With the final declaration in, WALTER CRONXITE reports on the state of the council after the 2022 elections
By the end, the emotions on show at the Croydon Council election count at Trinity School were less those of shock, disappointment or even anger, more just simple exhaustion at the end of a four-day marathon.
It was nearly 7.20 on Sunday evening, at elections where the polling stations had opened at 7am on Thursday. Having announced the last result from the last ward to declare – Peter Underwood’s fourth-placed finish in Fairfield ward – Katherine Kerswell, the Returning officer who’d presided over the mayhem and disarray from the moment the ballot boxes had arrived at the counting centre, allowed herself a little frisson of a hop and a punch of the air with both arms. It drew a few jeers of derision from those who had the misfortune to still be in the hall.
The underlying causes and concerns surrounding the arrangements for the count have been laid out elsewhere. But the outcome of the voting at the centre of it all promises to have repercussions for many years to come.
Jason Perry arrived at the Town Hall this morning to take up office as Croydon’s first elected Mayor. How the new Conservative Mayor rubs along with a council chamber where the largest single party is Labour seems certain to define his administration.
There are two quasi-judicial committees, for example, planning and licensing, which have the chair appointed by the council, not the Mayor.
Planning officials on various residents’ associations across the borough, people who have followed the Machiavellian machinations of Paul Scott and Heather Cheesbrough over the last eight years, are keenly awaiting the line-up of the new planning committee.
After all, how do you possibly divide up the 10 committee members when there are 34 Labour councillors, 32 Tories and three LibDems and Greens?
And then there’s the thorny issue of the composition of the scrutiny committee and GPAC, the general purposes and audit committee.
The cash-strapped council was ordered last year to appoint an independent chair of GPAC, while Labour resisted calls to have an opposition councillor chair scrutiny, in place of Tony Newman’s loyal placeman, Sean Fitzsimons. Will that position change now the Tories have the upper hand through the Mayor?
And what of the role of the chief executive, now that we have an executive Mayor? Katharine Street sources noted how Kerswell had inserted herself in an official council video at the start of the election campaign period, almost as if she was in charge of the appointment of the Mayor, rather than the electorate. And, again this morning, Kerswell positioned herself conspicuously at the heart of matters with a photocall with Perry on the steps of the Town Hall.
“What’s that all about?” one councillor said to Inside Croydon. “You don’t see the head of the Civil Service welcoming a new Prime Minister to Parliament after a General Election, do you?
“Kerswell’s up to something.”
The smart money is that what Kerswell is “up to” is protecting her cushty £190,000 per year salary or, as happened with a change of administration when she worked at Kent County Council, trying to ensure that she gets another £420,000 pay-off. After all, it’s not that Croydon isn’t already notorious for making overly generous payments to under-achieving executives…
Kerswell did herself no favours with the chaotic conduct of the election count. At one point on Sunday, with not enough space in the sports hall or theatre, the count for one ward, Waddon, was being conducted in the school canteen.
Complaints about mis-assigned bundles of votes and scrutineers and agents being excluded from the count for a crucial 20minutes on Thursday night won’t impress the Electoral Commission, and did not impress the candidates and public who was bystanders at the latest Croydon Council car crash.
The long, long count of councillor votes, the start of which was delayed until Saturday evening, brought a drip-drip feed of agony for Labour’s supporters, but little in the way of great joy for the Tories. The impact of Boris Johnson, Partygate and the other associated scandals at Westminster undoubtedly played a role in the way people voted.
And the way the council had been mismanaged by Labour also impacted.
As the results came in, ward after ward in the red strongholds in north and central Croydon told the same story through the dire turn-out: Labour supporters, even members, had not bothered to turn out to cast their votes, with three-quarters of electors in some areas not troubling the ballot box.
Selhurst had 26per cent turnout, New Addington North 25.6per cent, Broad Green 26.5per cent. Contrast this to Conservative wards, such as Park Hill and Whitgift (42per cent), Old Coulsdon (45.8per cent) and Sanderstead (48.4per cent), where Yvette Hopley was returned to the council with more votes than any other councillor candidate, 3,826. This in an election where some of Croydon’s councillors were elected with fewer than a thousand votes.
It was this battle of the turn-outs that had doomed Val Shawcross’s hopes of becoming Mayor. The Tories simply made sure more of their supporters voted.
Yet despite bankrupting the borough, 14 of Newman’s numpties still scrambled back on to the council allowances gravy train today – nearly half of the new contingent of Labour councillors.
Of the borough’s 69 elected councillors (Perry’s first act as Mayor has been to cause a by-election for the South Croydon councillor seat he is unable to take up), 27 are Town Hall newbies – although one, Holly Ramsey in Purley and Woodcote, has just had four years in the vipers’ nest that is Sutton Council.
Labour lost seats in Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood (where Claire Bonham won the LibDems’ first council seat since 2002) and Fairfield, where the Greens took two seats, yet the electorate still returned Newman numpty Chris Clark.
They also lost one seat in Waddon, where the party was quick to point the finger of blame at Andrew Pelling, their former councillor who, some seem to forget, had been forced out of the party by their own officials for the heinous offence of… talking to the press.
“Andrew had been democratically selected by local Labour Party members to be a Labour candidate in Waddon only to then be deselected by Local Campaign Forum shenanigans,” said now ex-councillor Robert Canning, who was a Waddon ward colleague of Pelling’s for eight years.
“That’s why he stood as an independent and the several hundred votes that Andrew secured split the Labour vote in Waddon.
“The chair of the LCF, Joel Bodmer, and those other members of the LCF who supported the decision to re-panel Andrew, whose actions have gifted the Conservatives a seat in Waddon, should be ashamed of themselves and resign immediately.”
Canning was not alone in questioning the position of Bodmer and his “top team” at the LCF of Carole Bonner and Nuala O’Neill in the shambolic Labour election campaign.
The real blow to Croydon Labour’s solar plexus came in New Addington, where three seats were lost across the two two-seat wards. Not for 50 years has a Tory been elected in what is now New Addington North, where former Labour member Adele Benson got on the council as a Conservative alongside returning Kola Agboola. The second Labour candidate there, Sangeeta Gobidaas, got fourth with a paltry 653 votes.
Labour members in New Addington South had no doubt why their two seats were seized by Tony Pearson (back on the council after eight years, and a dalliance with racist far-right parties) and Laura Fish: they blamed their two Labour councillors of the past eight years, Louisa Woodley and Ollie “Shit Show” Lewis, two of the numptiest of Newman’s numpties.
Housing schemes imposed on New Addington by the Labour council’s failed housing developer, Brick by Brick, including building on kids’ playgrounds or seeking to destroy parts of a nature reserve, also undermined Labour’s case.
But simmering resentment created by two outsiders who took the “safe” Labour ward for granted will not be quickly forgotten.
Woodley did not seek re-selection, while Lewis could not get selected by party members in any ward. “Louisa and Ollie should hang their heads in shame,” one New Addington resident told Inside Croydon.
“Their many years of doing fuck-all for our community has resulted in this.”
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