CROYDON IN CRISIS: After overseeing the failure of the borough’s children’s services, setting up the loss-making Brick by Brick, presiding over slum-like conditions in council flats and bankrupting the borough, some of Tony Newman’s closest colleagues are claiming ‘victory’ over a members’ ballot in which few bothered to vote. By STEVEN DOWNES
The Croydon Labour Party’s headlong charge towards political oblivion continued over the weekend, as the remnants of Tony Newman’s discredited Town Hall regime claimed victory in a fixed internal party poll over the future governance of the borough.
Yet it was the most hollow of victories, claimed after barely 600 of the party’s 4,000 members and affiliates in the borough bothered to take part in the Labour group’s obviously stitched-up online poll.
A borough-wide referendum has been arranged for October 7 over whether the council should continue to be run with the “strong leader” model, under which a council leader is elected by just a couple of dozen councillors (who all then jump on the gravy train and collect their generously enhanced allowances), or whether there should be a switch to a mayor, elected by all electors within Croydon.
The referendum has been called after 21,000 people signed a petition demanding change from the system under which Newman bankrupted the borough. Directly elected mayors have already adopted by Labour boroughs such as Lewisham, Hackney and Newham.
Newman, until he was forced to resign last year after 15 years as leader, fiercely opposed any such change which might undermine his position, such as the prospect of having to seek support from the voters from the whole borough.
Despite everything that has happened in the nine months since their leader’s resignation and his suspension from the Labour Party, the Newman numpties who retain strong influence in the Labour group of councillors at the Town Hall – including former deputies Alison Butler and Stuart Collins, Paul Scott and discredited scrutiny chair Sean Fitzsimons – have been doing their utmost to maintain the status quo.
And to get endorsement for their self-interest, they came up with a convoluted ballot of local members which offered options which can’t be voted on in the October referendum and two separate votes – offering just enough confusion and conflation that they would be able to claim success whatever the eventual outcome.
Local Labour MPs barely issued a peep of concern or criticism of the council throughout the scandals of the failed children’s services department, the massive losses of Brick by Brick, the bungled refurb of the Fairfield Halls or the scandal of the slum-like conditions of flats in Regina Road. But ahead of the “wrong leader” vote, Newman’s old mates Steve Reed OBE and Sarah Jones wrote to party members urging them to oppose change.
And so, when they eventually, if somewhat slowly, produced the results last night – having collected the votes via the dodgy Anonyvoter system – the likes of Reed, Jones, Collins and Fitzsimons were quick to claim a victory, even though, in one of their votes, more Labour members voted in favour of a directly elected mayor than for the “wrong” leader.
Reed’s superquick tweet of just part of the result saw him dubbed “Steve Deceive” on social media.
In fact, the overwhelming winner in the ballot was utter apathy, with a turnout among members and activists as bad as the pathetic number who voted for the deposit-losing Labour candidate at last week’s Chesham and Amersham parliamentary by-election disaster.
Even taking the larger turnout figure, only 614 out of Croydon’s 4,000 Labour members and union activists – 14 per cent – bothered to go to the trouble to respond to the councillors’ emailed online ballot – a number which may demonstrate the deepening disillusionment with the people seen as responsible for the council’s financial collapse and other failings.
The “lack of self-awareness” with which the council has been criticised by government officials was evident yet again when, in an email to members sent out on a Sunday evening from Hamida Ali, Newman’s successor as council leader, the Labour group claimed that “54 per cent of members/affiliated members prefer the leader and cabinet model”.
That headline figure is based on the votes of just 327 members – doubtless including most of Labour’s 40 councillors and their two MPs.
The Labour group’s lack of confidence in the outcome of the ballot was such that beforehand they declared that it would be “indicative” only – meaning if it went against their views, they would ignore it anyway.
But by putting up two separate votes, and including the option of a committee system which cannot be considered on the referendum ballots in October, Newman’s numpties went to great lengths to ensure that they could take whatever they needed from the outcome.
In the end, what they got was Labour members voting both to support and to oppose having a directly-elected mayor.
And when more members voted in favour of a directly-elected mayor in the first vote, Reed, Fitzsimons and clueless Collins simply ignored that outcome and added the votes for a committee system to those in favour of the “wrong leader” model to claim success.
Such a contradictory couple of results will surely only add to the continuing misery and mess that Labour in Croydon has created for itself.
If, as seems inevitable, October’s borough-wide referendum gets a majority in favour of a mayor, there will then be a mayoral election held in May 2022. Croydon’s Labour councillors appear keen to spend the next three months campaigning to oppose the mayoral system, and then on October 8 do a 180-degree turn and pick a candidate to stand for Croydon Mayor to try to retain control of the Town Hall. And they think that the electorate won’t notice the inherent hypocrisy, self-serving cant and, indeed, utter stupidity of that position.
Few current Labour councillors dared to voice any support for the mayoral system when Newman was still in charge, for fear of being cast into the local political wilderness.
One of them, Jamie Audsley – who is transparently hoping that he might be Labour’s choice of mayoral candidate – said on Sunday night, “Croydon Labour has had an important democratic discussion about how our town is run – it’s good to see the preferred model of members is to change to a Directly Elected Mayor. It’s great to see so much support for a Directly Elected Mayor. If it’s this popular with members, imagine how popular this will be with voters in October!”
In her email to members, Hamida Ali chose to focus on the poll result that favoured her position of being selected by her councillor colleagues.
Yet the outcome, and the profoundly low turnout, can be taken as showing a massive lack of confidence in Ali and the Labour councillors who bankrupted the council.
The Labour group of councillors also have the continuing issue that one of the borough’s three Constituency Labour Parties – Croydon South – has twice voted in favour of a change of council governance system, and is unlikely to alter its position any time soon.
And while many questioned the drafting of the ballot options, there remain strong reservations about the voting system that was used. Anonyvoter is run by Maddie Henson, a Labour councillor and devoted Newman numpty.
MP Reed’s Twitter announcement on Sunday night suggested to some that it might be possible that he some sort of inside information about the outcome of the mainly electronic ballot. “Croydon Labour members have voted in our councillors’ consultation following strong votes against by Croydon North and Croydon Central Labour parties.” How else could he know how different CLPs had voted?
There are also serious questions about why it took 18 hours after the voting was closed for the result to be released.
And, inevitably, there was the usual bitter nastiness from former Labour Party staffer, Blairite Martin Angus, who dismissed the winning 215 votes for a democratically elected mayor as “377 against, 215 for Jamie!”
Fitzsimons accused the DEMOC campaign of being run by “a few wealthy resident associations”. Fitzsimons (who Newman had placed on £42,000 per year council-funded allowances as chair of non-scrutiny) had been given the job of presenting supposedly balanced briefings about the choices to Labour members. Though that members appear to see through Fitzsimons’ poorly-drafted PowerPoint.
Katharine Street sources suggest that the Labour poll was such a foregone conclusion for Ali, Fitzsimons and Collins that they have already written their material for the anti-DEMOC campaign.
According to Ali’s email, the Labour group will hold a special meeting on Saturday, when they will consider the non-binding result of the “indicative” ballot, and then go ahead and do what they always wanted to do in the first place.
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