The insular and inward-looking local Labour Party is limping towards the finish line of a foregone conclusion, weeks after the Tories and Greens began campaigning to get their candidates elected as Croydon Mayor.
By STEVEN DOWNES
Croydon Labour’s laborious selection process to choose its candidate to run for election as the borough’s first executive Mayor took another small step this morning, with the first hustings meeting, involving just two candidates.
It remains, however, an entirely inward-looking, insular Labour Party process, closed off and disengaged from the broader public and voters, while largely involving many of the same people who a year ago were forced to admit that they’d bankrupted the council.
Labour members will have to wait until December 20 to get the result of a fortnight-long voting process between Callton Young – who just a matter of weeks ago was out campaigning against “fat cat” mayors – and Val Shawcross.
It’s a foregone conclusion who will win, but party officials have decided that they must continue to stagger through the motions for another month before they will have a candidate to put before the Croydon public, alongside the Tory and Green candidates who have already been announced.
The nominations process itself concluded 10 days ago, though that failed to pass off without controversy, when London Region intervened to stop an informal hustings for the perfectly reasonable objective of letting members find out something about the candidates seeking their support before having to choose who to nominate.
This piece of heavy-handed control-freakery appeared remarkably familiar to those who remember how Amy Fode, the head of Labour’s London Region, and Reed put the frighteners on a couple of elected London borough mayors to prevent them attending an online meeting to discuss the whole mayoral schtick, ahead of last month’s referendum.
In the end, only one applicant, Donna Murray-Turner, showed up to answer questions from members about what makes her a suitable candidate to become Croydon’s first-ever elected Mayor. For all the good it did her: at the following night’s Croydon North nominations meeting, Murray-Turner attracted the fewest number of votes in the open poll, after coming last in the voting for the women’s reserved place section.
Other applicants approached by Inside Croydon denied that they had been directly warned off participating in the meeting.
The emails from Fode and London Region to Croydon party officials were, as ever, open to interpretation. Region did not explicitly ban the meeting, but they confirmed that no hustings should be held prior to shortlisting and that Labour Party email systems should not be used to send the event notice to members. Woe betide any Labour members who actually wants to ask questions or inform themselves before casting a vote.
“No reason was ever given by London Region or anybody else why it would be inappropriate to hold any other form of meeting in which members get to hear who the applicants are and give consideration to their competing visions for the Croydon mayoralty,” one clearly frustrated member told Inside Croydon.
“The nominations process as a whole was said by some of those present at the meeting to be a bit of a wasted effort for members because it makes a show of having a ‘democratic endorsement’, but in reality can be disregarded altogether by the shortlisting panel – and the problems with the way it has been organised, especially the lack of clarity and information before the meeting, made it quite a frustrating experience.”
And that is exactly how it would pan out.
The majority of Croydon Labour’s coouncillors, including the rump of the old Newman regime, had been utterly opposed to a change in the system of governance for the Town Hall, until about five minutes after the result of the October referendum showed every one of Croydon’s 28 wards had voted in favour of change.
Of the six applicants for selection to be Labour’s mayoral candidate, four of them had all served in council cabinets under discredited former leader Tony Newman, something that was reflected in the members’ nomination process.
Only one of the councillors, Manju Shahul-Hameed, managed to scrape together a CLP nomination.
Callton Young only received a single nomination, from the affiliated union branch of the GMB. And this despite being proposed, oh-so-cosily, by fellow councillors who made the false claim to members that the person they were supporting had had nothing to do with the Newman regime.
Yet after London Region officials conducted their panel interviews last weekend, they decided to nominate only Councillor Young and Shawcross, and to not put into the ballot one of the candidates who attracted much more support from grassroots members.
But then, it had been easy to predict that Jamie Audsley would be blocked by the party machine, which had just months earlier stopped him from standing for re-election as a councillor in Bensham Manor ward.
Audsley had won mayoral candidate nominations from Croydon South and Croydon Central CLPs, as well from the Jewish Labour Movement. But his stance on supporting a change in the council’s governance system appears to have been held against him.
The outrage among grassroots Labour members, real socialists and some of Audsley’s “Blue Labour” and old Oxford University friends was palpable when Inside Croydon broke the news on social media last weekend. Some seemed genuinely surprised that Labour would conduct a selection stitch-up in such a manner.
Having not been selected by Labour to run for election as a councillor again in 2022, Audsley – who has surrounded himself with like-minded members in what he calls his “Croydon Revive” group – might now be faced with a decision to opt to run for Croydon Mayor as an independent candidate.
Certainly, that appears to be the decision already reached by another of the unsuccessful Labour applicants, Murray-Turner. The black rights activist who has never been elected to public office (which is not always necessarily such a bad thing), had attracted backing over the summer from both Croydon Labour MPs, Reed and Sarah Jones. But without a single nomination from members, Murray-Turner was never going to get on to the Labour shortlist.
Party sources say that the South Norwood businesswoman has spent time this week taking soundings to see what support she might attract if she split away from Labour to run some kind of “tabula rasa” campaign ahead of next May’s local elections.
Indeed, with the toxic reputation surrounding the Newman-run council, there could be a proliferation of independent candidates at ward level next May, who could split the left-leaning vote and condemn Labour to even deeper defeat than might have been imagined.
Hoping to rise above it all, with a London-wide profile and a reputation for a safe pair of hands unsullied by the Newman years, is Shawcross.
Some observers, having seen the votes in the nomination meetings, suggest that Shawcross could get backing from at least 60 per cent of members next month.
A leader of Croydon Council in the 1990s, Shawcross has returned to Croydon politics after two decades at City Hall, first as a London Assembly Member, then as one of Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayors.
Regarded as a serious figure, she is clearly taking the business of selection and election very seriously herself, having moved into a campaign office in No1 Croydon this week.
Shawcross is not known to be an inveterate user of social media, not yet, anyway.
But was there just a sense of Shawcross “trolling” some of her Labour colleagues at Croydon Town Hall when, with one of her first tweets after her party’s mayoral shortlist was announced, she posted a link to the Nolan Principles, and wrote, “The Seven Principles of Public Life. Everyone in public life should know this off by heart and we should abide by it.”
Who could she have had in mind?
Read more: Shawcross leads the way in first Labour Mayor nominations
Read more: Underwood selected as Green candidate for office he opposed
Read more: Newman backers say they want to be Labour’s Mayor candidate
*NOV 21 UPDATE: Having received information from a reliable source regarding the Croydon North CLP nomination count, we have amended our table showing the results
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