CROYDON IN CRISIS: Any delusions that having a directly elected mayor might be anything other than #ABitLessShit were quickly dispelled yesterday as the local Tories reverted to type.
EXCLUSIVE By STEVEN DOWNES
Croydon’s Conservatives have selected Jason Perry, the South Croydon councillor and leader of the Town Hall opposition group, to be their candidate for election as the borough’s first directly-elected mayor next year.
After two rounds of voting, local Tory members suggest that Perry won by just three votes from another councillor, Andy Stranack. Perry won with the support of the votes of the vast majority of his 28 Town Hall councillor colleagues.
In choosing Perry, Croydon’s Tories have given themselves a mayoral candidate who played a leading role in getting Conservative councillors to vote through the 2019 and 2020 council budgets that bankrupted the council.
And having spent at least £10,000 of party campaign funds to support the campaign for a mayor to be elected by all residents in an open and transparent manner, the Conservatives yesterday reverted to type, conducting a secretive party meeting behind closed doors and refusing, officially, to reveal how many attended their meeting or how the voting between Perry and two candidates went.
All suggestions of “reform” were parked, as the Tories carried out their selection meeting on a slightly expanded version of the “strong leader” principle, with Town Hall leader Perry getting the backing of most of the party’s sitting councillors and the 2022 candidates who will hope to benefit directly when he gets to dole out appointments – and juicy council allowances – after the elections next May.
According to the self-proclaimed “Sage of Selsdon”, Anne Piles, in the end, Perry won by just three votes.
Given the Croydon-wide polling at last May’s London elections, and the lingering antipathy towards the Labour group who bankrupted the borough, Perry, despite serious questions about his suitability for the role, must now be the favourite to become the council’s first executive mayor.
The Tories staged their selection meeting less than 72 hours after the outcome of the borough’s governance referendum, which voted to reject the discredited system that used the “strong leader” model, in favour of something that is #ABitLessShit.
Though, by the limited scope of their three white blokes shortlist – Perry, Councillor Andy Stranack and Ben Gadsby – and ultimate selection, Croydon Conservatives appear to have plumped for #ABitMoreShit.
The result was greeted with an audible, borough-wide sigh of disappointed indifference.
The obvious flaws in the shortlisting and eventual selection were quickly highlighted, by Croydon residents and political opponents.
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose,” was the offering from Labour councillor, and former Tory MP, Andrew Pelling, perhaps intended to peeve the unapologetic Brexiteers in the Conservative ranks.
Retired Sadvertiser journalist Diana Lyne appeared to tap the mood of the borough’s politics-watchers, even those more inclined to be conservative (small “c”), when she noted, “We need someone who is charismatic, vigorous, wise, financially savvy and honest to represent Croydon as its new mayor. Not one of the same dull old bunch of councillors.”
Bienosa Ebite, the former Croydon Radio politics presenter and PR specialist, from Thornton Heath, questioned the Tories’ decision. “Is this the type of dynamism that fellow residents want or need?
“It’s more of the same, and we desperately need a fresh approach.”
Jamie Audsley, the Labour councillor who has been blocked by his own party from standing for re-election to the council next May, wrote in similar vein, “The Croydon Conservatives have selected Cllr Jason Perry as their candidate for Mayor. Their website tells us he ‘has been a Croydon councillor since 1994’, which tells you a lot of what you need to know – part of our town’s past, not its future.”
In 27 years as a Croydon councillor, Perry has risen without trace, only in 2020 reaching the dizzy heights of Tory group leader.
His spell in charge has been badly hit by his needing to be hospitalised when he contracted covid earlier this year.
Perry runs a building supplies company in the borough, but has said nothing about his future role in the business if he is elected next May to the £80,000 position of executive mayor. Whether that’s because he sees himself continuing to perform his Town Hall duties as a part-timer may only emerge as his candidacy is questioned in the coming months.
Perry will, at least, have a three-month head start on whoever is selected to be his closest rival for the mayoralty as Croydon Labour, after wasting the past eight weeks and £20,000 on campaigning against the switch in governance systems (“Bad politics”, according to party grandee Lord Adonis), probably won’t select their candidate until the new year.
The Tories’ selection of such an uninspiring, uncharismatic candidate may increase the possibility of the election attracting a stronger candidate as an independent, someone from outside the Katharine Street bubble, untainted by the events of the past few years, and able to step aside from the Croydon Establishment and political duopoly which has caused so much damage to the borough.
Unusually, the Croydon Conservative Federation had failed to issue any formal statement regarding Perry’s selection by 2pm today.
While sources within the party assured that this was nothing to do with any immediate “buyers’ remorse” over their choice of candidate, it probably won’t inspire much faith in the Tories’ abilities to quickly respond to other, more significant events, as they occur if they do take office next year.
Read more: Perry stakes Town Hall leadership on Tory mayoral selection
Read more: Objections? What objections? Opposition? What opposition?
Read more: Croydon votes 4-to-1 in favour of having directly elected mayor
Read more: Tories welcome back far-right figures as 2022 candidates
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