CROYDON IN CRISIS: The borough’s Conservatives will choose from two current councillors and an outsider whose selection campaign tagline is ‘I’m different’. EXCLUSIVE by WALTER CRONXITE, political editor
The Croydon Conservative Federation will meet on Sunday to select its candidate to become this diverse borough’s first elected mayor, with their membership expected to choose from a shortlist that comprises three middle-class white blokes.
If this is supposed to be the exciting and inspiring fresh leadership which the people of Croydon appear to be crying out for, then it would seem that the Tory officials in charge of the local party didn’t get the memo.
Jason Perry, the leader of the Conservative opposition at the Town Hall, Andy Stranack, a councillor for Selsdon Vale and Forestdale, and Ben Gadsby, a party member who earlier this year used the pages of this website to argue against having a directly elected mayor, represent the best that the Tories can muster to put before the public for the onerous role of mayor when the elections are held on May 5 next year.
The borough-wide referendum held yesterday voted “overwhelmingly” by 4-to-1 to change from the discredited model of “strong leader”, where the council is run by a councillor selected by their mates, to a directly elected mayor who will determine council policy.
While the leadership of the local Labour Party, in a perverse act of self-harm, opted to campaign against the change, Croydon’s Tories – with the exception of the not-so-great Gadsby – were enthusiastic early adopters.
So how they came up with such an uninspiring shortlist of possible candidates may puzzle many.
The one consolation that the council’s Labour leadership might grasp at today, after being beaten in all 28 of the borough’s wards over the mayoral issue, is that the Conservatives are not using next May’s election to offer “Baron” Gavin Barwell a backdoor route back into local politics.
“Barwell running for mayor was always suspected to be part of the Tories’ agenda,” one Labour cabinet member told Inside Croydon today.
The disastrous Labour referendum campaign has rendered Hamida Ali as a lame duck council leader. Unless he wins Sunday’s Tory selection meeting, and wins well, Perry risks suffering the same fate.
It is fair to say that, even in the wake of the bankruptcy of the borough and the implosion of Labour, the South Croydon councillor has failed to make much of an impact at the Town Hall in his first year in charge of the 29-strong Tory group.
A nine-night spell in hospital and two months spent recovering after he caught covid-19 clearly wrecked any hopes Perry had of making his mark at the council.
“I plummeted, I had aches and pains, I couldn’t eat, drink or sleep. I kept on deteriorating,” Perry said of the illness that led to his hospitalisation in February.
Charity manager Stranack, in the meantime, has risen to the challenges presented in his community by the pandemic.
Last year, in the strange new world of the first lockdown, Stranack worked tirelessly with Selsdon-based churches, charities and even the London Fire Brigade to organise meal deliveries to the elderly and vulnerable during the first lockdown.
Yet he also managed to conduct his work as a councillor by getting Brick by Brick house-building schemes on his patch rejected – a rare achievement indeed.
Stranack has had experience of contesting elections in the north of the borough before. Despite the unpromising prospects, Stranack impressed when he was the Tory parliamentary candidate in Croydon North in 2012, when Steve Reed was first elected.
With a background of living on a council estate, he has previously been described as “the non-Tory Tory”, and in the past Stranack has had powerful backing from the likes of Barwell and Jason Cummings, the former deputy leader of the opposition group. If that kind of influential support materialises on Sunday, Stranack might run Perry close.
The wildcard is Gadsby.
Gadsby works as the head of policy and research at Impetus, a private equity foundation that says that it applies “a venture philanthropy approach” to improving educational outcomes for children. While he is a member of the Conservative Party, he has never held political office or run for election before. He is not even among the 70 candidates Croydon Tories have named as standing to become councillors next May.
He does, however, have experience working as a political adviser at Tower Hamlets council, which may explain his antipathy towards the mayoral system.
Gadsby is running for selection on Sunday under the tagline, “I’m different”.
“Most would say he should run on ‘I’m difficult’,” one of his party colleagues told Inside Croydon.
Back in July, when he wrote his critique of the DEMOC campaign, Gadsby said, “Regardless of the result [of the referendum], I fear the optimists are destined for disappointment.”
Given the pale, stale and male composition of the Tory mayoral shortlist, he’s ben proved correct in that respect.
Read more: Croydon votes 4-to-1 in favour of having directly elected mayor
Read more: After defeat, pressure mounts on ‘lame duck’ council leader
Read more: Tories welcome back far-right figures as 2022 candidates
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