WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, on the country’s longest-lasting election count, and more unwanted notoriety for Croydon
The Croydon election count looks set to head into a fifth day, and its second week, after yesterday’s session at Trinity School managed to declare results in just eight of the borough’s 28 voting wards.
One interested observer, Tim Crowley, a Tory councillor in Sutton, tweeted snarkily, “I’ve worked out that since the polls shut on Thursday at 10pm, you could have flown to Sydney had lunch outside the Opera House and flown back and still not have had the New Addington result in Croydon declared.”
Things have got so bad that even Steve Reed OBE, the Progress MP for Croydon North who managed to keep silent while his mates Tony Newman, Alison Butler and Manju Shahul Hameed were bankrupting the borough, losing tens of millions of pounds, letting council tenants rot in Dickensian housing conditions and cutting Meals on Wheels, has this morning managed to summon up a mild rebuke.
“Not good enough,” Keith Starmer’s pompous shadow justice minister tweeted this morning.
Many of the problems at the count stem from the decision of the council chief executive, Katherine Kerswell, to conduct the complicated mayoral and ward councillor counts in the sports halls and theatre of an independent school. Trinity needed its main sports hall on Friday, the day after the voting was held, for A level exams, and so Kerswell, as Returning Officer, decided to delay the start of the tallying for Croydon’s first elected Mayor until 5.30pm on Friday – 19½ hours after the polling stations closed. It was all downhill from there.
When the organisation of the count ran into problems and slowed the whole process down, a mayoral election count that was supposed to be done and dusted by 10pm on Friday was still continuing at 4.30am on Saturday.
Inside Croydon understands that it was mayoral candidates and their agents who called a meeting with the Returning Officer in the early hours of Saturday morning to highlight problems with the slow progress of the two-stage preferential vote count.
The candidates suggested to Kerswell that plans for the ward counts to get underway that morning should be abandoned.
At first, Kerswell tried to maintain everything was running according to her timetable. It was 2.30am yesterday when she was forced to admit defeat and, finally, she conceded that none of the ward counts could be completed that morning and she graciously advised the councillor candidates should make their weary way home to their beds.
Sources at the count suggest that the slow progress was not because of too few telling staff – drawn from council officials – but for lack of organisation. “There were plenty of tellers,” one source said. “But many of them were sitting around with nothing to do for hours on end on Friday night.
“There seemed to be some bottleneck in the process with senior count over-seers verifying the votes against the number of ballot papers issued.”
Someone else said, “I reserve my sympathies for the poor sods counting (or rather sitting and waiting for instruction) who have been so poorly managed throughout.“
And, as Reed also observed, as far as hall hire was concerned, time is money. “Someone needs to ask the Returning Officer how much four or five days’ hall hire fees have cost, plus all the staff overtime costs, paying for their out-of-office meals and transport… what should have been completed in one day looks to be taking five.
“Who organised this?”
Kerswell’s problems did not end on Saturday morning, though. The glacially slow counting has carried on into Sunday.
With Trinity’s main sports hall not available to continue the count, Kerswell announced in the early hours that this hugely important process would esume at 6pm on Saturday in the small hall and Mitre Theatre, starting with counts for just 12 of the 28 wards.
The rest would then be dealt with in a further count session on Sunday afternoon.
On Saturday, the count began an hour late. Even with relatively low turnouts across the borough, it was three hours before the first result was declared.
Some close calls required recounts; Kerswell’s preferred, time-saving strategy was to offer candidates a “bundle flick”, which is what was done in Addiscombe East, a two-seat ward which retains the same councillors – Tory Jeet Bains and Labour’s Maddie Henson.
Henson appeared to cling on to office thanks to some heavyweight canvassing in her ward conducted on her behalf by mayoral candidate Val Shawcross and local MP Sarah Jones.
Indeed, that was the pattern of the night, with no change at all to the political representation in the wards declared, only with some of the personnel changed. Newman numpties, such as Henson, and those who were part of the old Labour council team who bankrupted the borough were all duly returned for another four years on the Town Hall gravy train.
In Addiscombe West, that meant that the chair of non-scrutiny, Sean Fitzsimons, was returned alongside Newman’s chief whip, Clive “Thirsty” Fraser, who survived being deselected in his home ward of South Norwood to scramble back on to the council. Addiscombe West is the third ward where Fraser has stood for election in three elections.
The voters of Addiscombe West were so disenthused by the offer placed before them by the political parties that fewer than 1-in-3 bothered to vote – 32per cent being the turn-out reported.
Broad Green, probably the safest Labour ward in the borough, waved through Stooge Collins, for six years Newman’s deputy leader of the council, fellow loyal numpty Sherwan Chowdhury and the exceptionally useless cabinet member for business, Manju Shahul-Hameed. Here turn-out was just 26.5per cent – hardly a mandate at all.
It was as if the events in the Town Hall of November 2020 never happened.
Safe Labour areas, in ward-after-ward, dutifully returned the same councillors who got Croydon into its financial mess in the first place. In Thornton Heath (30per cent turn-out) and West Thornton (27per cent turn-out), the Labour vote looked as healthy as ever, the “Local” Conservatives never getting close, with the Greens and LibDems not managing to land a blow. Fringe group Taking The Initiative Party failed to take any initiative.
With each declaration from safe Labour wards, the low turn-outs served to underline why Shawcross missed out on the mayoralty by fewer than 600 votes – Labour’s campaign managers had failed to get out the vote.
According to the geniuses running Labour’s campaign, Tory-held South Croydon was a target ward. In the midst of Partygate and the other scandals that have embroiled the Tory government, the three sitting Conservative councillors still won the poll in South Croydon – Labour’s Josh Andrew getting within 300 votes of the lowest-polling Tory.
What was interesting here was that topping the vote in South Croydon was former IRA gun-runner Maria Gatland, ahead of Jason Perry, who earlier on Saturday had been declared Croydon’s new Mayor.
Unable to be a Mayor and a councillor at the same time, Perry won’t be continuing as a ward councillor, and there will now have to be a ward by-election to fill the vacuum created – a possibility which must have surely occurred to Perry when allowing his name to go forward on the nomination forms.
So that’s another £25,000 to £30,000 expenditure on an unnecessary by-election that Croydon’s long-suffering tax-payers could do without.
Back at the count, Kerswell’s problems were not getting any easier.
Saturday midnight came and went. At a quarter to one, with two ward counts unresolved – Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood, where the LibDems had got the Labour candidates “shitting themselves”, according to a party insider, and Waddon, the only ward in Croydon South’s parliamentary constituency to be held by Labour – Kerswell called time.
CPUN and Waddon would have to wait until the count resumed on Sunday for their bundle flicks – a process far quicker than a complete recount, in which the counters sort the votes into piles of 25 or 50, and then pass them along to be checked by a team leader to make sure all the votes had been counted properly. Election agents who agree to a bundle flick cannot then ask for a recount.
The counting is due to start again at 1pm Sunday, But this morning candidates were sent messages asking them to turn up early. Trinity School is busy; there’s an event going on…
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- By having a comment section, we provide all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content. Details of how this works can be read by clicking here
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
- Inside Croydon: 3.3million page views in 2021. Seen by 1.6million unique visitors in that 12-month period