Leader’s office forced Labour mayors to pull out of meeting

Officials working for Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, backed by his party’s two Croydon MPs, pressured a pair of directly-elected mayors from other London boroughs to pull out of a public meeting held in Croydon last night.

Freedom of speech: ‘Sir’ Keith Starmer

“We were lent on heavily,” according to Phil Glanville, the Labour mayor in Hackney, who accused LOTO – the Leader of the Opposition’s office – and Steve Reed OBE and Sarah Jones of applying pressure on him and Lewisham mayor Damien Egan to pull out of an event organised by their own party.

Directly elected mayors were a policy introduced at the start of this century by the Labour government under Tony Blair. It remains an agreed Labour Party national policy. Labour holds a number of significant mayoral positions around the country, including Andy Burnham in Manchester and Sadiq Khan in London.

Last night’s event was a “virtual community hall” meeting for party members and supporters to launch the Croydon Labour for a Mayor campaign.

Glanville and Egan were due to give talks about their own local experiences on such potentially seditious topics as “the mayoral model” and “mayors listening to communities”.

Blocked: Hackney mayor Phil Glanville

Jamie Audsley, a councillor for Bensham Manor ward who organised the event, began proceedings by reading a note from Glanville.

“We have been lent on heavily by people in LOTO, Steve Reed MP and Sarah Jones MP,” it said.

“Both of us don’t feel that this is the right approach and we have resisted, but they have left us with no alternative and after discussions we have to withdraw.”

Several participants among the 40-strong audience expressed their disquiet at what one described as “an attack on freedom of speech”. Another called it “undemocratic”.

One member said, “Disappointing about our invited guests being forbidden to attend tonight. It does not help the spirit of openness and debate in the party.”

Croydon councillor Andrew Pelling, also described the move by the MPs and Starmer’s office as “disappointing”.

He told the meeting, “Trying to close down debate says something about the culture of the Labour Party.”

Blocked: Lewisham mayor Damien Egan

Audsley – who has had a series of run-ins with Newman and his cabal over the last six years – was clearly very unhappy with the way in which his work to launch the local mayoral campaign had been undermined by people supposedly in his own party. “We should embrace free speech,” Audsley said.

Starmer’s leadership has been in crisis since losing the Hartlepool parliamentary by-election a fortnight ago.

Starmer and his officials have several strong connections to the Blairites in Croydon: his choice of party general secretary, David Evans, a former senior aide to Blair, established a consultancy business in the borough which benefited significantly from a series of generous council contracts when Tony Newman was Town Hall leader. Alison Butler, Newman’s former deputy leader, is the mother of one of Evans’s children.

Newman was suspended by the Labour Party earlier this year and forced to quit as a councillor because of his part in the financial collapse of the council. He had strongly opposed any suggestion of an alternative system of governance which would have stripped him of his powers of patronage – using council money through allowances to buy the loyalty of fellow councillors.

In essence, what the referendum on October 7 will offer the voters of Croydon is a choice between allowing just 40 Labour councillors to select the council leader in a behind-closed-doors meeting, or instead allowing every elector a vote over who should be the borough’s executive mayor.

Audsley and the other organisers behind last night’s meeting were fortunate, at least, that another Labour Party mayoral candidate was not influenced to withdraw from the event. Jessie Joe Jacobs was the losing Labour candidate in the Tees Valley mayoral election tw weeks ago.

Despite Labour’s parliamentary losses in thee north of England, the party continues to do well in mayoral areas

She spoke to the well-attended meeting about Tory attacks on Labour in the north of England, and the kind of achievements mayors like Burnham have been able to deliver.

Without directly referring to the absence from the meeting of her two Labour colleagues, Jacobs said, “Top-down isn’t working.”

Judged on recent borough-wide voting, a good Labour candidate for Croydon mayor should win any election if one is held in May 2022. At the December 2019 General Election, 82,265 Croydon residents voted for Labour, 63,982 for the Tories.

Yet while the Newman-dominated Croydon Labour has remained curmudgeonly about the prospect of a directly-elected mayor, local Tories have tended to embrace the idea, even providing significant funding towards the largely residents’ association-led DEMOC, the Democratically Elected Mayor for Croydon campaign.

Some Labour members at last night’s meeting raised the spectre of the Conservatives winning control of Croydon Council “by the back door”, by putting up a credible and charismatic candidate and campaigning effectively, while Labour drags its heels. This is what has been referred to at Inside Croydon Towers for the past couple of years as “the Barwell Conundrum”.

Even Audsley, who has ambitions to be Labour’s mayoral candidate in Croydon, conceded that such a prospect is “a clear risk”.

“I don’t think we can box ourselves in,” Audsley said, “and if the referendum passes in October, we need to embrace it.”

