CROYDON IN CRISIS: A local branch of the Labour Party has raised ‘serious concerns’ and suspicions of ‘undue political motives’ after their ‘excellent’ ward councillor Jamie Audsley had his application to stand as a Town Hall election candidate rejected. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Grassroots members in Bensham Manor ward have sent an open letter to MP Steve Reed and London Region Labour HQ in support of their local councillor, Jamie Audsley, after his application to be a party candidate at next May’s Town Hall elections was blocked over his support for a directly elected mayor.
In a covering note to the letter, Peter Durrans, the secretary of the Labour Party’s Bensham Manor branch, states that “the explanation given for rejecting the application by Jamie Audsley is unsound, unjust and, therefore, unacceptable”.
The open letter also suggests that the Local Campaign Forum, which is supposed to oversee a fair process, failed to follow strict party guidelines over the selection procedure for candidates.
The Bensham Manor Labour branch posted a tweet last night, stating that their open letter is “In response to questions about the de-selection of Bensham Manor’s popular Councillor Jamie Audsley, and in light of local news coverage”. By “local news coverage”, they mean Inside Croydon‘s reports.
Sources have told Inside Croydon that driving the move to block Audsley has been Reed, Labour’s front bench spokesperson on local government at Westminster, and Amy Fode, the London Region director. Both have been closely associated in the past with Progress, the Blairite party-within-a-party.
The open letter has been signed by 18 members of the Bensham Manor branch, including the ward’s two other Labour councillors, Alison Butler, the former deputy leader of the council, and Humayun Kabir.
In addition to Fode and Reed, it has also been addressed to the Croydon LCF, which is now chaired by Joel Bodmer, who until recently was a leading figure in the party in Reed’s former home ground of Lambeth.
The letter states:
We, the undersigned members of Bensham Manor Branch Labour Party and sitting councillors for Bensham Manor Ward, hereby register our serious concerns about the process and outcome of the recent LCF assessment team interviews to panel candidates for the 2022 local government elections.
In particular, we consider that the LCF’s decision to reject the application of Jamie Audsley, one of our ward’s sitting councillors, is not justified by the facts of his case.
Cllr Audsley has been diligent and active as one of our three ward councillors for eight years. We are not aware of his being in breach of [Labour Party] rules; he has been supportive of branch activities and active in the community on many local concerns. His record in campaigning for the ward and the party has been excellent.
The LCF secretary did not request a report from the branch secretary on any of our ward’s sitting councillors seeking reselection – only on two new candidates. If it had been requested, the LCF would have had an objective report on the work undertaken in the ward by our councillors.
It is common knowledge among [Labour Party] members, and in Croydon generally, that Cllr Audsley had been campaigning in favour of a directly elected mayor (DEM) for Croydon. Opinion on this issue is divided among [Labour Party] members and electors, and will be decided in the referendum on October 7. We understand that when the Council’s Labour Group issued a whip against campaigning in favour of DEM, Cllr Audsley ceased his campaigning on this.
Apparently, the assessment team interview called into question Cllr Audsley’s honesty because he had not drawn attention to his campaigning in favour of DEM earlier in his interview, although he discussed it when raised. His failure to raise it earlier, it was alleged, raised doubts over the accuracy of all his answers. In our view, that is an unjustified extension argument. It would have been easily refuted if the panel had branch secretary reports on sitting councillors seeking reselection.
Cllr Jamie Audsley has also raised questions which the council’s leadership may have considered unwelcome. This may give rise to suspicion of undue political motives regarding panelling decisions in this, and possibly other cases.
It is surely important for the party’s reputation that there should be no grounds for such suspicion. As individual [Labour Party] members, we consider it essential that the council’s decisions should be carefully scrutinised and information made more transparent.
We strongly believe that, as part of our democratic rights as Labour Party branch members, we should be offered a wide choice of candidates from whom to choose, by secret ballot, our potential ward councillors.
That choice should not be unnecessarily restricted by unjustified panelling decisions.
In the light of the above, we consider the conclusions drawn from the assessment team’s interview of Jamie Audsley to be unsound and the recommendation not to panel him to be unjust and not factually based. We therefore call upon the LCF and London Region to reverse this decision and to add his name to the panel
of candidates for the 2022 local government elections in Croydon.
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