EXCLUSIVE: Newman’s protégé makes a call for ‘a break from the recent past’ at the Town Hall. Plus another sitting Labour councillor decides against standing in 2022. By STEVEN DOWNES
The Tony Newman era at Croydon Town Hall should really, finally, come to an end in seven months’ time, on May 4, after Hamida Ali, the discredited ex-leader’s protégé and then successor, last night told colleagues that she would not be seeking selection by the Labour Party to be its candidate to become Croydon mayor.
Ali made the announcement to officials in Woodside, the ward that the Coulsdon resident was first elected to represent, alongside Newman, in 2014.
Her letter came just ahead of that Labour branch’s meeting to draw up a shortlist of acceptable candidates to stand for its three safe council seats in the local elections on May 5.
“Campaigning for the mayoral candidacy would be a distraction,” Ali told colleagues, as she insisted that she will focus on her tasks as council leader in the borough that she and the majority of her cabinet helped to bankrupt.
And Ali appeared to rule out any mayoral candidates coming from her administration. Ali wrote that Labour needs to choose a candidate “who has the best chance of rebuilding trust with local people and [who] represents a break from the recent past”.
Even in the unlikely event that Labour wins the majority of Town Hall seats next May, overall control of the council will in future be in the hands of a democratically elected mayor, following the decision of a referendum held across the borough earlier this month.
Croydon Conservatives earlier this month, once the referendum result was official, made the dull and uninspired choice of their Town Hall opposition leader, Jason Perry, to run for mayor.
Ali had rendered herself a “lame duck” leader through her ill-judged support of Croydon Labour’s campaign to oppose moving to a directly-elected, executive mayor (“Bad politics” was how the campaign was described by Blairite grandee Lord Adonis). Every one of Croydon’s 28 wards voted in favour of switching to a mayor, in a massive snub to Ali and the cabal of councillors she inherited from Newman when she took charge of the failing local authority 12 months ago.
In her first year in charge, “Apologetic” Ali had given some car-crash performances on broadcast media.
When asked to explain the authority’s failed finances, the collapse of house-builder Brick by Brick, the appalling conditions in council flats in South Norwood and the £70million “fiasco” of the Fairfield Halls refurbishment, Ali had struggled to cope.
Eyebrows were raised among some party members, therefore, when it was suggested that the council leader might yet want to be the Labour candidate to be Croydon mayor.
Perhaps concerned that the members of Woodside ward might decide not to select as a councillor candidate someone with apparently loftier ambitions to become mayor, or perhaps because she had heard that Val Shawcross was about to announce her candidacy, Ali moved last night to make her position clear.
Ali’s letter confirms that she had indeed considered running for an office she had just spent two months – and about £20,000 of party funds – campaigning against.
In her letter, addressed to the Woodside branch chair and secretary, Ali wrote, “A year ago I stepped up and took on the leadership of the council in some of the toughest circumstances possible and in that time I have been dedicated to turning things around.
“While we have made significant progress in addressing the council’s financial challenges, there is a massive amount more still to do and campaigning for the mayoral candidacy would be a distraction from the serious and significant responsibilities that I hold as leader.
“I’m dedicated to continuing that work and have to put that first.
“Therefore, I’m writing to you both ahead of this evening’s shortlisting meeting to inform you, and through you the wider branch membership, that after serious consideration I have decided not to seek selection for the mayoral candidacy.
“Like all of us, I believe passionately that above all else, it is a Labour administration that can best address the needs and advance the interests of all communities across our borough. At the referendum residents signalled a clear desire for a change of system. As a party I believe that we should put residents first and select a candidate who has the best chance of rebuilding trust with local people and represents a break from the recent past.
“My passion in politics has been to make a difference for our communities in Croydon. I very much want the opportunity to continue to be part of the team of Woodside Labour councillors – both to serve the ward and to be an active part of the vital campaign ahead of us to make the case compellingly and convincingly for Labour to continue to serve Croydon in 2022.”
Fitzpatrick decides against standing in Addiscombe West
In a separate development, Jerry Fitzpatrick is the latest of Ali’s Labour councillors to rule themselves out of selection as Labour candidates for next May’s local elections.
Fitzpatrick, a retired lawyer, was elected in 2018 and in May this year he was appointed as the Labour group’s chief whip. But has suffered some ill-health lately and recently stepped down from that responsibility. His decision not to stand for the council again is not regarded as a surprise by Katharine Street sources.
Fitzpatrick’s decision means that 20 Labour councillors at the start of 2020 now won’t be standing as candidates in 2022, out of 41 in the current group at the Town Hall.
Read more: Regina Road scandal sees two more councillors de-selected
Read more: More Labour disarray as BAME councillors Wood and Ali quit
Read more: Labour councillor was given ‘no real reason’ for deselection
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