EXCLUSIVE: Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reveals how Labour is giving potential mayoral candidates barely a week to put themselves forward for a selection process which appears to have Steve Reed’s fingerprints all over it
It’s been six months since it was agreed to stage the borough-wide mayoral referendum, and from that point it was always highly probable that the political parties would need to come up with likely candidates for the post.
The referendum held earlier this month voted 4-to-1 in switching to the mayoral system next May. While the Tories were ready to pick their candidate, by lunchtime today Labour – who have controlled the Town Hall since 2014 – had not got around to announce how they will select theirs.
After a tortuously slow start, Labour is looking to run through an initial selection process in barely a fortnight, with members balloted throughout December, thus affording the Tories’ Jason Perry nearly three months’ headstart in the slow-burn campaign to become Croydon mayor.
Labour’s voting deadline is set for December 20; that means that it is entirely possible that the brain’s trust that runs the party’s campaigns in the capital is seriously aiming to launch their Croydon mayoral candidate in the week before Christmas, timing that seems certain to generate as little interest among the Croydon public as possible.
Labour has also come up with a selection system that hands significant say – and power – over the choice of candidates to Progress MP Steve Reed OBE.
Among Labour figures thought to be considering seeking selection as candidate to be the borough’s first executive mayor are Jamie Audsley, the Bensham Manor councillor who was recently deemed not-good-enough to stand in the council elections next May, Leila Ben-Hassel, another current councillor, then there’s Donna Murray-Turner, a black rights activist who received early backing from Reed, and Valerie Shawcross, a former Labour leader of Croydon Council, a London Assembly member for 16 years and previously one of Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayors.
Labour sources have, in the past week, also begun to mention mayoral ambitions for Hamida Ali, who took over as leader of the council 12 months ago, just as the borough’s financial collapse came to light.
Councillor Alisa Flemming, the Newman-appointed cabinet member who presided over the failure of the borough’s children’s services department, is also thought to be considering applying.
Croydon’s Momentum group, which it is fair to say is smaller today than it was at the time of “peak Corbyn” in 2017, held a meeting last night at which support for possible mayoral candidates was also discussed. Momentum had a large hand in Sarah Jones winning the Croydon Central parliamentary seat from the Tories in 2017, but anyone from the left of the party seems set to encounter serious obstacles in their way if they wish to run for Croydon Mayor in 2022.
According to the selection system being laid out by the Blairite-dominated London Region office, anyone wishing to be considered for selection as candidate will need to apply by midnight next Monday, November 1.
Candidates will then need to hope for the effective endorsement of one or more of Croydon’s three CLPs – constituency Labour parties – who will have until November 10 to submit their nominations. It is thought that CLPs will be expected to nominate just two or three potential candidates.
This nomination process would usually be the point at which grassroots party activists would get to have their say in who goes forward to a borough-wide ballot of Labour members.
But those nominated by the CLPs will then have to win the approval of a selection panel made up of eight people – seven of whom, party insiders suggest, are from the right of the party and potentially closely influenced by the views of Reed, the MP for Croydon North/Lambeth South (delete to taste).
The panel will comprise the chairs of the three CLPs – Reed supporter Mohammed Islam (Croydon North) and former councillor Carole Bonner (Central), a long-time supporter of discredited ex-council leader Tony Newman, and Lynda Graham (South). Then there is the chair of the local campaign forum (Reed acolyte Joel Bodmer), plus four appointees from London Region, who are thought to be most unlikely to favour candidates from the left of the party.
The panel is due to meet on November 13 to draw up a shortlist, with candidate hustings to take place the following week before the voting begins, which will run from December 6 to December 20. Ho, ho, ho…
Labour Party sources, with a sense of resignation to the way the selection has been badly handled, delayed and now stitched-up, suggest that they will be offered a choice of a candidate which has the endorsement of Reed, alongside two, perhaps three, others who are patently unsuited to the role of mayor. So no choice at all.
Others have noted how it is barely 12 months since 40 of Labour’s 41 councillors managed to vote their confidence in the leadership of Tony Newman, just before the council was forced to issue its Section 114 notice to declare itself effectively bankrupt.
“Of course they were all subject to the party whip,” a source said.
“But if those 40 councillors could not see what was wrong with how the borough was being run at that point, September 2020, then they have surely disqualified themselves from being candidates to stand for mayor.
“The Tories would have a field day if Labour chooses a mayoral candidate who helped bankrupt the borough.”
In the London-wide elections held in May this year, the Conservatives won a majority of votes in Croydon for the first time in nine years – a reflection of Labour’s poor polling nationally as well as the crisis at the Town Hall. In council by-elections held on the same day, safe Labour wards saw swings of 12 per cent to the Tories, enough, if played out in other, more marginal parts of the borough next May, to see the Conservatives win the majority of councillor seats for the first time since 2014, by an estimated 37 to 33.
Only by winning the mayoralty can Labour realistically retain control of Croydon Town Hall.
“Which is why,” a Katharine Street source said today, “we need a credible, experienced candidate who can appeal to voters in the south of the borough as well as in our safe Labour areas in the north.
“And there’s a risk that won’t happen if Reed and London Region try to stitch things up again.”
Read more: Croydon votes 4-to-1 in favour of having directly elected mayor
Read more: Mayoral referendum: how Croydon voted, ward-by-ward
Read more: Labour MP Reed accused of ‘bad politics’ by Blairite peer
Read more: Has Labour already lined up its candidate for elected mayor?
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