WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, on the unedifying scramble among some Labour councillors to find a safe ward to stand in at next May’s local elections
The chicken run is underway among the borough’s Labour councillors, with at least one current cabinet member and the party’s London Assembly candidate desperately scouring around for a ward which will offer them safe refuge from what is expected to be an uncomfortable set of results when the quadrennial Town Hall elections are staged in 2022.
First out of her blocks is Patsy Cummings, a former parliamentary assistant to Jeremy Corbyn who last night popped up on a shortlist of candidates for Bensham Manor ward. Cummings is a sitting councillor in what has been regarded as the safe Labour ward of South Norwood.
Croydon’s Conservatives conducted their selections, of 70 candidates to stand in the borough’s 28 wards, over the course of September, and they announced their full roster a couple of weeks back.
After a series of panel interviews which attracted controversy and acrimony, Labour’s arduous process, ward-by-ward, shortlistings followed by selection meetings, finally began on Tuesday night, in West Thornton.
The drawn-out process continues tonight in Selhurst. It would be a welcome improvement if other Labour branches were to be as enlightened or as engaging as Bensham Manor, where officials have clearly grasped that selecting candidates to stand for public office is a matter of public interest, and so shared the outcome of their meeting on social media.
It is less than six months since Cummings was Labour’s (losing) candidate for the London Assembly for the Croydon and Sutton uber-constituency. Once regarded as a rising star of Croydon politics, can her fortunes have waned so suddenly that she needs the assurance of selection in what is arguably the safest Labour ward in the borough, just so that she can keep her place on the council gravy train?
Or has she already assessed that the damage caused to her party by her colleagues’ bankrupting of the borough and the scandal of Regina Road council flats risks her losing her place in the Town Hall chamber? Regina Road, of course, is in Cummings’ South Norwood ward.
Cummings was first elected to the council in 2017, at a by-election. She is the deputy cabinet member for “sustainable Croydon, culture and regeneration”, so does not appear to have blotted her copybook with the fickle Town Hall leadership.
But she does not live in Bensham Manor, which rules that out as an explanation for her seeking selection there.
It could be that she has decided that her chances of being chosen as a candidate are improved in a ward which must pick at least two women for the three council seats.
This is a change to previous Labour council selections, which have in recent times always insisted that at least one candidate, in multi-seat wards, must be a woman. For 2022, Croydon Labour’s version of all-women selections will guarantee at least two women candidates in Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood, in South Croydon, Thornton Heath, West Thornton and Woodside wards, as well as Bensham Manor.
According to one Labour cabinet member, “The all-women shortlists we are having in our selections are in line with Labour Party rules, and are an effort to ensure we have better representation of women among our elected councillors.”
In 2017, when selections were being conducted for the following year’s local elections, Labour’s gender-balance rules saw them almost run out of women candidates for winnable seats. One candidate, who was elected to be a councillor, got selected because she was the only woman short-listed for her ward.
And while there may not be quite so many “winnable” wards for Labour in Croydon in 2022, the new stipulation is likely to spread the party’s women candidates very thinly indeed.
In Bensham Manor, two sitting councillors were missing from the shortlist. Alison Butler, the discredited former council deputy leader who was responsible for the on-going disaster that is Brick by Brick and who oversaw housing and repairs at the time of the Regina Road scandal, opted not to bother troubling the scorers this time around. Probably the shrewdest judgement she has made in a few years.
Jame Audsley, a Bensham Manor councillor since 2014, very much wanted to continue representing the ward, but after he dared to air support for a directly elected mayor, his candidacy was nobbled by the Labour Party machine (or MP Steve Reed OBE, depending on who you speak to).
Humayun Kabir, the ward’s third sitting councillor, did, at least, manage to make it on to the shortlist ahead of the selection meeting, thus avoiding any further embarrassment for the ill-at-ease local party.
Other notable names on the Bensham Manor shortlist ahead of next Wednesday’s selection meeting are Chrishni Reshekaron, who was Labour’s (unsuccessful) candidate in Park Hill and Whitgift local by-election earlier this year, and Raj Rajendran, who was a councillor for the ward from 2004 until 2014, when he lost his place on the council when he was rejected by members during the selection process.
The adapted AWS approach to Labour’s selections has thrown a spanner in the works for other chicken runners, though.
The word was in party circles was that Ollie “Shit Show” Lewis was urgently seeking a new home, with Labour’s electoral prospects in New Addington South, where he has been a councillor since 2014, looking very gloomy. Louisa Woodley, NewAddS’s other councillor, and a long-standing Newman numpty, has, like Alison Butler, decided to quit while she’s ahead and end her time at the Town Hall.
Lewis, the some-time golf caddie for Tony Newman, the now-derided former leader of the council, was thought to be considering throwing his hat into the Woodside ring, Newman’s old stomping ground.
But that came unstuck when it was decided that two of Woodside’s 2022 Labour candidates must be women, with Lewis thought unlikely to dislodge Mike Bonello, who was elected as Newman’s replacement in May this year.
Party sources suggest that Lewis is now considering Addiscombe East, a move that would at least have the advantage (for him, if not the voters) of being where the councillor actually lives.
The major disadvantage of this two-seat ward for Lewis, though, is that after the 2018 elections it was split, with Jeet Bains winning one seat for the Tories and Maddie Henson taking the other for Labour.
It has long been suggested that Henson wants to stand in 2022 with her husband, Mark Henson, as the other Labour candidate – which could create a few awkward moments come the shortlisting meeting due to be held there on November 13.
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