CROYDON IN CRISIS: One week on from the election count that turned the council from merely a bankrupt borough into a national laughing stock, JIMMY BALDWIN adds his personal reflections on the events that took place at Trinity School from 10pm on May 5
It was a bonfire of the egos.
It was the local elections count that wasn’t a count.
Dozens of wannabe councillors and their activist supporters milling around nervously outside Trinity School’s sports hall on an early May evening that had turned chilly.
Inside Croydon has meticulously analysed the four-day-long shitshow that heaped even more national ridicule on the borough, so I won’t go into it here.
I have to say, Croydon’s besieged officials weren’t exactly welcoming at the venue, despite them needing as many friends as they can get.
In any case, why was a private school even chosen by a cash-strapped Labour council, when Town Hall chiefs could have used one of their own venues?
I saw bustling Susie Rundle, who holds the grand title of the council’s “external communications and engagement manager” disengage with two journalists who tried to get into the count, with a “your name’s not down, so you’re not coming in”-style rejection. She cited “security issues” as the reason. Journalists should have registered a week beforehand, she insisted.
But I, without an official council pass, managed to stroll into the hall unhindered. So much for security.
One of the rebuffed scribes would have been probably the only black reporter in the bleached room, with its white walls, white ballot papers, many white faces among the counters and white council candidates hanging around anxiously. It was a world away from the many black people you see in North End, on our blighted high street. Talk about political disconnect. No wonder 65per cent of Croydon residents didn’t bother to vote.
With more of a “can-do” attitude, Rundle and her team should have arranged a press room where reporters could view TV screens and be briefed. Other more media-savvy boroughs, and even some less media-savvy ones, too, like Sutton, do exactly that.
Back outside, clown and self-styled “His Excellency, Ambassador, Dr” Winston McKenzie – he who has been almost every political party from LibDems and Conservatives to UKIP and the far-right English Democrats – strutted around with his obedient partner, Marianne Bowness, in tow.
Clearly, Napolean-complex McKenzie feels he has something to prove as the least successful of three Croydon boxing brothers. The other two, Duke and Clinton, were world and European champions respectively.
Crudely demonstrating his megalomaniac tendencies, McKenzie barked at poodle Bowness, the ex-wife of the former Croydon Conservatives leader, Peter Bowness, who now sits in the House of Lords.
“I’ve sacked you twice today already,” McKenzie scolded Marianne, loudly, ostentatiously, so that everyone around could hear who was to blame for his latest political failure. God only knows why she stays with him.
Outside the count, a member of the public who criticised McKenzie’s reactionary politics, including his publicly expressed homophobic views, got no support from a rotund woman candidate for TTIP, the Taking The Initiative Party. TTIP remains, as best we can tell, one of the few political parties that hasn’t yet had the “Chump from the Dump” as a member.
The otherwise reasonably articulate would-be politician was another who dismally failed to get elected. She said she didn’t see any problem with Winston being anti-gay. But, when the hapless observer pointed out to her that they themselves were LGBT, the candidate hurriedly blurted out that she’d only been joking. Yeah, right.
The Taking The Initiative Party originally grew out of the Black Lives Matter campaign. Their council candidates sported purple rosettes with an eagle emblem. Flashy Charles Gordon, their businessman co-founder, was there for the count with his black Ferrari, understood to be just one of his collection of luxury cars.
Gordon’s love-in with TTIP mayoral candidate Farah London was the picture of a political admiration society.
“You’ve done really well, Farah,” he schmoozed. “It’s all down to you, Charles,” the former Tory supporter replied.
Then I overheard forlorn Labour candidate and political re-tread Val Shawcross muttering to a huddle of supporters – all pale, male and stale – that things weren’t looking good for her.
No surprise really, when you consider that the Croydon Labour Party had made the headlines by spectacularly crashing the Town Hall’s finances and then campaigned against having an elected mayor in the first place.
Suited and booted, entitled-looking and aloof Tories, the odd black face among them, were in confident mood. Their man (the pale, male and stale Jason Perry) would eventually win by a whisker after a recount, though none of us knew at this early stage on Thursday night that it would be dawn on Saturday before that outcome would be confirmed.
Days later, in Croydon’s last remaining ‘Spoons pub, a newly re-elected councillor, who is from the Steve Reed OBE right of Labour, was complaining bitterly about the party’s lacklustre manifesto and its uninspiring campaign. Having just spent eight years giving the residents of the borough 200million reasons not to vote for him and his party, the Blairite was moaning into his beer that there had been too few Labour door knockers out canvassing.
As recently as 2019, hundreds of Labour supporters turned out for a town centre rally with John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn’s right-hand man. In 2022, fewer than three dozen – and many of those candidates under strict orders to turn up – were banner waving for current deputy leader Angela Rayner in New Addington. Labour would lose three council seats in New Addington.
Given the bashing that the party’s activist left-wing has taken from Labour leader Keith Starmer and his chief apparatchik David Evans, is it any wonder?
Some comrades, including veteran politician and activist David White, the former Croydon Central Labour Party secretary, have been shamefully expelled. Loyal left-wingers can normally be relied on as most of the canvassers at election time. Indeed, Reedite Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones credited the campaigning of Momentum activists as being crucial in helping her defeat Gavin Barwell in 2017 and then get re-elected in the marginal seat two years later.
Evans himself was seen out on the Croydon campaign trail with Shawcross, but the man whose CV suggests that it was his organisation that won the 1997 General Election landslide for Tony Bliar was unable to cast a spell over this 2022 attempt to keep control of Croydon Town Hall.
Shawcross’s humbling defeat in Croydon is the writing on the wall for the Labour Party.
Just as they did in Croydon, core Labour voters may in future prefer to stay at home rather than offer themselves to be shat on by the egoists of the local political class.
Read more: Tory Perry wins historic Mayor election by less than 600 votes
Read more: Election results leave Labour supporters angry and dismayed
Read more: From bankrupt to laughing stock as council count continues
Read more: No Overall Control: full election results for Croydon’s 28 wards
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