Has Labour already lined up its candidate for elected mayor?

CROYDON IN CRISIS: The governance referendum is not until Thursday, but despite officially opposing the proposal to move to a directly elected mayor, some senior Labour figures may have already moved to find a candidate to stand for the office next May.

The candidate: has Donna Murray-Turner, left, already been given the nod by MP Sarah Jones (right)?

Croydon MPs Steve Reed and Sarah Jones lent their considerable influence to Labour spending thousands of pounds of party funds to campaign against having a directly elected mayor to run the council.

But according to senior sources in the local party, the MPs have in the meantime also been sounding out a prominent community activist to be Labour’s candidate if an election for mayor is held next May.

Donna Murray-Turner has never been a councillor nor held any elected office, although she is the chair of Croydon Council’s Safer Neighbourhood Board, a police and local authority liaison body, but one which has had only a patchy record for holding meetings and, evidently, an even poorer record for making any of the borough’s neighbourhoods safer.

But 47-year-old Murray-Turner, from South Norwood, has developed a reputation for being a “colourful” interviewee on local TV and radio. Probably her greatest asset of all is that she had no part to play in the Labour council going bankrupt last year.

Sources say that Murray-Turner has been openly “bragging” about having been given the endorsement of Reed and Jones to be the Labour candidate to become the borough’s first ever elected mayor.

But those who have direct experience of dealing with her, whether through BAME groups or the policing body, have expressed strong reservations about her capabilities.

Prominent: Murray-Turner has put herself front and centre of community activities recently

“She’s not mayoral material,” was the blunt opinion of one.

“Not material for anything. I can’t believe the MPs are doing this.”

There were comments made by others that were so critical as to be unpublishable.

Research into Murray-Turner’s history as a company director also raises some concerns about the manner in which she has organised her business affairs.

But if the two Westminster politicians really have made an approach to Murray-Turner to be Labour’s mayoral candidate – something which is not actually in their gift, although they carry significant influence – it is only likely to add to the mounting anger among party activists over the poor decision-making of their leaders.

A few Labour supporters have been out on the streets of the borough over the past month, at the behest of Reed, delivering leaflets shamelessly featuring images of burning £20 notes, in efforts to encourage people to vote against changing the council’s system of governance, from the so-called “strong leader” model to a directly elected mayor.

The referendum for the directly elected mayor is being held this Thursday, October 7.

The suggestion that the MPs have approached Murray-Turner failed to impress those we approached. “This means they’ve already run up the white flag,” one Town Hall source told Inside Croydon on conditional of anonymity.

“They know they are going to lose the referendum.

“Someone in the local party’s leadership will have to provide a very good explanation over how they decided to piss away nearly 20 grand on a campaign that they could never win.”

Front bench: Donna Murray-Turner, far right, at last Thursday’s launch of Black History Month in Croydon, seated next to current council leader Hamida Ali

Another said, “Reed’s statements ahead of the mayoral referendum turned it into a referendum over the competency – or lack of it – of the Labour council. It’s less than 12 months since we had to declare the council was effectively bankrupt. This has been a move of deliberate self-harm. It’s sheer idiocy.

“For him now to be telling someone that he wants them to run for mayor next May just shows the under-hand, manipulative way he’s trying to control the party across the whole borough.”

And one other senior party figure observed: “It shows a complete lack of faith in the current council leadership, the likes of Hamida Ali, Stuart King and Callton Young, or any current Croydon Labour councillors, if Reed and Sarah think that they have to have a candidate that was not ‘damaged’ by being part of the council that bankrupted the borough.

“Eight months out from the local elections, and their own MPs have now made their councillors all lame ducks.”

Murray-Turner’s activism and role with the Safer Neighbourhoods Board has seen her often appear on local television and radio, offering her opinion over the latest street crime tragedy.

Having worked previously as an immigration officer at Gatwick Airport, Murray-Turner is now described as an independent consultant and strategist on EDI – equality, diversity and inclusion.

She has attempted to establish a company working in the community, though without much success.

In December 2017, she registered a community interest company, Another Night of Sisterhood, which according to Companies House records was to have as its principal business activity, “Community awareness – outreach. Working with families, young people and parents – sessional – group”.

In its three years of existence, Murray-Turner’s company never filed any accounts and in January 2020 it was formally dissolved by Companies House officials for being inactive.

Yet on September 16 this year, Murray-Turner registered a new company, using the same name – Another Night of Sisterhood.

