Referendum offers us a chance for consensus in Croydon

Led By Donkeys: perhaps inspired by the subversive public space messaging group, someone decided to make use of a blank advertising hoarding on the Purley Way this week. The control freaks among Croydon’s Labour group of councillors are investigating who was responsible…

REFERENDUM COUNTDOWN: Last week, Labour’s Leila Ben-Hassel offered her reasons for opposing a change in the way the council is governed. With the borough-wide referendum being staged tomorrow, resident – and voter – IAN KIERANS questions the councillor’s arguments

Councillor Leila Ben-Hassel, in her article “Council governance is poor due to lack of competent cultures“, claimed that the 21,000 people who signed the petition which triggered a referendum on the change to a directly elected mayor may have been misled by Tories from the south of Croydon. The campaigners may have used over-development and planning issues as a hook.

Perhaps they did, but they did so no more than every other political campaign run by the parties, including Labour.

Most of the people that I know, from across all of Croydon and who signed that petition, were not misled. In fact, many signed it as Labour supporters, because directly elected mayors are a Labour Party policy.

Where Croydon residents really were misled, and very badly misled, was over the state of the council’s finances and the actions of Tony Newman, the former leader of the council.

Happy anniversary: Tony Newman, the discredited council leader, finally resigned on Oct 10 last year. Did he mislead the Croydon public?

It is 12  months ago this week since Newman and his finance chief, Simon Hall, resigned their positions.

Under Newman and Hall, the people of Croydon were misled into believing that contractors Axis were providing a good service in maintaining and repairing council property and council homes, like the flats on Regina Road in South Norwood that have seen Croydon become the subject of a national scandal.

We have also been misled into thinking that Veolia, the council’s waste contractors, are capable of providing a satisfactory and reliable bins collection service, a belief that an increasing number of us are disabused of weekly.

In the last few years, existing residents have been subjected to rampant over-development, often in wards that are already overcrowded and with scarce facilities. Were we really misled by something that we see with our own eyes every day?

Yes, tomorrow’s vote has been something the Tories have wanted. Maybe it’s their hope to win back control of the council. After all, under their “strong leader”, Mike Fisher, they made their own £1billion debt contribution to the borough’s financial mess.

Perhaps an election for mayor next May will be won by a Labour candidate? Perhaps, bearing in mind what has gone on, it could be won by an independent, along the lines of Martin Bell’s anti-sleaze campaign in Cheshire in the late 1990s? That would be no bad thing, as we really need to have some openness, honesty and fairness towards our residents that has been lacking for some time.

Trusted: could someone emerge as the ‘Martin Bell of Croydon’?

Perhaps there is an honest Labour figure, untainted by what has occurred that would like to stand and bring us out of this mess?

What Councillor Ben-Hassel and the borough’s other politicians should do is stop trying to make it sound as if they are conducting their mayoral referendum campaign in the interests of the people of Croydon. They are not.

They wish to preserve their powerbase. This may be a necessity in first-past-the-post politics for national government, but it is not necessary today in local administration.

Personally, I find that most in the Croydon Labour group are very good people doing a difficult job in trying circumstances, and they get a lot of flak for things that are usually beyond their control.

And as everyone else does, they also make mistakes. It is surely not much different in other parties.

I had the pleasure of meeting the late MP Gwyneth Dunwoody on some transport issues a few times and her attitude to cross-party working was a model in getting things done and an example I have strived to follow.

Perhaps this is a time for consensus in Croydon and getting things done?

But to do this and move forward, there has to be trust. Trust between residents and the council. Trust between councillors and their leaders, trust between business, including property developers, and the council.

Most importantly, there needs to be a trust that when things go wrong, they will not be covered up or hidden or difficult decisions avoided.

Perhaps, more than anything else, that is what is currently missing: trust.

That the governance of the council has been poor is an understatement. It is still poor. Councillor Ben-Hassel was right to say that this is mostly down to the lack of competent corporate management and poor political and organisational culture of both the council and the strong leader regimes we have had.

An elected mayor can bring reconciliation and togetherness, working with all parties, based on competence and experience. This could really be an opportunity for a collaborative form of decision-making, but only if councillors and their parties wish to work for the people that they are supposed to represent,  and not just in the interest of their party.

