CROYDON LABOUR IN CRISIS: WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, on the latest horse-trading going on behind the scenes among the largest political group at the Town Hall
Croydon Labour made such a mess of the council’s finances, the authority now has its every move monitored by a team of local government experts appointed by Whitehall.
And Croydon Labour made such a mess of the council elections, the local party has been told that Labour’s London Region will pick who is rewarded with jobs in the Town Hall’s shadow cabinet.
That was the extraordinary outcome of last night’s Town Hall Labour group annual meeting where, as predicted by Inside Croydon, Stuart King, was anointed as leader. Which wasn’t the hardest decision: the West Thornton councillor was the only candidate.
Even that news failed to placate constituency officials around the borough: “Same shit, different bucket,” one told Inside Croydon.
Another recognised that the Croydon North MP, Steve Reed, had tightened his grip on the local party even more with the appointment as Town Hall group chief whip of Louis Carserides. South Norwood councillor Carserides works in Reed’s Westminster office, the ideal place to keep a check on party discipline…
But a lot of the rest of the business of last night’s meeting went unresolved.
The Labour group’s AGM, in the bad old days under discredited ex-leader Tony Newman, was an often unedifying display of patronage over ability, as councillors indulged in snout-in-the-trough scrabbling over the juicy council allowances that were on offer in return for their unquestioning loyalty.
But this year, there was none of that, as the elections for cabinet roles were taken out of the hands of Croydon’s 34 elected councillors.
King himself had been a beneficiary of the system of patronage in the past, as a member of the Newman cabinet that bankrupted the borough.
For the past 18 months, King was deputy leader to Hamida Ali, thus swerving the worst fall-out from the council’s financial collapse and side-stepping the litany of apologies that needed to be made over Croydon catastrophes such as Regina Road, Brick by Brick and the Fairfield Halls.
It was King, with cabinet responsibilities for finances, that was a leading figure in removing Council Tax Support from 20,000 of Croydon’s poorest households last month, and for approving a 4.1per cent increase in rents for council tenants, thus magnifying the impact of the predicted cost of living crisis for thousands of traditional Labour voters.
But it was King’s role in the sale of the Croydon Park Hotel for £5million less than the council had paid for it that was a cause for particular concern. The buyers, Amro Real Estate Partners, are clients of King’s day-job employers, the Terrapin Group. King maintains that he always removed himself from any discussions.
King is to have two deputy leaders: Callton Young and Janet Campbell. It was just 18 months ago, after the council’s finances collapsed, that King and Young were among those who agreed to remove one of the deputy roles, and its allowances, as a needless spare part, to save the borough a bit of cash.
Intriguingly, according to official council papers, there is only a single Labour deputy leader position available, with the extra £7,520 to go with it. Presumably, King and Labour have a cunning plan…
Meanwhile, the snub to the other applicants for deputy leader, Newman numpties Chris Clark, Alisa Flemming, Humayun Kabir and Manju Shahul-Hameed, will have been noted by some.
Of the non-jobs on offer, Kola Agboola has been chosen as the Labour group secretary (and receives an extra £5,505.60 council cash for the privilege) and Mohammed Islam, the newly elected councillor for Selhurst and a Reed acolyte, is to be the group chair.
But that was just about it.
The group’s behind-closed-doors annual meeting had already been delayed by a week.
Ostensibly, the delay was because council officials had their slide rules out in efforts to calculate who gets what in a carve-up in a council with an elected Tory Mayor, no overall control in the Town Hall chamber and Labour forming the largest group at the council: Labour won 34 of the 70 council seats on May 5, but the Conservatives trumped that by getting Jason Perry over the line by 500 votes to be the borough’s executive Mayor.
“Given that the council is now under no overall political control, descriptions of ‘majority’ and ‘opposition’ members is problematic,” according to the council’s finance director, Jane West, in one of her many reports going to next Wednesday’s annual meeting.
Still blank among all that paperwork are the pages showing the various cabinet and shadow cabinet roles, which will come as a disappointment to the 22 Labour councillors who eagerly put themselves forward for the seven vacancies on the gravy train.
The real reason for the postponement of the group’s annual meeting was because Labour’s London Region had stepped in to carry out a post mortem into the party’s dismal performance at the local elections.
King has told colleagues that he will be choosing the shadow cabinet, once the composition of Perry’s “top team” is known, with the aim of “building support across all parts of the local party”.
But most local party insiders know that it is London Region, and Reed ally Amy Fode, who will now be deciding which Croydon Labour councillors are worthy of an extra £5,615.20 in their council-funded allowances as shadow cabinet members.
There’s also to be a move to impose on Croydon’s three constituency Labour parties a new committee of “experienced campaigners”, which seems likely to replace the bungling Local Campaign Forum (which was chaired by another Reed ally, Joel Bodmer), while professional organiser and online vote fixer Anthony Ellis seems unlikely to have his contract renewed at the end of this month.
“From what I’ve heard – and there’s been no formal announcements – this is much worse than expected,” one disgruntled local party official told Inside Croydon.
“Everyone expects the Reed cabal to push their luck, but there isn’t even a fig leaf of reform in this. This is just the same shit in a different bucket.
And another source was equally indignant. “Given that it was Region that ran the campaign and lost us at least the seats in Waddon and Upper Norwood, two in Fairfield and three in New Addington, there’s going to be an understandable frustration with the imposition of cabinet members and other roles by London Region.”
And they noted, “Next month’s council by-election in South Croydon will be interesting.”
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