicit criticism of South Norwood ward’s existing Labour councillors, Clive Fraser and Patsy Cummings – the party’s London Assembly candidate for Croydon and Sutton on May 6.
In truth, most local councillors hold meetings most months for their residents. They are called councillor surgeries. But few have, until now, been able to use an MP’s email account to engage with residents and issue meeting invites, as Carserides appears to have done.
“It seems like Reed’s cosy office set up in Westminster doesn’t just share the tea and coffee,” said one local activist.
Describing Carserides as “Robin to Reed’s Batman”, Jane Nicholl, an independent candidate in the South Norwood by-election, told Inside Croydon, “I’ve been involved with supporting and advocating tenants of the Regina Road flats since the beginning of February.
“One tenant when I first met her told me she’d contacted Steve Reed about the damp in her flat in December 2020. I asked if he had responded and she showed me his reply, dated December 23, where he explained to the resident he had spoken to the council and that they said that she had refused them access to her flat.
“The resident says this was a lie, and that she was desperate to get out of her leaking flat so that she and her toddler could once again be free from the leaks and flooding. Although the conditions in her flat were worsening she was left to get on with it with no support.
“Roll on ITV descending on the flats and exposing their condition, with every South Norwood politician going into denial, claiming that they knew nothing about the dreadful state the flats were in.”
Nicholl says that in the immediate aftermath of the television broadcast, the resident she was helping was moved by the council into temporary accommodation.
On April 14, the resident then received an email apparently from Steve Reed’s MP’s email address, “merrily inviting them to a residents’ meeting he was organising”, according to Nicholl.
“Then, that same afternoon, she got a phone call from Carserides ‘following on from the email he’d sent her’.”
Nicholl says that, if the emailed invite to the meeting was in fact from Carserides, then the council by-election candidate had made no attempt to reveal his true identity.
Nicholl wrote to Reed and Carserides asking how they had got the resident’s email and phone contacts. She has not received a reply.
The following day, Nicholl says, the resident received another phone call, this time from another member of Reed’s Westminster staff, Louise Szpera (the partner of Tony Newman, the discredited former Labour leader of Croydon Council).
This time, the call was to ask her to confirm that Nicholl was actually acting as her advocate.
“I emailed Reed again, asking how this woman had obtained the Regina Road resident’s contact details. No response from any of them, and no apology for harassing the tenant.
“Steve Reed has claimed he didn’t know about the condition of the flats. But there is proof to the contrary to show he was told in the email he replied to in December.
“This very much looks like Reed and Carserides are using the MP’s office to run a council by-election campaign. In that case, Reed surely had an obligation to seek his constituent’s permission to pass on her personal data?”
Nicholl says that Reed and Carserides should be ashamed of their efforts to exploit the abject misery of already vulnerable residents who have already had to endure terrible living conditions for months.
“At best, it is a breach of personal data privacy,” she said. “It’s also a serious breach of a constituent’s trust. But worst of all, it is seriously bad insensitive behaviour towards an already vulnerable woman.”
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