As election day looms ever closer, WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, finds the borough’s third-rate politicians fretting over the possible loss of their first-rate council allowances
Croydon Council is the London borough which the Labour Party says it is “most worried” about losing.
That’s according to unnamed sources quoted this week by the Evening Standard, after one of its reporters made a rare foray sarf of the river.
Now such reports should always carry a serious health warning: not for nothing was the Standard widely known as the Evening Boris for its support of the then Tory Mayor of London. The paper is owned, after all, by Evgeny Lebedev, the son of a Russian oligarch and a personal chum of the bumbling Prime Minister, who even invested a peerage on the billionaire despite serious national security concerns.
And given the uproars created by reports reliant on unnamed sources from another newspaper based in the same High Street Kensington building, the Standard’s sudden interest in political matters this far south in the capital maybe could be taken with a pinch of salt.
Except what they have reported regarding the state of the parties going into the final seven days of Croydon’s first-ever election campaign for an executive Mayor is backed up by briefings from the canvassing front-line around the borough.
And by Val Shawcross, the Steve Reed-backed Labour candidate for Mayor.
According to the Sub-Standard, Shawcross admits that trust in her party to rebuild the borough’s finances after the past eight years, mostly under the misanthropic leadership of her sometime colleague, Tony Newman, is limited among residents.
“It’s often brought up on the doorstep,” Shawcross is quoted by the paper.
Indulging herself in a large dollop of understatement, Shawcross said, “It’s because some of the services have been poorly managed.
“That’s true for the council tenants. But I’m here to reset it. They want reassurance they are going to get a competent Labour council.
“I understand how the mayoral system works and I have a vision for the borough.”
Away from the self-satisfied, self-absorbed, pat-on-the-back selfies from Labour candidates – who are under orders to post at least four such tweets each week during the campaign – the concerns about how the voting might go next Thursday is well-founded among those unnamed Katharine Street sources who talk to Inside Croydon (and who explicitly ask not to be named because of the fear of reprisals from their party commissars).
Even against the backdrop of a 5per cent swing against the Conservatives in national polls, which ought to make May 5 a breeze in most other London boroughs, the bankrupting of the borough by Newman, Paul Scott and Alison Butler over the past eight years is having traction with Croydon voters.
“It feels close,” one senior Labour source said yesterday.
And echoing one of the worst Match of the Day football pundits, “It’s winnable, but it’s losable, too,” said our Robbie Savage of Croydon politics.
A comparison of the campaigning of the borough’s political duopoly is revealing.
Unless we’ve missed it, with a week to go and the exception of the gurning mug of Croydon South MP Chris Philp, the Tories have not had a single Westminster figure turn up in support of their Mayoral candidate, Jason Perry. They don’t want to draw voters’ attention to what’s been going on in parliament.
Labour, however, are very keen to distract from anything that has been going on at Croydon Town Hall.
The centrist MPs Reed and Sarah Jones have been dragging some of their front-bench buddies along, while Shawcross has also received “support” (if that’s what you call it) from the likes of the controversial Labour general secretary David Evans and Southwark Council estate demolisher and friend of the developers, Peter John.
Such flying visits have all been noticeable for the near-complete absence of grassroots activists, with just a handful of candidates and their families turning out to fill the selfie frame.
Yesterday saw Anneleise Dodds turn up with Jones in New Addington, tomorrow there’s a visit to Croydon from London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and on Bank Holiday Monday, what campaigners described as “the big one”, with Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner will be in town (also in New Addington: Labour clearly believe that the four council seats there are under serious threat).
Insiders from all the campaign teams will already be aware of the first indications from postal vote returns. Sworn to secrecy, they will have an idea of which parts of the borough have been more successful in getting out the vote. And in the first borough-wide election contest, that might not be altogether good news for Shawcross.
On the doorstep, Labour canvassers are discovering that long-time, committed supporters just cannot bring themselves to vote for the Croydon Labour Party under Newman and Reed that has been responsible for the Regina Road council flats scandal, the £200million Brick by Brick black hole, the planning department’s reign of terror and now the £67million Fairfield Halls fiasco.
The situation at the council has been described as “Deplorable”, “Disastrous” and “Tragic”. And that was by Shawcross herself at last night’s hustings. Hardly a ringing endorsement of her own party.
Labour voters rarely switch to the Tories. In Croydon in 2022, many have decided not to vote at all. It’s what the psephologists in party headquarters call a “soft Labour vote”.
“My family are Labour. I can’t vote Conservative. But with what’s gone on in the Town Hall, I can’t vote for that either,” was one voter quoted by the SubStandard.
Blend that in with righteous anger against the Tories over Partygate – Philp is a minister in Boris Johnson’s government who has failed to condemn the law-breaking during lockdown – and next Thursday’s outcome starts to become much more difficult to predict.
In Croydon, as in Wandsworth where the Tories fear being ousted for the first time in more than 40 years, the Conservatives are trying to hide their association with Johnson by calling themselves “Local”. That doesn’t appear to be working very well, either.
“The national party, what’s going on, comes up a bit,” walking charisma-by-pass Perry told the London evening paper.
“But the main issue on the doorstep is bankruptcy, dirty streets, the graffiti, crime.”
The mood of voters, caught twixt and between criminals in government and incompetents at the Town Hall, has been well reflected in some of the questions and comments at various hustings staged over the last three weeks.
There’s justifiable, and undiminished, public anger over the loss of nearly £200million of public money by Labour’s Town Hall administration, and there’s also anger towards senior council staff, such as the former chief executive, Jo Negrini, who were very well remunerated and walked away from the havoc they created even better off.
One voter asked the panel of Mayoral candidates, “Where have the crooks gone with all our money?”
Rick Howard, the LibDem outsider in the Mayoral contest, was quick to offer an answer: “They’re on Labour’s Addiscombe West leaflet.”
It brought one of the biggest laughs of the campaign so far. After what Croydon has been through these past few years, dark humour’s all that many people have left as a refuge.
- For the official list of council election candidates, by ward, click here
- For our report on the eight candidates for Croydon Mayor, click here
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