CROYDON IN CRISIS: After a disastrously run, high-spending campaign by Labour opposing change, every ward in the borough voted for a new way of running the council. By STEVEN DOWNES
Katherine Kerswell took to the low stage at Trinity School just after 2.30am, a couple of sheets of paper in hand, to read the results. Steve Reed OBE, the Labour MP who had driven his party’s opposition campaign against having a directly elected mayor, hadn’t even bothered to turn up for the count.
The turnout had been 21 per cent, Kerswell announced, which was, at least, a little better than feared, even though she had failed to distribute poll cards to all who expected them.
The council chief exec, serving as the official counting officer for the referendum, then got to the figures that really mattered.
voted to stay with the “strong leader” model of governance.
voted for change to a directly elected mayor, or something that is #ABitLessShit.
Kerswell’s announcement was drowned out in cheers from the large number of DEMOC supporters and campaigners in the hall, some of whom had spent more than two years working towards this goal. “As always, it has been a privilege to see local democracy in action,” Kerswell said.
Having made the referendum a vote on the record of the Labour council, Reed and the council leader, Hamida Ali, got the answer they deserved.
After all the poor judgement and “corporate blindness” of the previous five years, they and the remaining Newman numpties had somehow managed to compound all that with a nasty campaign and displays of bad faith with the electorate.
Even as the count was getting underway, some in the local Labour party felt it necessary to issue apologies on social media “on behalf of our party” for the attacks made against the DEMOC campaign by one of discredited ex-leader Tony Newman’s favoured councillors. “Please bear with us,” they wrote. “We need your votes next May.”
And those local elections in seven months’ time could get very messy for Labour.
In the end, 80 per cent of those who voted yesterday chose to change from the system that had bankrupted the council (Inside Croydon’s entirely unscientific poll had got it terribly wrong; our polling suggested 82.8 per cent would be in favour. We have already sacked the staff psephologist).
The most damning statistic of the night, though, came in the sampling conducted at the count: every one of Croydon’s 28 wards voted in favour of a switch to a directly elected mayor, including all 11 in Reed’s “Labour stronghold” of Croydon North.
Given Reed is Labour’s shadow spokesman for local government, and the party’s policy nationally supports introducing directly elected mayors, there were some this morning who were openly suggesting a resignation is in order. After a campaign that smeared Labour mayors such as Sadiq Khan in London, Manchester’s Andy Burnham and Damien Egan, of Lewisham, as “fat cats”, on leaflets that pictured burning £20 notes, Reed appears to have made his position in Westminster untenable.
The council’s official announcement of the result said Croydon “had chosen overwhelmingly” to switch to having a directly elected mayor.
An Extraordinary Council Meeting will be held to pass the resolution required to put the public vote into effect.
The current leader and cabinet system of governance will remain in place until the May 2022 elections, when as well as electing 70 councillors from across the borough, residents will then be asked to vote for a directly elected mayor who will lead the cash-strapped council through to 2026.
Hamida “Apologetic” Ali took over as leader after Newman’s resignation one year ago this week.
But even this morning, she could not shake off the dissembling, dishonest culture she had inherited from her former mentor.
She tried to claim, “I listened to local people and ensured the council held this referendum”, but the truth is that she had no choice: 21,000 people had signed a petition, organised by residents’ associations and the Croydon South Constituency Labour Party, to trigger the referendum. Under the law.
Ali’s time in charge is almost up.
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: Nothing adds up as Labour plays numbers game over mayor
Read more: Leader apologises for six years of misrule
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