CROYDON LABOUR IN CRISIS: ‘It’s not about justice, it is about Labour Party rules. It’s not a court of law.’ That’s what one official said, apparently seriously, as the purge continues with potentially ruinous consequences for the party come polling day next May. By STEVEN DOWNES
Councillor Andrew Pelling seems certain to be removed from Labour’s list of selected candidates for next May’s local elections after he opted against attending the “kangaroo court” of a second interview panel last week.
Pelling is the latest target of a purge of figures from the party’s left, or those who backed the campaign to move to a directly-elected mayor, following the suspension from the party of veteran official David White and the de-selection of Councillor Jamie Audsley.
The case against Pelling is being run by Joel Bodmer, as the chair of Croydon Labour’s LCF – Local Campaign Forum – and a close associate of Progress MP Steve Reed OBE.
When a party colleague contacted Bodmer to complain about the treatment of Pelling, the official is said to have replied, “It’s not about justice, it is about Labour Party rules. It’s not a court of law.”
The move to re-panel Pelling appears a deliberately pre-meditated one intended to cause the councillor maximum discomfort. After Pelling had gone through the local Labour selection process successfully, the notification from Bodmer came within the last six months before the local elections, when it is no longer possible for the councillor to force a ward by-election by resigning his seat.
Pelling has had a long career in Croydon politics, first as a Conservative councillor, later as a Tory member of the London Assembly and then MP for Croydon Central. In 2011, he joined Labour and in 2014 helped the party win control of Croydon Council when he and colleagues Joy Prince and Robert Canning won Waddon from the Tories in 2014.
But Croydon South Constituency Labour Party, and Pelling in particular, have long been the target for contempt and outright hostility from Tony Newman, the discredited former council leader, and his clique of devoted followers, many of whom remain in council cabinet positions despite their parts in the bankrupting the borough. Indeed, some of Newman’s numpties even hold seats on the LCF, the Forum used by Bodmer and Reed to de-select Pelling.
Pelling had passed the original panel interview stage of the local Labour Party’s selection process last August, with the three external interviewers commenting that they had received a strong recommendation on behalf of the candidate from the Town Hall group’s chief whip, and that any questions over the councillor’s contact with the media – meaning Inside Croydon – could be left to the party members in Waddon.
And the Waddon members duly re-selected Pelling by an overwhelming majority to fight the ward for a third time. Waddon remains a marginal ward, especially so given the toxic reputation of Labour after seven years under the leadership of Newman and his mates; Pelling was the only one of the three sitting councillors prepared to stand again.
Over the weekend, Pelling told colleagues that he feels he is facing “double jeopardy”, being tried for offences for a second time, and potentially until the panel comes up with the result that Bodmer and Reed demand.
Bodmer has provided Pelling with a list of five articles, all published on Inside Croydon, “that there is a concern about your potential involvement in”.
Bodmer’s “shit list” shows that he and his colleagues have little grasp of reality when it comes to the sourcing of information and how journalism works. Or that they have a standard of reading comprehension that wouldn’t get a 15-year-old through their GCSE English.
One of the articles clearly carries the byline of an official from a local residents’ association.
Another gives a very clear indication that the sources of information over the latest round of £38million budget cuts arose from numerous official briefings: “… meetings have been held between senior elected representatives of both parties at the Town Hall and Richard Ennis, the council’s new finance director, to lay the groundwork for this latest round of cuts”.
A third centres on a letter sent from a constituency party official to the chair of the campaign for a democratically-elected mayor (hmmm, wonder where that document must have come from?).
The fourth reports the blocking of another Labour councillor, Audsley, and openly states what the source is: “In an email sent to his 40 councillor colleagues yesterday, and seen by Inside Croydon, Audsley explained that his hopes of being elected for a third time as a councillor have been crushed not by the electorate nor the Tories, but by his own party.
“Audsley says that ‘the decision to reject my application is politically motivated’.” No shit Sherlock…
That article provides this further nugget: “It is all very Newmanesque… Petty, vindictive, and more than a bit of bullying, too.” Nothing much seems to have changed.
The fifth article on Bodmer’s list of trumped-up charges, “Town Hall leadership hatched plan to break election budget“, came – as all Inside Croydon’s reports do – from multiple sources, both inside and outside the Town Hall, including some who expressed concerns that Hamida Ali, Newman’s replacement as council leader, was openly plotting with her colleagues to spend more than the legal limit on their disastrous campaign against a democratically-elected mayor.
Any breach of the law on campaign spending limits can carry a jail sentence for those found guilty.
Pelling spent the weekend waiting for the axe to fall, with Bodmer out of the country.
Some colleagues had tried lobbying the LCF official to back down from the precipitous course of action. They took no reassurance from Bodmer’s comments, such as, “There is no guarantee that it will be a ‘No’.”
A request that Pelling could be accompanied by a witness and adviser, as with any disciplinary hearing at work, was refused. Lawyers have been engaged, Inside Croydon understands.
Pelling told friends that he was particularly concerned at the reputational damage he would suffer, after Bodmer let slip, “We will look at the competence of the answers.”
Pelling says that this was the approach used to block Audsley, “a completely foul suggestion that in the style of answering Nolan Principals are broken. Not something that I want to be labelled with, however falsely”.
Others have commented, “Gunning for Andrew is despicable given that Alison Butler and Paul Scott have not been expelled from the Labour group over their roles in creating the mess the council is in, and particularly in the case of Butler over the housing management and maintenance scandal.”
It has also been pointed out that every one of Croydon’s 70 councillors has a duty to the public over any duty to their political party, and that includes a “duty to disclose so-called confidential information if it exposed wrong-doing, incompetence and inefficiency” at the council.
It was the councillors’ failures to highlight such failings which saw Croydon’s external auditors accuse them of “corporate blindness” in the Report In The Public Interest released in October 2020.
In an email from Pelling to Bodmer, which has been seen by Inside Croydon, the soon-to-be-ex-councillor wrote, “It’s just peculiar that I am recalled from candidature about free press articles openly penned by other people… You will know it’s the [Town Hall Labour Group’s] adopted policy that councillors are banned from retweeting mentions of iC.
“We have also passed a number of motions in private condemning ‘the misogynistic hate site’.
“Whilst I am grateful for the reading list there is nothing of substance in just sending iC story links.
“There must be other materials that would have misled the LCF to take the extraordinary decision to overturn the previous panel and the very well-attended Waddon Labour members selection meeting.
“I ask you to send me all these materials, including all the documentation that was before the LCF meeting that were used in making this decision. This will include the whip’s report. I also require to see all papers before the panel. To provide these papers is to observe proper due process.”
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