Having stifled members’ options, the selection panel in charge of Croydon Labour’s mayoral candidate race has now stifled debate, too.
The two shortlisted candidates, former Croydon council leader and former London deputy mayor Val Shawcross and current councillor Callton Young, have now taken part in three hustings. The last, held earlier this week, drew fewer than 40 party member participants.
Shawcross is the candidate most supported by members – she was nominated by all three of the borough’s Constituency Labour Parties.
She also has the advantage of being uncontaminated by issues that afflicted the council in recent years.
She is a non-partisan figure – a rarity in Labour circles – having worked with both Ken Livingstone and Sadiq Khan as London Mayors, and been given responsibility for the London Fire Brigade and for Transport for London.
Young is the cabinet member for resources and financial governance. He has also been a senior civil servant, and appears an organised and competent candidate.
Unfortunately, Young did not win a single one of the six nominations on offer from the members in Croydon’s three constituencies.
Councillor Jamie Audsley was nominated with strong support in Croydon Central and in Croydon South, while Councillor Manju Shahul Hameed got the other nomination in Croydon North. Neither of these were shortlisted by the selection panel.
A selection panel decided that hustings between the six prospective candidates, so that members could hear more about them, were banned until the panel had whittled down the choice to two.
From what I saw, the hustings between the two candidates suffered from the same top-down approach designed to restrict members’ choice. Held over Zoom (despite the party staging recent ward councillor selections in person), the hustings consisted of five-minute speeches from each candidate, followed by five anodyne questions that had been set by the selection panel, and “then questions from members, if time allows”, the chair informed us.
No debate or interaction between the candidates was allowed.
Each hustings was scheduled to last 90 minutes. In the end, at the hustings I signed in to, only three questions were allowed from members before the meeting was brought to an end by the host. It all took less than an hour, lest the members think they should play too much of a role in the process.
The contrast with the dynamic and open debates held in Labour’s national leadership and deputy leadership contests in 2010, 2015, 2016 and 2020 was stark. It is no reflection on the shortlisted candidates – Shawcross and Young – who both spoke well and showed a depth and seriousness when answering the questions.
What stood out was that both candidates were committed to lobby the government to get a better funding settlement for Croydon, with Shawcross pointing out that our residents get only half the subsidy per person that those in neighbouring Lambeth receive.
Both acknowledged recent management failures, with Young highlighting the dismal performance of the privatised maintenance contractor in Regina Road, and the failure of the council to manage the contract properly.
Shawcross, with an eye on the contest ahead, pointed out that Jason Perry, the Conservative Mayoral candidate, voted for the Labour council’s budgets in 2019 and 2020, so could not really criticise.
Although the candidates could not interact and debate each other, Shawcross did assert, with her other eye on the current contest, “We can move on if we can bring in a candidate not of the council”.
The frontrunner is clearly Shawcross – who would be an articulate and experienced advocate for Croydon. But Labour needs to learn that process matters: a democratic process binds people into the result. The less inclusive the process, the less that party members feel ownership of it, and the less committed they are to getting the successful candidate elected.
This top-down model of “managed democracy” reduces members’ role to that of spectators.
After all that has happened in the last few years, what Croydon Labour needed was an open, participative process that engaged members and affiliates in a vibrant debate about what Labour should be offering to our fellow residents in 2022. Despite the best efforts of the shortlisted candidates, the party hierarchy has denied members that.
With the three centrally controlled hustings concluded and no independent ones allowed, Croydon Labour members now have to wait until December 6 to cast their ballot, in the drawn-out process that won’t be completed until December 20.
At least the end is now in sight, and Labour can start the new year with a candidate in place.
In Keir Starmer’s latest reshuffle (his third in just 18 months), Croydon North MP Steve Reed was moved from shadowing local government to the justice brief (covering courts, prisons and probation).
Given the local government department has been renamed to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, it never looked an ideal fit to have a London MP shadowing it, and sure enough Reed has been replaced by Wigan MP, Lisa Nandy – who will scrutinise Michael Gove (a Surrey MP) on whether the government delivers on “levelling up”.
It was also an awkward fit for Steve Reed to speak for Labour on local government given the situation within the area he represents, Croydon, compounded by his decision to launch a high-profile (and high cost) campaign against the mayoral system, which when a referendum was held in October was backed by residents in every ward in the borough.
In a party full of lawyers, solicitors and even QCs, what Reed’s credentials are for the justice brief are not immediately clear, however.
South Norwood resident Andrew Fisher has worked as a trades union official, researcher and writer, and served as Director of Policy of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn from 2015 to 2019. He is the author of The Failed Experiment – and how to build an economy that works
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