CROYDON LABOUR IN CRISIS: Not content with bankrupting the borough and then ignoring the will of their members by opposing the move to an elected Mayor, the rump of Newman’s numpties has embarked on a petty vendetta which seems intent on losing them the Town Hall elections next May.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Croydon’s Labour Party, in its latest act of deliberate self-harm, is forcing one of their sitting councillors to undergo a second interview this week that seems likely to lead to their de-selection.
It is one month since Andrew Pelling was democratically selected by an overwhelming majority of party members in Waddon, the ward he has represented since 2014.
This latest move against Pelling has been conducted by a rump of old mates and supporters of Tony Newman, the now-discredited ex-leader of the council, who despite their part in bankrupting the borough and undermining the party’s reputation with the public, somehow still hold considerable influence.
“It’s a desperate act of revenge, part of a vendetta that’s been going on for years,” a Croydon South party member told Inside Croydon today. “They just won’t accept that, on so many issues, Andrew’s judgement has been proved to be sound, while Newman and his mates got things terribly wrong. It’s snide and it’s nasty.”
The move has caused outrage among the party’s rank and file. In a local Labour Party where the breaking of rules and ignoring of the law had become commonplace under Newman’s leadership, serious questions have been raised over whether party rules have been followed properly in the case of Pelling.
A petition was established overnight supporting Pelling and has already attracted dozens of supporters, some of whom have described the move as “undemocratic” and “Orwellian”, and calling it “an affront to party democracy”.
And one party member said, “If they de-select Pelling, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell of Labour holding on to Waddon – but they would rather try to settle Newman’s old scores than follow the democratic decisions of party members.
“Something like this will terminally damage the Labour Mayoral campaign, too.”
One petition signatory wrote: “Jamie Audsley, now Andrew Pelling. Who will they come for next?”
Neither Audsley nor Pelling, in their seven-year stints as Labour councillors, ever broke the party whip, an act of loyalty that Newman ill-deserved and which, in private, both have regretted.
But both campaigned in favour of the change of governance system used at the council, from the “strong leader” model so-beloved of Newman and his supporters, to that of a directly elected Mayor. It was Pelling who had proposed supporting the change to his CLP, Croydon South, which backed the DEMOC campaign through to the borough-wide referendum in October when in a stunning snub to the position adopted by Labour, all 28 wards in the borough voted in favour of a change.
But this latest Stalinist-style purge traces its roots much further back in local politics, as Newman and his closest allies, the likes of Alison Butler, Paul Scott and “Thirsty” Clive Fraser, backed by Croydon North MP Steve Reed OBE, continue to manipulate Croydon party affairs.
In 2014, when Labour won control of the Town Hall from the Conservatives, the word within the campaign then was “Win Waddon, Win the council”, a strategy which proved to be true as Pelling, working closely with fellow candidates Joy Prince and Robert Canning, delivered up the only ward in the Croydon South parliamentary constituency to turn from blue to red.
But Newman’s long-held and undisguised animus towards Pelling saw him delay the Waddon councillor being allowed to make his “maiden” speech in the Town Hall chamber for almost a year – which many observers understood to be based on the insecurities of Newman, who in the past had faced Pelling when he was leader of the Croydon Conservatives, before becoming the Tory MP for Croydon Central.
Newman’s prejudice against Pelling could have cost Croydon Council’s pensioners many millions, too. Pelling was exiled to the Town Hall backbenches, denied any of the more senior roles he might have expected. In the one role he was given, Pelling has managed to double the value of the council pension fund, from £800million to £1.6billion. Newman rewarded this performance by sacking Pelling as chair of the pensions committee. Twice.
In a decision this month of the all-powerful Local Campaign Forum, or LCF, Pelling has been told he must be re-interviewed over concerns that he has dared to have discussions with the media. The LCF is dominated by councillors and former councillors who have remained close to Newman and his clique, and is chaired by Joel Bodmer, a close ally of MP Reed.
Missing from the LCF is the widely respected figure of the left, David White, a retired solicitor and, like Pelling, a member of Momentum. White has been barred from LCF business for three months – in the midst of the selection process – while he endures his own version of Croydon Labour double jeopardy over a handful of tweets sent seven or more years ago, and over which he has been cleared once before.
The LCF decision on Pelling was handed down despite the councillor having been passed as an acceptable Labour candidate by a three-person panel in August.
It is understood that issues around Pelling’s whistle-blowing were raised at that original panel interview, with all three members of the panel filing reports approving his candidacy.
Inside Croydon understands that the decision to re-interview Pelling was reached by the LCF when Fraser was in attendance, even though Fraser at that time had no authority to attend Forum meetings.
Today, Croydon South CLP officials have written to Bodmer “addressing concerns over LCF representation and seeking confirmation that due process was followed”.
The petition has been put together by Paul Waddell, a former senior official at Croydon South CLP and a local election candidate in 2018.
While some members of the current CLP executive have expressed their sympathy with their colleagues’ plight, those who have been selected as election candidates have failed to sign it, apparently for fear of the recriminations that they might face in this latest example of Stalinism, south London-style.
The petition states, “Andrew Pelling has been a huge figure in Croydon politics over five decades, in recent years as a committed Labour Party activist and councillor, where he, along with Joy Prince and Robert Canning, won Waddon ward from the Conservative Party in 2014.
“He is popular locally, and an asset to both Croydon South CLP and the borough.
“In being selected, first by the candidate selection panel, and then democratically by Waddon Labour Party members, to fight Labour’s corner to retain Waddon next May, he was to be the sole continuity candidate in this vital swing ward.
“We, the undersigned, feel that Labour Party members and voters, along with party democracy, have been undermined by the decision to rescind Andrew’s candidacy on the basis of being a whistleblower to the local press.
“We feel that asking him to re-interview looks like an attempt to legitimise an unfair decision that’s already been made, so we ask the LCF (local campaign forum) to withdraw their request to re-interview, or at worst that the new panel re-instate and reaffirm Andrew’s candidacy.
We had hoped that this sort of behaviour was a thing of the past, and that Croydon Labour would be forging a new way ahead for the borough’s residents, uniting to win in 2022.
“It would be mortifying if unfair decisions, made with a lack of transparency, affected the candidacy of a good man, and reduce the chances of Labour winning in May.”
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