REFERENDUM COUNTDOWN: On the eve of polling day, the many shortcomings of a shambolic and expensive campaign waged by Labour to oppose a change to an elected mayor seem about to be exposed.
By STEVEN DOWNES
The same people who helped bankrupt the council have spent more than £100 for every new “follower” that they have managed to attract to a social media group opposing a vote for a directly elected mayor.
Polling stations around the borough open at 7am tomorrow for people to vote on whether the council should switch to a directly elected mayor, or stay with the current “strong leader” model of governance.
Senior figures within the Town Hall’s ruling Labour group have told Inside Croydon that they are expecting to suffer a demoralising reverse.
Croydon Labour has lavished £10,000 of precious campaign funds just on a special social media campaign which was intended to persuade the public that sticking with the same form of governance that helped see the council tip over the financial abyss this time last year is in any way a good idea.
Yet despite splashing the cash, by early evening tonight, on the eve of polling day, Labour’s “No to Croydon Mayor” official Facebook page had accumulated a grand total of (cue drum roll)… 95 followers.
It could well be a harbinger of things to come tomorrow.
An entirely unscientific Inside Croydon poll, which we have been running over the past month asking our readers how they intend to vote on October 7, has attracted nearly 1,000 responses, with only 17 per cent of them backing Labour’s stubborn position against change.
82.8 per cent of respondents say that they will back a change to the directly elected mayor.
Senior sources in Croydon Labour say that they expect the vote to go 2-to-1 against them.
Both sides expect turnout to be low (it’s October, and the weather forecast ain’t good), with perhaps fewer than one-fifth of Croydon’s eligible but disinterested voters taking part in what is, after all, a contest with all the appeal of two bald blokes fighting over a comb.
Labour’s anti-mayor stance was doomed even before the local party’s executive rigged the result of a member consultation in order to deliver the result that suited their unapologetic attitude to their timein office.
Interventions from Croydon North/Lambeth South MP Steve Reed OBE have not helped, as they turned the referendum into a vote on the cash-strapped Labour council’s record – hardly a good idea when they have made 500 local authority staff redundant since 2020 and are now planning another £38million-worth of service cuts next year.
And Labour’s local leadership has been having problems with numbers of another kind, too – in the sense that they’ve been making them up.
While Reed has been conjuring up imaginary costs of having an elected mayor of £2.7million per year, his Croydon Central colleague, Sarah Jones MP, has been writing to supporters telling them that the “fat cat” mayor will cost… oh, £1million per year.
They can’t both be right.
In fact, they might both be wrong.
As the four London boroughs who already have an elected mayor (all of them Labour) demonstrate, the cost of such an office are largely the same as the cost of staffing the council leader’s office, while replacing the leader’s current £47,664 allowances with a mayor’s salary of less than £80,000.
There’s a kind of local government pay scale that this fits in to, not that that has bothered whoever it is who has been drafted in to run the “No to Croydon Mayor” Faceboook page, who this week has been telling their small band of followers that a mayor will be paid £120,000.
“The problem is that hardly any of this is true,” Andy Bagnall says of the figures being bandied about on the Facebook page.
Bagnall is a former Labour councillor and past chair of the Croydon South Constituency Labour Party, the CLP which has backed the campaign to switch to the directly elected mayor from the start.
“A mayor doesn’t have to cost a penny more than the current system,” Bagnall said.
“It is the bankruptcy of the town that has led to, so far, £45million of cuts and the £38million of further cuts planned to be unveiled straight after the referendum.
“As a lifelong Labour supporter, I feel deeply saddened that thousands of vulnerable people are about to have their Council Tax benefit cut just as the cost of living balloons.”
Much of the Reed-driven anti-mayor campaign has focused on the threat to services of having a mayor, while his councillor colleagues have been secretly crunching the numbers that could see local benefits cut here in Croydon as a result of the Labour council’s past mismanagement.
Even the anarchists of South Norwood, not usually known for their support of any kind of elected institution, have smelt a rat as far as the Labour campaign is concerned.
Jane Nicholl, from the South Norwood Tourist Board, described the anti-mayor leaflet as being “extremely fantastical piece of the re-writing of the truth”.
Nicholl says, “Labour shrug their shoulders and re-invent themselves as the opposition, claiming to have bravely saved the council from ‘near bankruptcy’. Hang about… Croydon Council is bankrupt.”
Nicholl takes issue with the Labour leafleting cult, whose material claims they are protecting local services such as libraries. “What, like South Norwood Library which Labour has been trying to close? The Blairite Labour lot have gone a tad peculiar.
“For sheer gall, this leaflet is hard to beat. The reverse of every sentence is the truth, every sentence a load of mendacious rubbish.”
For Gerry Meredith-Smith, the chair of DEMOC, the campaign for a directly elected mayor which collected the 20,000 signatures on the petition that triggered the referendum, Labour’s opposition to the proposition has been a failure because, “Yet again, they ignore local residents.”
Meredith-Smith said, “The truth is that it was 20,000 residents who signed a petition that forced the referendum. That’s 20,000 residents who want a mayor who will listen to the people across the borough.
“This is a residents’ campaign about the way our town is run – it isn’t about party politics.
“They have also falsely claimed that existing mayors are ‘fat cats’ who will cost more money and lead to service cuts. I doubt Sadiq Khan or Andy Burnham or the four Labour mayors of other London boroughs would agree.
“A mayoral system does not have to cost a single penny more than the current arrangements. Any further service cuts coming down the track are a direct result of the town being bankrupted by the actions of those already in power, something that the lack of scrutiny and accountability in the current system helped to cause.
“A mayor would provide the vision and leadership to help address the big issues we face – regenerating the decaying town centre, reducing deprivation on our estates, and balancing the need for new homes with a sensitive approach to development.”
We should know by this time on Friday whether DEMOC and its supporters haave done their sums properly and got a vote for change.
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: How DEMOC’s 10 reasons to have a mayor score just 2.5pts
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