As Croydon Tories begin the process to select their candidate to stand for the borough’s first directly-elected mayor next May, KEN LEE, our Town Hall correspondent, reports on the local Labour Party’s latest effort to stifle debate
While Croydon’s Conservatives set about trying to make history, their rivals in the local Labour Party continue to try to rewrite history to their own liking.
It is one month to the day until Croydon stages a referendum over the question of whether the council should continue to be run under the system that helped bankrupt the borough, or to switch to a directly elected mayor.
The Tories appear so confident of the referendum outcome that they are already conducting their selection process to choose a candidate to become Croydon’s first directly elected mayor next May. The deadline for the first stage of applications is next Monday, September 13.
They may not be wrong. By this afternoon, an entirely unscientific poll on Inside Croydon shows those likely to vote for a switch to a system characterised as #ABitLessShit stood at an overwhelming 86 per cent of those that could be bothered to vote.
Of course, the obvious snag with the Tory selection process is that they are recruiting from a shallow pool of talent. The current leader of the opposition at the Town Hall, Jason Perry, could be among the possible runners, alongside the likes of Simon Hoar (Who’s he? Ed).
Meanwhile, it seems that the political reputation of Gavin Barwell’s former gobby factotum, Mario Creatura, has yet to recover from the twin blows of his recruiting the dodgy Spac Nation cult church into the local party and his lacklustre showing as parliamentary candidate in the 2019 General Election.
Croydon Labour officials, however, remain in denial over all that has happened at the council in the past couple of years, as they maintain the same obstinate opposition towards the mayoral proposition as that which was taken by Tony Newman, the discredited former council leader who did so much to bankrupt the borough.
With local elections campaigns in eight months’ time still to be funded, considerable resources are nonetheless being thrown at what many within the party already consider to be a lost cause. A Labour London Region officer is now working on the anti-mayor campaign for three days a week for the coming month (it will all have to be paid and accounted for), while another is helping on the local party’s usually somnambulant social media.
Meanwhile, volunteer party officers have been weighing in to ensure that there continues to be nothing that is too preposterous for Croydon Labour.
It was officials in Croydon Central’s Constituency Labour Party who during the period now known as “Peak Corbyn” banned the use of the word “Blairite” at their meetings, lest it might offend the Blairites (of which there are many, it seems, and all easily offended).
Now, their colleagues in Croydon South are trying to outdo them in ludicrousness by insisting that a pro-mayor leaflet which carries an endorsement from their CLP’s former secretary should be withdrawn, because the official in question lost her position months after the leaflet was drafted and printed.
Croydon South CLP was notorious for being at loggerheads with Newman and his cabal when they held power. Its members have twice voted in favour of having a directly elected mayor running the borough.
But at the end of August, recently elected CLP chair Lynda Graham wrote to Gerry Meredith-Smith, the chair of the pro-Mayor DEMOC group, asking him to stop delivering campaign leaflets.
“There is inaccurate information on the back page,” Graham wrote, clearly shocked that such a thing could happen.
“Stella Nabukeera is no longer the secretary of Croydon South Labour Party,” Graham advised.
“I appreciate that the leaflets were probably printed before the end of July. However, I would be grateful if you could assure me that no more will be delivered with inaccurate information.”
The facts are, Nabukeera was the secretary of the CLP until July. The leaflets were printed in March.
When she was in office, Nabukeera said, “I hope the referendum later this year decides to have a mayor so Croydon can have clear leadership – we need a high-profile figurehead.”
Another quote on the DEMOC leaflet comes from Jamie Audsley, who said, “This referendum will be about the best system for our town – not about whether you support Labour or Conservatives. As a Labour councillor, I support changing the system to have a directly elected mayor!”
Since then, Audsley’s application to be selected to stand again as a Labour candidate at next May’s local elections has been blocked by local party officials.
In an internal survey of Labour members in Croydon, they voted by a narrow margin to make a directly-elected mayor their first option. The council’s leadership – most of whom endured years of “patronage” and between them hundreds of thousands of pounds of allowances under “strong leader” Newman – chose to ignore their fellow Labour members.
All of Labour’s 41 councillors have since been banned from speaking publicly about the case for a directly-elected mayor. The Labour leadership is only allowing its councillors to speak in support of maintaining the same system under which they bankrupted the borough.
Meredith-Smith and the DEMOC campaigners, made up mostly of residents’ associations, have a new leaflet ready to be thrust through the letter-boxes of Croydon in the next few weeks, before referendum day on October 7.
But it is clear that he sees through Graham’s email as the latest attempt by Croydon Labour to block democratic debate. “I guess anybody who dares to think for themselves on this key issue of improving democracy and accountability at the council and who speaks out is not welcome in Labour in Croydon,” Meredith-Smith told Inside Croydon.
“That is a characteristic of weak leaders and I am sad to see it continuing under the new leader and her deputy.
“It is what led us to the current catastrophe. Strong leaders welcome challenge, scrutiny and differing opinions.”
Read more: How DEMOC’s 10 reasons to have a mayor score just 2.5pts
Read more: The fix is in: Labour leaders endorse status quo on 14% turnout
Read more: Lecturer blocked by Labour for ‘anti-council’ library campaign
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This is a spectacular own goal. It’s not hard to image loyal Labour voters being turned right off by this inept move – even to the extent of lending their vote to the Tories.
Mayor Jason Perry. Those three words might just be enough to rouse the opposition needed to stop the zombie-like shuffle towards a Croydon Tory mayoralty.
Everything will depend on the calibre of the candidates, and we remain unconvinced on that point (see above and iC passim).
But it is entirely possible that, having spent the next four weeks opposing a directly elected mayor (and remember – that’s a campaign decision of the Labour councillors’ group, not of Croydon Labour members or all CLP officials), Labour does a 180-degree handbrake turn, chooses a charismatic and switched-on candidate, and they win the mayoral vote next May… while the Conservatives win 36-40 out of the 70 councillor seats available.
Now wouldn’t that be interesting?
A charismatic and switched-on candidate you say. Anyone we know?
Exactly. Well said Inside Croydon – “everything will depend on the calibre of the candidates”.
Can’t we just elect who we want for Mayor and not just confine ourselves to the political dullards?
I’ll start and suggest a couple of nominations, both charismatic and switched on:
Michael Ebenezer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. (aka ‘Stormzy’)
Stormzy for Mayor? Excellent idea.
Popular, articulate, left of centre, guaranteed to get the youth vote out and just right for ensuring that Croydon Borough of Culture 2023 is really something worthwhile.