Describing her occupation as “accounts manager”, with the company offices registered at the same South Norwood address provided for the previous iteration of the CIC, this time around the company’s activities have been described thus: “We anticipate working with other community-based organisations including Croydon Council and the family justice Centre [sic].

Failed firm: Companies House records for Murray-Turner’s first attempt at Another Night of Sisterhood

“We especially look forward to working closely with the bme [sic] community, working within the family structure seeking to enhance and support those most deprived socially and economically. Working towards better outcomes within the bme community.”

Elsewhere in the registration document for the new company, Murray-Turner described how Another Night of Sisterhood would benefit the community: “Addressing poor communication traits head on.

“Highlighting the importance of transparency, honesty and above all consistency.” Which would be nice.

Elsewhere, there have also been concerns raised about Murray-Turner’s effectiveness with the council’s Safer Neighbourhood Board.

With Murray-Turner as its chair, the board only met infrequently, and it has failed to hold any formal meetings since November 2019.

At a recent, informal meeting of the Safer Neighbourhood Board that was held online, only 12 people attended.

In an interview for a local news website three years ago, with her CIC then seeking public grants for its activities, Murray-Turner was critical of a £500,000 fund established by London Mayor Sadiq Khan to help voluntary bodies working to reduce knife crime and violence on the streets.

“What Sadiq Khan should set up before he gives away the money is some sort of tool of measurement, a body that will go out and evaluate.

“How are they impacting? Do they meet regularly? What’s their consistency level like?”

All questions which could reasonably be raised about Croydon’s Safer Neighbourhoods Board while Murray-Turner has been chair.

Read more: Reed tells nation what he won’t tell Croydon: trust the people
Read more: Town Hall leadership hatched plan to break election budget
Read more: 21,000 residents petition for elected mayor referendum

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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10 Responses to Has Labour already lined up its candidate for elected mayor?

  1. SImple: if Labour is going to win the Mayoral election they need someone with real charisma, new and powerful ideas, a formidable presence and a reputation for independence and strength….and just to make it difficult…a history of success in something difficult and different. If Ms Murray-Turner can show most of these I would vote for her. If she can’t and she is chosen to be Labour’s candidate then, once again because Local Labour can’t see past its navel and the narrow confines of this parish, the election is a foregone conclusion.

  2. Anita Smith says:

    There is obviously a power struggle going on inside the Labour party in Croydon so you have to ask – is the tail wagging the dog? If Ms Murray-Turner is really bragging about being the mayoral candidate next May, before we have even had the referendum, this hardly shows maturity or good judgement, two qualities definitely needed in a Mayor.

    • Adrian Lee says:

      There was no bragging about this by Donna Murray-Turner at the meeting of the Ethnic Communities Forum of Croydon North Labour Party (on 9th September). I was at the meeting and Donna disclosed approaches she had received because it was the responsible thing to do given the subject that we were discussing, which touched upon issues in the candidate selection processes of the Labour Party and the way in which Black, Asian and other ethnic minority members have concerns about the fairness and integrity of the selection processes.

      As Chair Donna was being very careful to facilitate a meaningful and open debate about a very sensitive subject. She did very well to bring out the issues from the members present. Her disclosure was a very careful and responsible part of that process and was stated very clearly with the expectation that members present would be trusted not to misuse that information in an irresponsible manner.

      • You may not have seen it as bragging, Adrian, or Murray-Turner may not have bragged at the event you attended.

        But that is the opinion of others who have heard her, on occasions that preceded the meeting that you attended.

        Wonder whether the endorsement of Steve Reed is actually worth much these days (although he does like playing his little Machiavellian games with the selection process and party machine)?

        But thank you, again, for providing further confirmation of our exclusive story of how a Labour MP is attempting to stitch up what is supposed to be a democratic process.

  3. Trevor Evans says:

    So I am supposed to give my approval for Directly Elected Mayor on Thursday? I can’t figure from the material on my door-mat what exactly the mayor will do and who’ll be replaced. And it is not clear for me – from the ‘youvegottobestupidnottowantthis’ case presented on the literature what powers the Croydon Mayor will have? I read elsewhere that on most matters decisions are co-decisions with elected councillors and independent power is limited to a few a quasi-judicial areas.

    That junk mail does say the mayor will be paid no more than the current leader of the council (Hamada Ali?). Okay? Will we have just created another cushily paid-post for some political brown-noser?

