‘The conduct of Labour Party affairs locally does seem to be almost tailored to create continuing unease and disaffection’. WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, with the latest round-up of shenanigans
“Croydon North’s in meltdown” was how one angry Labour member put it this week, as they regarded the unseemly scramble for selection among sitting councillors following the de-selection of two of them in South Norwood ward and the sudden resignation en masse of party officials in Norbury Park.
Councillors Clive “Thirsty” Fraser and Patsy Cummings have spent the past week trying to get shortlisted in another ward… any other ward, as a consequence of the vote of members in South Norwood last Saturday.
Cummings, who just six months ago was her party’s candidate in the London Assembly elections, was last night shortlisted for Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood ward.
But South Norwood’s rejected duo are not the only sitting Labour representatives who have embarked on the “chicken run”.
Two New Addington councillors, council cabinet member Ollie “Shit Show” Lewis and this year’s ceremonial deputy mayor, Felicity Flynn, have both been touting their talents elsewhere, presumably not fancying their prospects in the area that they are supposed to represent come next May’s local elections.
Another councillor, Nina Degrads, has created an awkward dilemma for herself, having been shortlisted in Woodside ward, which has its selection meeting on Tuesday, as well as in the ward where she was elected in 2018, Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood.
Local party officials and councillors say that the disarray has been caused by a decision imposed on Croydon members by London Region, which wanted the safest Labour wards selected first, and with Croydon North MP, Steve Reed, and his supporter, Joel Bodmer, as chair of the influential Local Campaign Forum, exerting what many see as undue influence over the process.
“With Labour’s councillor candidates for the safe wards being selected ahead of the marginal wards, I’m worried that the strongest candidates will all be gone by the time the selections get underway in the marginals,” one Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon. “We will be left with the rats, such as Clive Fraser.
“This risks gifting the borough’s marginal seats to the Tories next May.”
In South Norwood, the situation saw members of Corbyn-supporting Momentum refuse to attend the shortlisting meeting. Unusually, one of the prospective candidates, Reed’s parliamentary staffer Louis Carserides, was allowed to address that meeting.
Carserides, who was first elected to the council in a by-election in May this year, emphasised that he was not applying for selection in any other ward. By implication, Fraser and Cummings were applying elsewhere.
In total, 22 people applied in South Norwood, including six past or present Croydon councillors. Flynn, who was among them, didn’t even make the shortlist. Flynn had been snubbed by members in Thornton Heath, too.
Despite Fraser, Cummings and Carserides issuing a joint statement to ward members – “humbled and privileged to have been shortlisted…”, they grovelled, “we work together as Labour Party representatives to the best of our abilities to create a better South Norwood and fairer Croydon… united about what’s best for our friends, neighbours, and communities in South Norwood” – only Carserides of the trio was ultimately selected.
He will now be on the ballot papers next May alongside Elliott-Jay Munroop (who has spent the past week scrubbing clean his social media so that it no longer appears that he is devoted to and only wants to represent Thornton Heath… awks) and Stella Nabukeera.
But there was a real sense of an arm-wrestle going on between the grassroots branch members and the party machine over how the selection should be conducted.
Group WhatsApp messages, seen by Inside Croydon, show clear disaffection.
“They’ve shut us down in South Norwood,” one wrote, “refusing to have any meeting until selection process is over.
“They assigned Anthony Ellis, who is not a member of [South Norwood], as acting secretary with the help of our secretary Amy [Foster] and without consulting any of our ward officers or members. I robustly challenged it, but in vain.”
Another wrote, “The conduct of Labour Party affairs locally does seem to be almost tailored to create continuing unease and disaffection.”
Referring to the controversy two years ago when a democratically selected candidate was not put forward for the Fairfield by-election after a stitch-up by Labour official Jack Buck, the disaffected party member wrote, “After the Fairfield issues in 2019, there could have been a period of reflection and reform during 2020 in which we came into these selections in 2021 with a healthy, flourishing, level playing field; with comprehensive information about the process freely available in all aspects; and all aspects handled competently with scrupulous transparency and fairness.
“Much of this was discussed with key people at the time – that the process needed urgent and wholesale reform. And that members have seen too much and put up with too much over the years.
“And that the next time anything inappropriate happens in selection processes there would be multiple eyes on it and those matters would be openly challenged throughout – in the public interest – until the party understood why and how it needs to change.
“It is still in the gift of the administrators of key processes to turn things around – but it does seem that those pleas for better ways of working have been rebuffed.”
Similar issues elsewhere in the borough have seen the resignations of the branch chair, the secretary and organiser in Norbury Park ward (where cabinet member Alisa Flemming is one of the sitting councillors). Bodmer issued a forlorn-looking message on social media: “Please contact LCF if you wish to be shortlisted to represent Norbury Park.”
Meanwhile, some sort of selection process has continued through the week.
The members in Thornton Heath appear satisfied enough with their sitting councillors, where Karen Jewitt and Callton Young were duly selected alongside newcomer Tamar Nwafor, who steps into the vacancy created by Pat Clouder’s retirement.
And in the least surprising announcement yet, branch and CLP officials – and Reed supporters – Catherine Wilson and Mohammed Islam have been named as the candidates in Selhurst ward. At least a party official this time remembered to book the meeting hall.
The political futures of the likes of Lewis and Cummings could become clearer in the next few days, as there are shortlisting meetings in New Addington North this morning, Addiscombe West this afternoon and Norbury Park tomorrow.
Septuagenarian Pat Ryan was shortlisted last night in Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood, despite his being the subject of a formal complaint from members over his conduct and having broken the party whip over the council Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes.
Ryan’s fellow ward councillor, Stephen Mann, aimed a barely-disguised swipe at his erstwhile colleague in a social media post confirming that he is not seeking re-selection.
“Standing down has not come lightly as I do still feel I have more to give,” Mann wrote, “however, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for our members and residents to see a fresh face in our community who can appeal to all and not just the loudest voices.”
Also on the shortlist for the selection meeting next Thursday, where at least two women candidates have to be chosen for the three places, are Degrads, Cummings and Appu Dhamodaran.
A perhaps surprising omission from the shortlist is John Wentworth, MP Reed’s election agent in the past and until 2018 councillor for the ward. It was Wentworth who was notorious for being caught out watching a Crystal Palace football match on a tablet device with his mate Ryan in the Town Hall chamber during a full council meeting.
One observer of last night’s proceedings said, “Wentworth’s been done over. Pat’s people seemingly knocked him out. It seems that it’s fine to break the whip.”
This selection story may not end there, however: there is some suggestion that not enough members turned up for the shortlisting, in what is thought to be the largest branch in the borough, making the meeting inquorate.
As well as CPUN, this coming week will see further Labour selection meetings staged in Woodside (Tuesday, November 2) and Norbury and Pollards Hill (Wednesday).
Read more: Council leader Ali rules herself out of running to be Mayor
Read more: More Labour disarray as BAME councillors Wood and Ali quit
Read more: 1 in 4 Labour councillors choose not to seek selection for 2022
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