Silent: Sarah Jones put pressure on Labour mayors to withdraw from a Labour Party meeting

Jacob made a strong case for why Labour in Croydon needs to use any mayoral election as a means for change. “It’s absolutely vital that you use that platform to show true Labour values,” she said.

Meanwhile, at the House of Commons last night, Reed delivered a lecture to his fellow MPs about how new Tory planning laws would give developers “the right to bulldoze and concrete over neighbourhoods almost at will while local people will be gagged from having their say”.

Reed failed to comment about the gagging of party colleagues and elected mayors. Nor did  he appraise the House about planning policy in the borough he represents, where developers and the Blairites on the council have been concreting over neighbourhoods for the past seven years.

And Reed and Jones have remained completely silent on how the Labour council in the borough that they represent, which until recently was under the vice-like grip of their chums Newman and Butler, has been found to be in serious breach of social housing regulations. Which seems odd: as well as supposedly representing the people of Croydon North and Central, Jones is a former Labour spokesperson on housing, while Reed is Starmer’s shadow minister for local government.

Read more: MP Reed promoted to Labour’s front bench in Starmer reshuffle
Read more: Newman returns… to vote down motion in support of Corbyn
Read more: Big Bother in Sutton, as no-confidence vote in Evans is blocked
Read more: Croydon Labour meeting bans the use of the word ‘Blairite’

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This entry was posted in 2021 Mayor Referendum, 2022 council elections, Alison Butler, Andrew Pelling, Community associations, David Evans, Jamie Audsley, Sarah Jones MP, Steve Reed MP, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Leader’s office forced Labour mayors to pull out of meeting

  1. What does Steve (most ineffective MP in the UK) Reed have to contribute to this.

    This is the opposition local governments minister who stood by while Croydon Council financially imploded. Not a murmur out of him.

    Why was that? – because his mate, Tony Newman had caused (and he happened to employ Tony Newman’s wife as his PA).

    Tony Newman did everything he could (legally and otherwise I suspect) to stop the move to have an elected Mayor in Croydon and now Steve (most ineffective MP in the UK) Reed is trying to do the same.

    Jog on, Steve – we can all see through you.

  2. Hans Mien says:

    My late father in law would turn in his grave with this Tony Hadley AKA Starmer muppet! a complete Tory impostor. The labour party has been hijacked BIG TIME! Joker. He is doing sweet F* all for the Fire and re hire.

  3. The only good reason for anyone in Croydon to join Labour right now is to have the satisfaction of resigning and binning their membership card.

  4. If each party puts forward one candidate that they approve as Mayor, and the contest happens at the same time as the Council is elected, I’m unsure why the outcome would be significantly different to simply having a party leader, unless an opposition candidate was elected. That might be an interesting scenario, albeit possibly leading to conflict and chaos!

    • Different constituencies, Adrian.

      Under the current local council, ward-by-ward 70 councillor elections, there are wards in the north which will never change from having Labour councillors, and there are wards in the south which will only ever have Conservative councillors. There are probably only four or five wards across the whole borough where voting might actually change anything.

      Based on this month’s local by-elections, Croydon could be heading for no overall control in May next year, with 35 seats each for Labour and Conservative.

      But with borough-wide voting for a Mayor, the balance is different. There is a Labour majority on paper, but as Croydon Central’s marginal parliamentary seat has shown, this can shift. Bankrupt councils might sway voters, for instance.

      And you have overlooked something else. It might be that, given the particular circumstances in Croydon, the mayoral contest might not be a two-horse race, and just as when Ken Livingston was denied the candidacy by Blairite Labour for the first London Mayoral election in 2000, a strong independent candidate might emerge who appeals to the residents’ association and to voters in the north and the south.

      Now that would be an “interesting scenario”.

      • My analysis of the ward level data from the recent Mayor of London and London Assembly elections has it slightly different.

        With the current council set up, on a ward basis, Labour can never lose and the Tories never win control of Croydon council. That New Addington North, South Norwood and Woodside were retained by Labour in the recent by-elections despite their failures that caused them to be held demonstrates that unpalatable truth.

        However, looking at the percentage of first and second preference votes cast for Sadiq Khan and Shaun Bailey, and for the parties in the pan-London ballot, on a borough-wide basis the Tories are clearly ahead in the vote for a Mayor of Croydon.

        That’s why Croydon Conservatives are so keen for a yes vote in the referendum this autumn, and why Croydon Labour are so frightened they refuse to allow anyone to even discuss it.

        A party that permits the likes of Butler and Scott to hang on to their seats instead of forcing them out deserves to lose power. It’s only a matter of time now.

  5. B says:

    Directly elected mayor will be good for Croydon,taking control and being supportive and subjective.

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