CROYDON LABOUR IN CRISIS: The local party’s hate-hate relationship with one of its most experienced and capable councillors has finally been brought to an end. EXCLUSIVE By STEVEN DOWNES
Andrew Pelling, a Labour councillor for Waddon ward since 2014, has been expelled from the party.
Pelling has spent recent months tip-toeing through the minefield of the local party’s undisguised antipathy towards him, and the national party’s procedural rulebook, as he has sought to continue as a Labour candidate in May’s local elections.
But after all that painstaking careful navigation, Pelling – a former Tory MP – tripped himself up by meanwhile registering with the Electoral Commission as a possible independent candidate.
Pelling’s expulsion by Labour makes it almost certain now that he will run as an independent candidate to become Croydon’s first directly-elected Mayor. The party name registered with the Commission is “Putting Croydon First”, the same slogan he used in 2010 when running as an independent parliamentary candidate in Croydon Central.
Pelling’s fate was delivered on Monday in a letter from the Labour Party’s governance and legal unit. The decision is subject to appeal, but… well, this time, the Blairites and Newman numpties in Croydon Labour finally think they have achieved their aim after an eight-year vendetta against the former leader of the Conservative group at the Town Hall.
On Monday, Clive “Thirsty” Fraser, the chief whip of the Croydon Labour group, was quick to circulate his councillor colleagues with news of a cancellation of a meeting due to be held this Friday, when they were to consider withdrawing the whip from Pelling because he had dared to vote in the interests of 20,000 of the borough’s poorest and most vulnerable households by opposing swingeing cuts to Council Tax Support.
Pelling was endorsed by local party members as recently as last November, when they voted democratically for him to stand again in the ward which he, together with Joy Prince and Robert Canning, won from the Conservatives in 2014.
It remains the only red ward in the usually true-blue Croydon South constituency.
But Pelling has since been subjected to a renewed selection interview process, with acolytes of Steve Reed OBE, the Progress MP for Lambeth South/Croydon North (delete as appropriate), accusing the Waddon councillor of the trumped-up offence of speaking to the press (namely Inside Croydon). That process led to a complaint to the national party, from ward colleague Canning, that Pelling was being bullied.
When Pelling came to face the kangaroo court, two of the three-person interview panel were councillors from… Lambeth. The panel condemned Pelling to deselection, a decision which was also subject to an appeal which is now rendered academic.
Many believe that with Canning and Prince standing down at the end of this council term, also removing Pelling as a candidate in Waddon will see the marginal ward lost to the Tories again.
Pelling’s re-selection trial saw a temporary halt to Labour’s campaigning in Waddon over the Christmas period. Since the resumption following the easing of covid precautions, Pelling has been conspicuous by his absence from Waddon team campaign selfies.
But Pelling has been spotted out delivering leaflets in the Whitgift Estate area of central Croydon. The leaflets contain multiple objections to the council’s controversial proposed “intensification” changes to the Local Plan – a signal, perhaps, that an independent mayoral campaign launch is not far away.
In a completely unscientific poll run by Inside Croydon earlier this month, 39per cent of readers said that they would vote for Pelling as an independent Mayor, with only 27per cent backing the official Labour candidate, Val Shawcross.
The deeply dull Tory candidate, Jason “Plastic Windows Salesman” Perry, got less than 9per cent.
Importantly, given that the election on May 5 will use the transferable vote system (as has been used to elect the London Mayor since 2000), 14per cent of respondents said that they would use their first preference for Pelling, and their second choice vote for a party of their choosing.
That suggests around 53per cent support for Pelling among Inside Croydon readers.
As one Katharine Street source said today, “If a credible ‘Anyone But Labour’ candidate emerges, they could do surprisingly well. It’s possibly why Peter Underwood, from the Green Party, is rating so well.
“The Tories under Boris Johnson are deeply distrusted and unpopular, and despite all Labour’s attempts to whitewash what’s gone on at Croydon Town Hall over the last four years, the public remain very angry.
“The transferable voting system becomes a useful democratic tool for voters under these circumstances.”
Pelling is the third councillor this year to be removed from Labour’s roster of 41 seats won at the last Town Hall elections. Pat Ryan and Shafi Khan were disqualified as councillors by Town Hall legal chief last month for failing to attend any council business for six months.
Pelling, however, can continue to attend council meetings as an elected councillor until May 4 – though whether Hamida Ali, the council leader, will allow him any speaking opportunities at the upcoming budget-setting meetings must be doubtful.
Last week, while still a Labour councillor, Pelling publicly called for Ali’s resignation as council leader for her failure, while a cabinet member under predecessor Tony Newman, to notice or question the £37.5million overspend – and possible fraud – in the shambolic refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls.
The official Labour Party letter advising Pelling of his expulsion was dated last Friday, February 18. It was sent by email to an address which the politician – he was MP for Croydon Central from 2005 to 2010 – has been using for more than a decade. The email address begins “puttingcroydonfirst”.
The letter stated, “We write to inform you that we have received documentation that demonstrates that you have committed a Proscribed Act pursuant to Chapter 2, Clause I.4 of the Labour Party Rule Book (the Rules).
“On 03 February 2022, the Electoral Commission published a notice of political party registration applications. This included an application for the political party ‘Putting Croydon First’ with the proposed description ‘Putting Croydon First – Supporting Andrew Pelling’ (Exhibit 1).”
The letter goes on to explain that “Declaring an intention to stand in a public election in opposition to a Party candidate” is a “proscribed act”.
“Consequently, your membership of the Labour Party (the Party) stands terminated. You are no longer entitled to attend any Party meetings or to exercise any other rights associated with membership of the Party.”
Pelling maintains that since he was being subjected to a re-panelling process by the Reed-dominated local Croydon party, he was left with no alternative but to prepare for the possibility that he would be deselected as a candidate.
“Registering with the Electoral Commission is not the same as declaring that you are standing as a candidate,” a source close to Pelling told Inside Croydon today.
“But this is the same party, under the likes of Reed, Keir Starmer and David Evans, which expelled David White after 50 years’ loyal membership and service, without granting him even the common decency of a hearing, on spurious grounds of some old tweets which they had looked at previous and discounted.
“Meanwhile, the likes of Butler and Scott, Hamida Ali and Stuart Collins, all key figures in the council’s financial collapse, remain as councillors and with a voice in important Croydon party and campaign decisions.
“Basically, they are making it up as they go along, to suit whatever ends they have in a purge of the party of anyone they fear to be a threat, or worse – holds truly socialist principles.”
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