WALTER CRONXITE reports on how a slip of the tongue exposed the charade of Labour councillors’ ‘consultation’. Plus another supporter of Steve Reed is placed in charge of local candidate selections
The charade that is Croydon Labour’s “consultation” with its members over the issue of whether the borough should have a directly elected mayor was illustrated perfectly at the end of a poorly attended indoctrination session on Saturday.
“This has been an experiment in getting the group’s message across… errr… I mean consulting members,” said Joy Prince, who chaired the event.
Prince, a councillor in Waddon ward, is the chair of the Labour group of councillors.
Between them, the majority of Croydon’s 41 Labour councillors have determined that the best way of making a bad situation worse is to back the existing failed system of governance under a “strong leader”. That’s the structure that allowed children’s services to fail an Ofsted inspection, lent £200million to a housing company that has delivered precious few houses and repaid nothing of its loans, caused a national scandal over the slum conditions of its existing council homes, and bankrupted the borough.
Croydon Labour is spending the next fortnight pretending to consult the local party’s membership, after which they will hold a vote of members and then, regardless of the outcome, campaign until October to maintain the status quo, just as their discredited former leader, Tony Newman, wanted.
The Labour group has placed Sean Fitzsimons, one of “Tony’s cronies” who profited most under the previous regime, to head up its bogus consultation, as they seek the party members’ support for their own self-interested opposition to a directly elected mayor.
Fitzsimon’s shoddy little PowerPoint presentation distributed last week showed that the members’ vote is only “indicative”. Councillors will make the final decision on what party line to take. The online poll of party members which is due to end on June 20.
A borough-wide referendum is to be held on October 7 when Croydon residents will be asked to vote for the current system or to change to a directly elected mayor. The referendum has been called after a campaign run by residents’ associations and backed by Labour members in Croydon South collected 21,000 signatures.
On Saturday, in the latest display of growing disenchantment with the party’s leadership, only 30 of Croydon Labour’s 3,500 members bothered to log-in to the lunchtime anti-mayor presentation from Fitzsimons.
Inside Croydon understands that the attendance might have been a little bigger had it not been for “technical issues” encountered by some potential attendees in signing in to the online meeting.
Even Fitzsimons was unable to access the meeting himself until more than 20minutes after the appointed start time.
Fewer than half of Labour’s councillors bothered to attend.
The poor attendance was in stark contrast to the 145 people who logged-in to the recent update meeting of the residents’ association run by DEMOC, the campaign for a directly elected mayor.
“It didn’t need Joy’s slip at the end to show that the whole thing is a thinly veiled pretence that the meeting was genuinely an independent balanced consultation,” according to one disappointed party member.
The best that Fitzsimon and his mates can offer now is the promise that, if the referendum rejects a change to the mayoral system, then Labour would make the necessary changes to the council’s constitution to move back to the more widely favoured committee system.
There are at least three glaring flaws in Fitzsimon’s and the Labour group’s proposition: first, it assumes that Labour will retain control of the Town Hall at the May 2022 local elections; second, it requires a level of trust in Fitzsimons and Tony’s cronies to deliver on any kind of promise; and finally, it overlooks the fact that in 2018, when Fitzsimons, Newman and their cabal had their chance, they dismissed introducing council committees.
The assumption that Labour voters in Croydon will reject a change of system also ignores the outcome of an opinion poll conducted on election day in 2018 – long before the many failings of the Town Hall under “strong leader” Newman were exposed.
Then, a Survation survey showed that Labour voters were 5 to 1 in favour of switching to a directly elected mayor, with 63 per cent in favour and only 12 per cent against. When Tory voters were asked the same question, the figures were 51 per cent in favour to 21 per cent against. Voters aged 18 to 34 were overwhelmingly in favour of having a directly elected mayor, by 64 per cent to 9 per cent.
The Labour councillors’ #MoreOfTheSameOldShit show moves on with an online discussion and Q&A this evening for members of Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party, when Fitzsimons will be joined in opposition to the possibility of change by Stuart Collins, the former council deputy leader under Newman who is best remembered for helping to inflict Binmageddon on the borough.
The session could turn into something of a grudge match, since speaking in favour of the proposition of a directly elected mayor will be Andrew Pelling.
Collins recently called for Pelling’s expulsion from the Labour group, after correspondence stolen in a malicious hack attack had shown the Waddon councillor, and others, had dared to contact Inside Croydon – something which Collins has also done readily over the past decade.
Meanwhile, the steady “Lambethisation” of the Labour in Croydon took another step in a meeting on Friday night, as Progress MP Steve Reed’s grip on the local party grew tighter still.
Joel Bodmer, a former CLP chair in Reed’s old stomping ground of Streatham, was elected as chair of the Local Campaign Forum, the committee which oversees Labour’s election strategy and is supposed to sort out candidate selections – a key function with 70 candidates to sift through in the next few months, ahead of the 2022 local elections.
Reed – who before he became Croydon North’s MP in 2012 had been leader of Lambeth Council – will undoubtedly want to ensure that fellow Blairites are installed in safe Labour wards by the selection process.
Bodmer has lived in Croydon barely a year, and was only elected as an officer in Croydon North CLP a week earlier.
Other LCF appointments agreed on Friday included David White as vice-chair, Nuala O’Neill as secretary and Newman loyalist Carole Bonner as treasurer.
The chaotic conduct of the Croydon North CLP annual meeting, including the use of the controversial Anonyvoter online system, remains of point of contention for some, with the suggestion that officials manage to count more votes than they had registered attendees. Other complaints have been made about the procedures followed at the meeting – which could not be completed in a single session.
Some candidates ended up withdrawing from the election, rather than allow it to drag out for longer still, with others blaming “confusion” of the voting rules among the CLP’s senior officials.
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