CROYDON IN CRISIS: Rejected council election candidate makes wide-ranging allegations over fixed selections and racism in the local party.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
There is growing disquiet among grassroots Labour members in Croydon as the process to select candidates for next May’s local elections has now blocked applications for at least half-a-dozen candidates, the latest being a university lecturer and black and minority ethnic activist.
Following an interview with a three-person panel, Dr Tesfa Mehari was told that his application has been rejected because of his support for an “anti-council” campaign to save South Norwood Library.
As Inside Croydon has reported previously, among those party members who have not got through the panelling stage of the process are Jamie Audsley, who has been a councillor for Bensham Manor ward since 2014, and Ranil Perera, who works in financial regulation.
Perera’s rejection now makes Labour appear particularly absurd because, earlier this year, when the party was selecting candidates for the four by-elections that were held in May, he was deemed then to be an acceptable candidate.
But the Labour leadership at the Town Hall – including many of “Newman’s numpties”, who personally benefited from generous allowances allocated by the discredited former leader, Tony Newman, as his mismanagement bankrupted the council – has issued a diktat that determines to campaign for keeping the current system ahead of the borough-wide governance referendum to be held in seven weeks’ time, on October 7.
The block on Mehari appears to be on different grounds, and certainly not because he is deemed to be too “left-wing” for the Blairites who control the Labour Party in Croydon. Indeed, Mehari has previously been chair of the Croydon North Constituency Labour Party, the powerbase of Progress MP Steve Reed OBE.
Party insiders suggest that Mehari’s rejection at this stage reflects how Reed – who is, after all, Labour leader Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet member for local government – is imposing increasingly tight control over the party locally and the failed Labour council.
Nor is it the first time that Mehari has been rejected as a potential candidate. Mehari has applied to the Labour Party to stand for the council on at least three previous occasions, and never got on the ballot paper.
In 2018, when he was passed over as a candidate in South Norwood ward in favour of “Thirsty” Clive Fraser (a former “strategic planning” team leader at Lambeth Council), Mehari lodged a formal complaint with allegations of racism, bullying, abuse of power and defamation. As is common within the Labour Party, nothing ever became of the complaint.
This time around, on receiving his rejection note from the LCF – the Local Campaign Forum – Mehari distributed a note to party colleagues.
“My application to serve my community as councillor has been rejected unfairly,” he wrote, “reason given is my campaigning to Save South Norwood Library, which they described as ‘anti-council’.”
Mehari listed his track record in local Labour politics. “As LCF representative in 2019, I successfully campaigned against the unfair removal of Jose Joseph during the scandalous by-election in Fairfield.”
This was the incident, exposed by Inside Croydon, where friends of Caragh Skipper, including one working for the Labour Party, put her name forward as the candidate even though she had lost the selection process to a BAME local businessman. Skipper ultimately won the by-election in November 2019 and has been a councillor since.
Mehari makes shocking further allegations in relation to the fixed selection.
“The three councillors who led the replacement of Jose by Caragh were Tony Newman, Jane Avis and Clive Fraser. As a revenge, the network of Labour Establishment got mobilised and removed me from the South Norwood by-election in March 2021 and installed Louis Carserides as councillor of South Norwood.”
Carserides was indeed selected to contest the South Norwood by-election last May. Carserides also just happens to be a parliamentary aide employed by Steve Reed.
Mehari’s note continues: “The second reason for blocking me is due to my campaign for ‘Balancing of Ethnicity and Gender Priorities in the Councillor Candidate Selection Process of Croydon North CLP’. The campaign was led by 18 people (nine women and nine men) who drafted a motion in June that highlighted the following defects in our Croydon Labour Party:
“Zero representation of Local Black Men in the council.
“Zero representation of Local Black Men in the leadership of Croydon North CLP.
“Zero representation of Local Black Men in the LCF that is now in charge of deciding Labour Party candidates for the May 2022 council elections.
“Our current LCF is chaired by Joel [Bodmer], who I think was CLP chair in Lambeth till recently.” Before becoming MP for Croydon North, Reed had been the leader of Lambeth Council.
“The person selected by LCF to chair my interview panel is a councillor from Lambeth,” Mehari writes. “It is this councillor who described my campaign to save my local library as ‘anti-council’…
“We are in party politics because we want to campaign for a better society. Campaigning for my local library is a legitimate action for a member and resident of South Norwood. It is definitely not anti-council.”
Mehari said that he would be appealing against the decision to reject his application.
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