    All I can forsee is some janissary of the Conservatives such as Barwell or the above mentioned Murray Turner for Labour sucking up ever more bloated allowance and pay. I doubt we’ll see better local government.

  4. Anita Smith says:

    The powers of a mayor will be the same as the powers the Leader has now and are executive powers to run the Council. The Mayor can delegate those powers if they wish. The difference being the Mayor will be chosen by a direct vote of the people not by a few councillors behind closed doors.

    • Lewis White says:

      The Mayoral system seems to exaggerate the extremes of potential for good and bad practices in Local Government.

      At best, mayors who care about the whole population of the borough, knows a lot about every aspect of the council’s work, solve problems, and have the ability to get the best out of the elected councillors and council officers, and achieve good value for money–our money, the money that is paid into local government by the council tax payer and the geeral tax payer, there being no magic money trees in the UK since the heyday of North Sea Oil.

      At worst, those who sideline sectors of the local population, or geographical areas, and even worse, those who regard power as a passport to a playground of nicely-paid stipends for mates and family. “Special advisors” and “cabinet members” don’t have to be elected by the people.

      If the good people of Croydon end up electing a useless mayor, that would be deeply sad. Or worse…… shenanigans in Liverpool with the elected mayor are somewhat different from the administration of Andy Burnham just a few miles to the East in Manchester.

      It is probably a matter of statistics…….
      there are great artists, good artists, OK artists, and mediocre.

      One hopes that croydon won’t end up with the last mayoral equivalent.

      Croydon is but a few miles North of Gatton Park near Redhill. Gatton, where the tiny electorate (varying over time but at lowest, just 2 people), elected two members of parliament from 1450 until 1832. Most of the land was owned by two manorial estates, meaning that the owners (or owner, when one noble personage bought both estates), dominated the elections, and got themselves or friends elected.

      It became known as one of the worst of the “Rotten Boroughs”, and was only abolished in 1832 under the Great Reform Act.

      Croydon electors might take some lessons from the Gatton experience.
      There are many residents who would like to see Croydon abolished too, and spilt into two smaller boroughs.

  5. Nadine Roberts says:

    I would think it highly questionable if neither party had considered a mayoral candidate if that’s the outcome of the referendum. I would be more concerned if they didn’t have a contingency plan. Considering that the Council has become bankrupt under the current leadership surely it makes more sense to have an independent candidate and not someone who has already been part of this failing system. Ms Murray-Turner has demonstrated that she is outspoken and for the community in my eyes these are great qualities for a strong leader which Croydon clearly needs.

  6. Adrian Lee says:

    I was at the croydon North Labour Ethnic Communities Forum meeting where Donna Murray-Turner very conscientiously disclosed some approaches that had been made to her.

    Whoever has been putting scurrilous rumours out that she was bragging about this is a devious arse who has no ability to maintain trust, because this characterisation of “bragging” is nowhere near the measured and responsible way that Donna discussed the matter with members present at the ECF meeting.

    It is not appropriate to conclude so rapidly with this degree of sketchy and inaccurate information that the MPs are stitching up, or able to stitch up, a Mayoral candidacy for a particular person.

    Equally, whatever the MPs choose to do is their own thing for which they hold their own responsibility; and has nothing to do with what a person with her own agency and standing chooses to do.

    One point that was brought up to me yesterday was that the moment a Black woman is anywhere on the horizon with the potential to hold a significant office, almost immediately the rumour mill starts churning and inevitably the rumours will incorporate wildly inaccurate and denigrating content.

    • Thanks for the further confirmation of our report, Adrian.

      Our sources – multiple – deliberately chose the word “bragging”, because that, in their opinion, is exactly what they witnessed. And they witnessed it several weeks before your cosy, all-mates-together Steve Reed fan club gathering.

      And of course, given their public opposition to the mayoral proposition, such approaches from Reed and Sarah Jones does say somewhat more about them and how they regard Labour members and Croydon voters, and their judgement, than it does about the person to be handed any endorsement. Arrogant. Patronising. Anti-democratic. Controlling. Hypocritical – just some of the characteristics that have been suggested.

      And as for the nasty insinuation of the motivation behind this report being anything beyond relating information about the running of the borough to the people affected – the residents – you ought to realise that all of our journalism relies on multiple sources, included valued and community-minded individuals from all sections of society who agree with us that judgements of people’s abilities and suitability should always be made on the content of a person’s character.

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