CROYDON LABOUR IN CRISIS: Starmer and Evans are using this borough as an experiment in central party control over rogue councils. By our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE
And there you have it. The 2022 local government definition of a non-job, eight times over, all wrapped up in the names that Stuart King, the new leader of the Labour group at Croydon Town Hall, was allowed to announce as members of his shadow cabinet.
The Blairite officials at Labour’s London Region offices, no doubt with a little input from King himself, waited until they saw the composition of new Croydon Mayor Jason Perry’s own, totally Tory “top team”. Perry’s true blue cabinet has been named in a council with no overall control, and in a 387,000 population borough where the Mayor was elected by a majority of fewer than 600. So much for the promises of cross-party collaboration.
The Labour cabinet response failed to take into account the requirement for having only a single deputy leader – a belt-tightening measure which King himself, along with one of his two designated deputies, Callton Young, had introduced just 18 months ago. How King divvies up the council cash between Young and co-deputy Janet Campbell has yet to be revealed.
But this is what the public gets for its money – more than £180,000 per year (there’s a couple of £5,000 special responsibility payments for things like chief whip and group secretary) – from the majority group on a council.
While there’s no doubt some status in local party circles, as well as the extra five grand of public cash that goes with the title of “shadow cabinet member” for this or that, King’s team will in reality have no power and very little say in how £81,000 per year plastic window salesman Perry conducts what he appears to believe is now a one-party state.
It will be the chairs of the various committees who will have real sway in how the Mayor conducts himself, but by lunchtime today – little more than 72 hours before the council’s annual meeting is due to take place in the Town Hall Chamber – none of those appointments had yet been released.
What is known, according to senior sources on Katharine Street, is that King has decided to throw the hot potato of chairing the planning committee to the Tories.
With the council split and the planning committee heading for regular deadlock at 5-5 Labour and Conservative members, the chair’s casting vote could swiftly become a political liability, especially after the suburban residents’ associations who worked so hard to secure a democratically-elected Mayor in the belief that this might magic-away all the requirements of planning law.
And what is notable about King’s first cabinet is the absence of many of the mainstays and ever-presents from the discredited Town Hall era under one of his predecessors, Tony Newman.
According to internal Croydon Labour documents seen by Inside Croydon, 22 of the party’s 34 councillors eagerly put themselves forward to be shadow cabinet members.
Of those Newman numpties overlooked as a consequence of this shadow cabinet announcement are Alisa Flemming, Maddie Henson, Sherwan Chowdhury, Humayun Kabir and Manju Shahul-Hameed.
Patsy Cummings, who was deputy cabinet member for finance at the time the council collapsed into bankruptcy, also misses out, although that may have more to do with the factionalism within the party. Just a year ago, Cummings was Labour’s candidate in Croydon and Sutton for the London Assembly.
Shahul-Hameed somehow survived as a cabinet member without ever managing to deliver any tangible outcomes. During the covid lockdown, while she was in charge of the business brief, the council failed to distribute “free money”, in hundreds of thousands of pounds of government grants needed for cashflow by dozens of desperate SME owners.
Flemming was for eight years the cabinet member for children, families and education, who presided over the disastrous 2017 Ofsted report on the council’s children’s services which saw the council pump £30million into the department over the next couple of years, something which undoubtedly set Croydon on its course to financial collapse.
Another recent cabinet member missing is Patricia Hay-Justice, who inherited the housing portfolio from Alison Butler just a week before the Regina Road scandal broke in March 2021. Inside Croydon understands that Hay-Justice came close to standing down from the council altogether at the local elections, and she did not put herself forward for a place in the shadow cabinet.
Under King – who gets £29,648 in Croydon Council allowances to add to his no-doubt generous salary working for a property developer lobbyist – the nine-strong Labour shadow cabinet includes five women and three people who this time last month were not even councillors.
There are “promotions”, if that’s the right word, for Mike Bonello and Nina Degrads, while “Thirsty” Chris Clark is also included on the front bench for the first time, relinquishing the role he held under Newman and Paul Scott as the puppet chair of planning.
King’s shadow cabinet is…
Deputy leader and finance – Cllr Callton Young (£19,212*)
Deputy leader and health and adult social care – Cllr Janet Campbell (£17,307.20*)
Children and Young People – Cllr Mike Bonello (£17,307.20)
Planning and Regeneration – Cllr Chris Clark (£17,307.20)
Streets and Environment – Cllr Nina Degrads (£17,307.20)
Homes – Cllr Chrishni Reshekaron (£17,307.20)
Communities and Culture – Cllr Brigitte Graham (£17,307.20)
Community Safety – Cllr Enid Mollyneaux (£17,307.20)
The notion that this shadow team is all King’s choice is, of course, entirely fallacious. The fingerprints of the Blairite chums of right-wing MP Steve Reed OBE are all over this.
The Labour group’s annual meeting on Wednesday night was informed that the councillors would not be allowed to elect their mates, as has been the usual practice, because the party hierarchy couldn’t trust their Croydon comrades to run a piss up in a brewery.
And on Thursday, the Huffington Post cited Croydon as a “problem” council under Labour which Keir Starmer wanted sorted out because of the reputational damage caused to the party’s national election prospects.
“Party hit squads would be sent in to turn around failing Labour groups under the plans,” the report stated. “The party’s national executive committee has been asked to approve the shake-up amid concerns some local authorities are harming Labour’s general election hopes by letting down voters.”
The report said that “Campaign improvement boards” are to be sent in to local council Labour groups identified as under-performing, the report said. Croydon’s Labour group was told this week that the bungling Local Campaign Forum – which included several Reed flunkies, including the chair, Joel Bodmer – was to be dismantled.
HuffPost said, “The boards, which will be made up senior party figures with local government experience, will draw up recommendations for improving performance which the Labour groups will then have six months to implement.”
And there was a warning for Stuart King, too. “If the Labour group leaders fail to hit the targets they have been set, party bosses could remove them from their posts.”
The disconnect evident in the Labour Party’s move, apparently instigated because of the failure of Newman’s numpties in Croydon, is that Croydon enjoyed the full backing and input from the national party’s leadership throughout, with David Evans, now Labour’s General Secretary, steering the 2014 local election campaign.
Indeed, Evans was a regular visitor to the 2022 Croydon campaign, and turned up with other party officials for the election count.
According to the HuffPost’s unnamed source, “With the next general election at most two years away, Keir and David Evans are determined that high standards are met at every level of the party, in every region.” Which would make a change…
And today, a senior Katharine Street source said of King’s first shadow cabinet, “It is a sign of just how vulnerable Labour has become that they have a mixture of those compromised by the past and those with no experience at the council now representing them at the Town Hall.
“They are being challenged as the opposition by LibDems, the Greens and others.
“The party in Croydon is under special measures, it seems, yet is still involved in poor practices internally.
“It is not automatic that they are a party waiting to go back into power. Only 38,000 voted second or first preference for Labour in the Mayoral elections. That vote might drop further in 2026, rather than recover.”
*Labour has announced two deputy leaders, while the council budget only allows for one. At the time of publication, no announcement has been made about how the allowances between Young and Campbell will be divided
Read more: £100,000 Mayor Perry unveils his old team as the new team
Read more: King gets Labour leadership, but delays over cabinet posts
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