I did find strange Councillor Ben-Hassel’s comment that, “Overly focusing on the systems also distracts from other processes which are important aspects of local democracy.’’

Perhaps a bit more focus on systems, focus on controls, and on risks, and on business planning, and indeed on the governance of the council might have prevented or at least reduced considerably the debt run up by Fisher and Newman, and might have allowed for the council to have enough reserves to ride out this pandemic or other disasters.

Andy Burnham: Labour Mayor in Manchester. Neither a dictator nor a fat cat

Party politics appears to be just that in Croydon. Appointing those you trust and have supported you is age-old and a recognised method, but really, let’s have some individuals that actually can do a good job.

For all the doubts raised about how a mayoral system won’t work, I think Ken Livingstone, I think Andy Burnham and I think Sadiq Khan. Though when I think back to Boris Johnson’s time as London Mayor, I realise that there has to be an exception to the rule.

Two terms for a mayor, elected next May, to clean up the borough and get it back on its feet would be a tough task, and would take 10 years – by which time we could consider a shift back to the old committee system. It took the two parties 10 years to dump the borough in the sewer, with a lot of help from central government, so it might just take that long to fix the issues.

Like all politicians, Councillor Ben Hassel, you may make a few mistakes, but I get the feeling you would do so honestly and work to rectify them where it was possible. That is a good way to go forward.

But can I suggest less anti-Tory rhetoric? They do have their faults perhaps, but many are caring and try to do well also.

Read more: Reed goes video ga-ga as Labour campaign gets desperate
Read more: Town Hall leadership hatched plan to break election budget
Read more: Reed group fined for slow declaration of £800,000 donations

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5 Responses to Referendum offers us a chance for consensus in Croydon

  1. Not every borough or city has had a happy experience with elected mayors… Tower Hamlets for one.

    Some have problems very different to ours. Rome is going through the same process. Wild boar running amok in the streets and dead fish floating in the Tiber have become key electoral issues in the eternal city as the battle to pick a new mayor shifts into high gear.

    We have plenty of dead fish and closets full of skeletons too. But the experience has been beneficial for most cities that have elected their own managers. Apart from organisational matters, the benefits seem to come from the arrival of a clear vision for the town or city, the possibility of swifter action and the growth of a sense of community.

  2. Anita Smith says:

    what an excellent, well balanced and good summing up of the state of politics in Croydon. It was so good in fact I wonder if you would to be a candidate next May!

  3. C Green says:

    I was thinking the same….

  4. Labour have 41 councillors in the council chamber, the Tories 29. That outcome is based on the 2018 elections, when Wikipedia tells us Labour got 44.5% of the votes cast, the Conservatives 40.1%, with less than 5000 votes separating the two.

    It therefore seems a bit unfair that Labour ended up with 59% of the seats and 100% of the power.

    It was a similar story in 2010, when Wikipedia records that the Tories got 37% of the vote and 53% of the seats with a margin of just less than 11,000 votes.

    A Mayor of Croydon, elected by the whole borough, will therefore be more representative of all the voters than the current set up.

    The other advantage is that it turns the whole borough into a marginal seat.

    In the London Assembly elections this year, 42,935 Croydon electors gave their vote to the Conservative London-wide list, 39,480 to Labour. For Mayor of London, Shaun Bailey won 59,711 first and second preference votes, Sadiq Khan polled 56,443.

    With such a fine line between the two main parties, there should be less chance of us ending up with a cocky arsehole that would give us another Wadgate or Brick by Brick.

    Of course, we deserve a better voting system. Sadly, at their party conference, Labour turned down the opportunity to support proportional representation, while the Tories are determined to remove any remaining vestiges of it. Nobody is suggesting anything like the citizens’ initiatives that so many other democracies enjoy.

    Until then, we should take the lesser of two evils, and vote for a bit less shit, as some would have it.

  5. S MacArthur says:

    You are correct, “An elected mayor can bring reconciliation and togetherness, working with all parties, based on competence and experience. This could really be an opportunity for a collaborative form of decision-making, but only if councillors and their parties wish to work for the people that they are supposed to represent, and not just in the interest of their party.”

    Sadly, this is jut a stunt to take control in the interests of one party and nothing to do with togetherness.

    There shoul be no party politics in local government. The party of candidates should be taken off ballot papers . It should be about the quality of candidates not their party

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