WALTER CRONXITE, our political editor, on the high drop-out rate among Croydon’s Labour councillors, bruised and deflated after nearly eight years in charge at the Town Hall
Paul Scott and Alison Butler, the husband and wife duo who made up half of Tony Newman’s “Gang of Four”, and who ruled over the Labour group and the council with a rod of iron for more than a decade, are among nine councillors from the ruling group at the Town Hall who are not seeking reselection to stand at next May’s local elections.
Together with two sitting councillors who have not survived their party’s internal selection process and the three long-standing councillors who quit earlier this year, that makes more than one-third of the 41 Labour councillors elected since 2018 who won’t be on the ballot papers at the Town Hall elections in seven months’ time.
And the casualty rate could yet be higher still, once the votes are all counted on the morning of May 6, after electors have their say over the administration that bankrupted the borough.
While there has been speculation previously over who will, and who won’t, seek reselection for the Labour benches, the latest roll call of drop-outs is based on the finalised application forms submitted to party officials.
Other Newman numpties who have decided that they don’t want to face the electorate again next spring, when they risk being given the kind of message that even Inside Croydon would find unacceptable to publish on a family-read website, are Toni Letts, who is standing down after 36 years on the council, and Louisa Woodley, who somehow hung on to cabinet-level jobs throughout Newman’s reign of terror.
Scott, a close mate of Newman, has been a councillor for Woodside ward since 2002. Extraordinarily, while chair of the planning committee from 2014 and then cabinet member for planning and design issues until 2020, he was allowed to go for six years with a special dispensation that meant that he never had to declare any conflicts of interest at council meetings – despite his day job as a director of a firm of architects well-known in the London building trade.
Butler had been a councillor from 2002 to 2006, and then for Bensham Manor ward since 2007.
Butler was seen by Katharine Street regulars as the real power behind the throne, dictating to Newman what directions to take. A former constituency aide to Croydon North MP Malcolm Wicks, Butler’s own parliamentary ambitions were thwarted when she lost the Croydon Central selection in 2014 to Sarah Jones, as some party members took a rare opportunity to settle old scores.
After Labour won control of the Town Hall in 2014, as well as deputy leader of the council, Butler was also cabinet member for housing, and as a consequence was at the centre of three of the massive scandals that dragged the council into bankruptcy and disrepute.
Extraordinarily, considering Newman and the fourth member of the “gang”, Simon Hall, remain suspended by the Labour Party for their part in the council’s financial collapse, Butler appears to have escaped without sanction.
It was on Butler’s watch that the “appalling” conditions in council flats in South Norwood were allowed to fester and deteriorate to the point that Croydon became headline news on News at Ten – with Butler ducking the on-camera ignominy and shame because she had been sacked four months earlier because of the financial disaster she had wrought at the Town Hall.
It was Butler who boasted to Labour Party Conference about how Brick by Brick would solve the borough’s housing crisis, yet in six years delivered only a handful of new council homes and a mountain of debt. And it was Butler who handed the contract for the refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls to Brick by Brick, creating a £70million “fiasco” and leaving bills that will have to be paid by generations of Croydon residents to come.
And with her husband in charge of the planning committee, there were constant questions about propriety, as Scott bullied and cajoled his committee into granting permission to every Brick by Brick scheme that came before them, with councillors maintaining that he broke planning law to do so.
Today, when asked for a comment about Butler and Scott and their 20-year spell as Croydon councillors, another Katharine Street figure paused. For almost a minute. And then said, “You can quote me on that.”
While Scott, Butler, Letts and Woodley may not be much missed, four others who have decided to stand down might be more fondly remembered for their work for their residents.
Joy Prince and Robert Canning, who in 2014 helped to win Waddon from the Conservatives, making it the only ward in Croydon South to be held by Labour, might be timing their departures in anticipation of the likely backlash at the polls next May.
Both were well regarded locally and at the Town Hall, with Canning notably being a lone Labour voice capable of blocking Brick by Brick blocks of flats on his patch, and also being the only Labour councillor in October 2020 not to back Newman and Hall in a vote of confidence.
Thornton Heath councillor Pat Clouder is standing down after 24 years, mostly spent as a backbencher and working hard across a range of roles and council committees.
Stephen Mann joined the council in 2014 when still in his early 20s, first for Ashburton ward, then from 2018 for Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood. Over the years, under Newman’s leadership, Town Hall observers could see the enthusiasm ebbing away, being replaced by disillusionment. Sources in the local party suggest that the conduct of one of his ward colleagues was a deciding factor.
Jamie Audsley and Mary Croos are two more sitting councillors who, as previously reported, have not, as yet, been approved by the Labour Party to be considered for reselection in 2022 under what has been criticised as “a flawed and corrupt” process.
But the final councillor to choose not to stand again is one who was also at the centre of another Croydon Labour controversy just two years ago.
Caragh Skipper was not selected by Fairfield Labour members to fight the ward byelection in November 2019, but in a fix arranged by local party officials, her name was put forward as the candidate for the safe Labour ward ahead of the democratically chosen Jose Joseph.
An internal Labour report, leaked to Inside Croydon, confirmed that the selection was rigged, but failed to make any recommendations of disciplinary action against Jack Buck, the party employee and local election agent whose conduct did so much to oust Joseph and install Skipper.
All that intrigue, trouble and strife appears, now, to have been for very little: Skipper’s skipping off after a brief dalliance at serving the public.
According to a senior source in the Croydon Labour group, Skipper’s decision is “not for political reasons”.
Read more: Brick by Brick part of a perfect storm that bankrupted Croydon
Read more: Council to pick up £69.2m costs of failed Fairfield Halls refurb
Read more: Labour councillor was given ‘no real reason’ for deselection
Read more: Leader apologises for six years of misrule
Read more: ‘Tony Newman always has been a coward’
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