NOT-SO-SPECIAL ELECTION SPECIAL: The toxic legacy of Tony Newman and his cabal at the Town Hall could see the ex-leader’s former party wiped out if this week’s by-election results are repeated in 2022.
By WALTER CRONXITE, political editor
If Croydon Conservatives manage to repeat this week’s performance in Labour-held wards at next year’s borough-wide local elections, they could win an extra 15 council seats, and control of the Town Hall for the first time since 2014.
It would also give the Conservatives the kind of majority at the Town Hall that hasn’t been seen in Croydon for 35 years.
The outcome of the five ward by-elections staged in Croydon on Thursday saw no immediate changes for the borough’s political duopoly.
But the results, revealed over the course of an election count staged yesterday at Olympia in west London, will put further pressure on Hamida Ali, the Labour leader of Croydon’s bankrupt council.
The election results should be very concerning for Ali and whoever it is advising her, as they came barely 24 hours after the publication of a damning report over the neglect, incompetence and lack of respect shown by her council to residents over at least a four-year period.
The voting swings to the Conservatives in Labour-held New Addington North, South Norwood and Ali’s own Woodside wards were huge.
One result, in Woodside where Mike Bonello won for Labour, was greeted with a tweet from the new councillor’s church, who said that their congregant would be in their prayers. Woodside happens to be the former ward of Tony Newman, the discredited former leader of the council who was suspended by the Labour Party for his part in Croydon’s financial collapse.
“Mike might need more than prayers if he is to clear up the mess left behind by Newman and his mates,” one party colleague noted cynically.
The voting swings in the Croydon by-elections were notably different from the result in the Croydon and Sutton London Assembly seat, where there was only a modest shift away from Labour.
But even there, as Sutton Tory councillor Neil Garratt beat Patsy Cummings, Labour had its worst London Assembly result in this south London constituency for 13 years.
In the council by-elections, New Addington North saw the biggest swing from Labour to Conservatives – 15.75 per cent compared to 2018’s local election result.
Labour’s Kola Agboola held on by 1,214 votes to 985 Tory backers in a by-election which, it is worth remembering, was called following the resignation of Simon Hall, the former cabinet member for finance who, like Newman, was suspended by the Labour Party.
A 15.75 per cent swing to the Tories, if repeated boroughwide in May 2022, would see them gain 15 seats from Labour and have a crushing majority in the Town Hall chamber of 44 to 26. That would be the largest majority of any party in Croydon Council since 1986, at the peak of Thatcherism.
Wards that would turn blue with that kind of swing could include Addiscombe East, Addiscombe West, New Addington South, Waddon, Fairfield, Norbury Park and perhaps even one seat in Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood.
Gone from the council would be Labour big-hitters such as scrutiny chair Sean Fitzsimons, cabinet members Patricia Hay-Justice, Oliver Lewis and Alisa Flemming, the chair of planning “Thirsty” Chris Clark, plus the chair of the Labour group, Joy Prince and the former Tory MP-turned-Labour councillor, Andrew Pelling.
The reason the result in New Addington North looks quite so bad is that the results from Labour’s two other wards were not much better.
There was a 14.8 per cent swing to the Tories in South Norwood, where local MP Steve Reed OBE had made sure that a member of his Westminster staff, Loizos Carserides, was on the ballot paper for Labour, while in Woodside, Bonello was returned despite the 11.3 per cent swing to the Tories.
Only because Labour had massive leads from 2018 of between 40.6 and 54.8 per cent were they able to avoid electoral meltdown this time round.
There can be little doubt that these results show Croydon voters drifting away from Labour out of disaffection, and some disgust, over Newman and Hall’s conduct when in charge of the cash-strapped council, and the scandal over the state of council homes.
The swings away from Labour were in no way near repeated elsewhere in London in other elections staged on the same day.
“Those are really bad figures,” a senior Croydon Labour official told Inside Croydon today after reviewing the election outcomes.
“Will Croydon Labour members learn the lessons from this week? I fear not.”
But the fickle nature of the electorate also saw swings to Labour in Conservative-held and more prosperous wards, Kenley (3.15 per cent swing to Labour) and Park Hill and Whitgift (2.1 per cent), which were nonetheless held for the Tories by Ola Kolade and Jade Appleton respectively.
Perhaps most remarkable about the swing to Labour in Kenley was that it was achieved with less-than-minimal campaigning.
The full-time, “professional” local organiser for the local Labour Party never even bothered issuing a tweet on their official account to announce who was selected as the candidate, and local officials struggled to find any one willing to volunteer to act as the election agent – another sign of the disaffection over the way the council has been run.
With just a year to go to the 2022 local elections, Labour looks set to lose control of the council.
Leader Hamida Ali and her not-so-new cabinet, which comprises several former favourites of Newman, have little time to retrieve the council’s dire financial situation that they themselves helped to create, and are left with little to offer the electorate.
A Labour activist told Inside Croydon that, “The swing away from Labour in the three safe Labour wards reflects what I was hearing on the doorstep. Voters were sticking with Sadiq Khan for London Mayor but an alarming number have lost confidence in Croydon’s Labour-controlled council and will no longer vote Labour locally.
“Next May’s council elections could be a bloodbath for Croydon Labour – especially with so many brutal spending cuts to council services still to be made in the next 12 months.
“It also raises interesting questions for both Labour and the Tories about what their positions might be for the referendum this autumn on whether Croydon should have a directly elected Mayor.”
Read more: Candidates’ tough task to shake off Labour reputation
Read more: Newman and Hall are ‘administratively suspended’ by Labour
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
Read more: Aide to MP Reed selected for South Norwood by-election
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