WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, on the latest behind-the-scenes moves by some of those who helped bankrupt the council
The Labour group at the council, now reduced to 34 councillors, is moving swiftly to anoint Stuart King as their new leader.
The defeat of Val Shawcross in Thursday’s mayoral election has left a power vacuum at the top of the local Labour Party. With Hamida Ali not standing for election and Shawcross failing to take ultimate control of the running of the borough, the Town Hall Labour group is more leaderless than usual.
But there’s more than a sense of the inevitable about the handling of the succession to Ali, Tony Newman’s protégé who took over from him as leader at the height of the Town Hall’s financial collapse in October 2020.
An email from a very senior Croydon Labour figure, seen by Inside Croydon, intimated that King is to be the new leader of the Town Hall group – even before the leadership contest was announced, never mind put to a vote. And yesterday it was made clear that the matter is to be resolved in the next 72 hours, with a deadline for candidate nominations due today.
The process is being overseen by someone who is not, technically, a member of the Labour group of councillors any longer – Joy Prince, the veteran Waddon councillor who stood down from the council at last week’s elections. Prince was the chair of the Labour group in Newman’s second term as council leader, from 2018.
Putting Prince in charge of the leadership contest raised some eyebrows among party members, as it seemed to place the leadership election ahead of any election of group officers as would usually take place at an annual meeting which would usually be held following elections.
Of Labour’s 34 councillors elected last week, nearly half of them have previously served as members of the Newman council that bankrupted the borough.
They include Stooge Collins, the council’s deputy leader from 2014 to 2020, Manju Shahul-Hameed, the cabinet member for business failure, and Alisa Flemming, who was the cabinet member in charge when the council’s children’s services department failed its Ofsted inspection in 2017.
Shahul-Hameed, Flemming and another Newman appointee, Callton Young, were all resoundingly rejected by Labour members when they put themselves forward last autumn to be the party’s mayoral candidate. Any of those three might also still consider themselves leader material.
Like King, they were all selected to stand in safe Labour wards in the north of the borough.
South Croydon resident King served as a cabinet member under Newman and then as Ali’s deputy in the immediate aftermath of the borough’s bankruptcy.
King had originally ruled himself out of the leadership contest on the grounds that he was a busy father to young children, and had a full-time job to keep him busy. More recently, he had told friends that he would not seek a cabinet position in the event of a Shawcross mayoralty, though he appears to have reversed his position in the last fortnight or so.
King’s full-time job since early last year has been as a senior account exec at property industry lobbyists Terrapin. As reported last week, King’s day job and his council responsibilities, provide huge scope for serious and regular conflicts of interest – something he would need to resolve were he to take on the leadership of the largest political group at the Town Hall.
The views of some Labour members and council figures is that to have anyone who was associated with the “old regime” as the group’s new leader is a piece of poor judgement.
“It simply cannot be anyone from the old guard,” said one party official who had just endured the four-day election count and seen Labour losing council seats and vote share, while failing to get out the vote in the party’s stronghold areas.
Turnout in many Labour-held wards was around 25per cent – one of the key reasons behind Shawcross’s failure to win the mayoral election.
“Given all that’s gone on these past few years – it’s not just the finances, but it’s Regina Road, it’s Brick by Brick, it’s the benefit cuts – Labour voters, even Labour members, just didn’t want to vote for the people responsible for this mess,” another stalwart told Inside Croydon.
King, in his cabinet role working on the 2022-2023 council budget, was a key figure in the decision to remove Council Tax Support from 20,000 of the borough’s poorest households.
There had been grumblings during the campaign from within the local Labour Party that the “New Direction” being offered by Shawcross was both hypocritical and unrealistic. And backbench councillors, speaking to Inside Croydon confidentially, in case of reprisals from their party chief, claimed it was basically unfair.
“It’s like blaming the drowning engine stokers on the Titanic, while the captain and senior crew who steered the ship into the iceberg get the best seats in the lifeboats.
“Val seemed happy to tar all of the Labour group with the council’s failings, rather than put the blame where it belongs – namely on Newman, Butler, Hall and the cabinet.”
Backbenchers, the source said, “were treated no differently to members of the public when raising concerns on issues like housing, and they were bullied by the leadership if they complained”.
They predicted that the “New Direction” line of the campaign “risks people voting for Val but not voting for councillors”. The results announced last night in New Addington, Fairfield and Crystal Palace certainly appear to support that.
“There needs to be a complete culture change in the Labour group. Appointing one of Newman’s cabinet members as new leader will send out all the wrong signals.
“It shows no lessons have been learned. It’s not a ‘New Direction’ at all.”
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