CROYDON COMMENTARY: The council’s political duopoly has failed, so often and so miserably, that the time might have come for the borough’s long-suffering residents to try a different approach to running the Town Hall, says TIM RODGERS, pictured right
It’s impossible to read Inside Croydon and not conclude that something is very wrong with local government in our borough.
The next local elections in May 2022 promise to be a referendum on the performance of Labour, although as the by-elections held on “Super Thursday” earlier this month showed, the old North-South divide of our borough, split between Labour and Tories, shows little sign of changing.
There’s the possibility next May of some of the wards in the middle of the borough flipping, due in part to the collapse in the UKIP/Brexit/Little Englander vote. But it will be a fairly tall order for the Conservatives to reclaim control of Croydon in 2022, even after all that has gone on in the past 12 months.
And to be honest, do we really want this?
Replacing a Labour Party that is failing locally with the Conservative Party that is failing nationally seems to be a pointless exercise.
You’ll recall the Tories’ exit in 2014, what with the #WadGate allowances scandal, the £144million spent on Fisher’s Folly and a financial black hole which (along with a central government squeeze) arguably set the scene for the current woes.
You will also recall in recent years a steady stream of awful senior managers in the council – Elvery, Negrini, Kerswell, Harris-Baker and so forth…
So who is holding these senior council officials to account?
There’s an obvious structural weakness in having a chair of the overview and scrutiny committee from the same party as the administration, but to what extent are the current elected members being truly representative and calling out the council’s paid administrators?
How could children’s services be allowed to fall into such a state that urgent intervention was necessary, with millions of pounds spent over three years to restore Ofsted’s approval?
Has “politics” really worked in Croydon?
The answer, it appears, is for us to kick politics to the curb and for good people to step forward as independent candidates to provide some proper challenge those that work in Bernard Weatherill House.
Because it appears that one other question that hasn’t been asked is, “Why?”
Why is it like this? Why isn’t this working? Why can they get away with this?
I write this as a Labour supporter. I might still be a member, though possibly for not much longer if someone reads this. I’m not sure if Croydon South, where I live, still has a Constituency Labour Party. They’ve not held any meetings of members, virtual or otherwise, for nearly 16 months. It’s pretty pointless down here anyway.
I’ve got 18 years’ experience across five London local authorities, and I’m a regular reader of Rotten Boroughs in Private Eye. I think people can do better than the politicians.
Croydon’s Mayoral Referendum on October 7 promises to offer a new way of doing things. Experience across London boroughs suggests that a directly-elected mayor isn’t always the answer, though. Tower Hamlets saw Lutfur Rahman swept in and bundled out. Jules Pipe got respect at Hackney for a bit. Sir Robin Wales was in at Newham for 16 years before being de-selected by his party.
Can we genuinely say that any of this has been a success?
Increasingly, it seems that people free of a political party, who can be truly representative of their residents, are necessary to scrutinise the council.
There is precedent across London: in Havering there is a strong residents’ presence on the council. Not enough to take control, but enough to deny the Conservatives overall control, and so hold an important “kingmaker” status. This might work here in Croydon – there are residents’ associations already in place that could mobilise and support local candidates.
It’s possible to fully democratise this process, to develop a local manifesto based on local issues and the support they attract. However, the idea of “self-representation” – to argue with the officers because the people that are supposed to do this on our behalf aren’t doing it – is, to me, the most attractive.
There are several barriers. One, of course, is taking on the party machines.
Second will be allegations of a lack of professionalism, but frankly I don’t think passionate amateurs lose out to career politicians in the final analysis.
The third is time. Being a councillor is, or should be, a busy role. Meetings, correspondence, grilling senior managers, all take energy and commitment.
But hopefully there are 70 people across Croydon that will read this and say, “Yes, I could do this.”
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- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named the country’s rottenest borough in 2020 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine – the fourth successive year that Inside Croydon has been the source for such award-winning nominations
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