CROYDON LABOUR IN CRISIS: It is 10 weeks today until the local elections, and party members in Waddon now have to select a new candidate to replace one who helped win the ward eight years ago. Here deselected and now expelled councillor ANDREW PELLING outlines a sordid little tale of how local politics operates
There was a dysfunctional and corrupted, but faintly comical, process of pursuing my removal from candidacy for Labour for Waddon.
Poor governance led to the council’s financial collapse and that brand of bad practice has continued into the selection process.
One of the small number of Labour councillors who supported having a directly elected mayor was already been barred from running for re-election, while for me, who had already passed through the selection system, party officials wanted to re-run it in order to take me out.
For nearly four months, I was unable to say to tell Waddon residents with any certainty, or even my top-class Labour candidates, Rowenna Davis and Ellily Ponnuthurai, whether I will be a Labour candidate in May 2022. Whatever happens, I will back Ellily and Rowenna.
Among those sitting councillors who have been cleared out during Labour’s laborious selection process, some have suggested that one of the local MPs has been influential in making the changes, so that they can mould a group of councillors more to their liking.
When he was asked, that MP, Steve Reed, has said that they have had nothing to do with the removals.
Even Croydon’s first citizen, the ceremonial mayor, Councillor Sherwan Chowdhury, has found himself cast aside by the selection process, replaced by an alternative candidate seen as being closer to Reed.
It is a sad spectacle. Sherwan is a victim of the purging of the innocent, instead of dealing properly with those whose hands were on the controls of the council when the Section 114 notice was issued in November 2020. Some of them are still in charge today.
Instead, we have a Labour disciplinary process that takes out those who are whistleblowers or dare argue for reform.
Instead, Labour has managed to approve as election candidates individuals who have been found by a court judgement to have acted in a way “wholly incompatible with his duties as a Trustee, being a blatant breach of trust” at an important Croydon charity.
Of the 41 sitting Labour councillors, 16 decided not to try to seek reselection – some more innocent in their part in the council’s collapse than others.
The action taken against me by the local Labour Party was in the context of:
1, my speaking to the press and allegations of whistleblowing about the failing council;
2, my supporting having a directly elected mayor, which has been Labour Party policy nationally since 2000 – some 22 years ago;
3, my proposing adopting such a policy to Croydon South Constituency Labour Party successfully when Tony Newman, then the leader of the Labour group at the Town Hall, opposed the idea and even banned its consideration by the council’s governance review. For this perceived offence, I was sacked as the chair of Croydon’s pension fund;
4, my asking the occasional, polite question about the council’s poor governance – a poor governance that even the external auditors eventually agreed had caused its financial collapse. Questions are regarded as a challenge in Croydon politics. Jamie Audsley, who was axed as a Labour councillor last year, had a habit of asking intelligent questions. The likes of Newman saw this as being too clever by half. Being clever is not seen as a strong point, it seems.
More than six months ago, I passed a 40-minute interview by a panel of three senior Labour figures from outside the borough which allowed me to go forward on to the approved list of candidates. Then, in November, I was chosen by an overwhelming majority of ward members to be a Waddon councillor candidate on May 5.
But then, five party members from outside Croydon South overruled Waddon’s members and rescinded my candidature.
The initial panelling process to approve all Labour candidates is conducted by external interviewers, which is supposed to avoid any interference by local officials.
However, according to sources inside the room at a meeting of Croydon’s LCF – the Local Campaign Forum – Joel Bodmer, the chair, said that he had intervened in my selection because “the first panel should not have passed Pelling”.
Bodmer went on to say, “He admits leaking confidential information to Inside Croydon.”
Which is untrue.
I did not admit that, but I did say that the association of local Labour Party officials with the illegal hacking of Inside Croydon last year was still a matter under investigation by the police and the Information Commissioner’s Office. Which remains the case today.
The LCF is the committee which is supposed to manage selections and campaigns across the borough’s three constituency parties. It chair, Bodmer, also stated that there was justification for going “above and beyond” the rules on such an important matter. “Pelling is consistently and deliberately leaking confidential information to Inside Croydon,” Bodmer told the LCF meeting.
During the meeting, Bodmer often had his head in his hands in frustration with his LCF colleagues. Bodmer did not allow sitting councillors or council candidates to attend the meeting.
The thing about having an “independent” process is that the organisation overseeing it really cannot have any part in that process whatsoever, one way or another. Yet Bodmer told another trusted colleague that the new panel interview to which he wanted to subject me would not necessarily lead to a ban for me.
I was originally charged with talking to Inside Croydon. I was then additionally charged with talking publicly about the process and for using the word “rescinded” in public. It appears that this word is now banned by the Local Campaign Forum. Just as the word “Blairite” was banned at Croydon Central CLP meetings a couple of years ago.
Of course, I did ask what evidence the LCF had to justify the charges against me. They merely provided a link to five Inside Croydon articles that had no connection to me.
However, another LCF official, Carole Bonner, sent me a file with a further 48 pages of news media coverage. You can read through this hefty file yourself by clicking here.
The LCF itself did not agreed to widen the charges against me. But someone did. I was also told that there were no minutes recorded of the decisions to widen the charges against me.
Nor was there any accompanying explanation with those 48 pages as to what offences I am supposed to have committed, or whether offence has been taken at the comments of other people, my support for a directly elected mayor or, indeed, my references on social media to opera or 1980s popular music. Who knows what is allowed, and not allowed, in Croydon Labour in 2022?
But amid this absurd circus of a fixed process, the most extraordinary thing, to my mind, was that no one in the Croydon Labour Party is asking the simple question: Why is someone spending all this time collating this stuff when we are meant to be reaching out to our communities and contesting an election against the Conservatives?
Others, myself included I’d like to think, believe that it should be about improving the lives of others and being a voice for the concerns of the public.
Waddon is the only council ward within the Croydon South parliamentary constituency area which is held by Labour.
Together with my hard-working Labour colleagues Robert Canning and Joy Prince, we won the ward from the Tories in 2014 and we then retained it four years later.
Yet this destructive process going on within the local party is undermining all those years of hard work.
No one seems to be able to stop just three people from Croydon North and two people from Croydon Central hurtling down this destructive path against the Croydon South CLP, or against those in favour of having a Mayor.
Frankly, if Labour can’t reconcile themselves to having an executive Mayor running Croydon, they should just move over and let someone else do the job.
The elected Mayor is meant to be a strong person who directs the way that the council is run. But Val Shawcross, Labour’s Mayoral candidate, has not been able to stop this ridiculously destructive process going on under her nose, and undermining her own campaign.
It seems that Labour’s mayoral candidate can’t buck the party’s failed culture locally – they have to serve the party machine, not the voters that the candidate ought to be courting.
Read more: Expelled! Labour councillor lines up independent campaign
Read more: Labour councillor submits bullying complaint to Labour Party
Read more: Members angry over ‘Orwellian’ deselection of Pelling
Read more: De-selected councillor Pelling: ‘This is damaging my health’
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