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.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
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.
“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.”
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].
“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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