Our south of the borough reporter, PEARL LEE, on moves to find a candidate who might challenge Chris Philp for his parliamentary seat
The Labour Party this week announced it was taking applications from members who want to be considered for selection to stand as their candidate in the Tory-held Croydon South parliamentary seat at the next election.
It was a quick-fire request, with applications closing yesterday at noon, giving the unwary barely any time to prepare their pitch, and prompting members in Croydon South to suspect that Labour HQ has already got someone lined up for this less-than-plum political opportunity.
Sources in Croydon Labour have told Inside Croydon that the application process was opened without consultation or notice given to Croydon’s Local Campaign Forum, the body that is supposed to oversee campaigning across the borough’s three constituencies, nor with Croydon South Constituency Labour Party itself.
With the Labour hierarchy, headed by General Secretary David Evans, exercising an ever-tighter grip on local party affairs, blocking left-leaning candidates from other long lists for something as minor as “liking” a Caroline Lucas tweet, the idea that the party’s 122nd target seat might be presented on a platter to some thrusting Blairite might seem fanciful.
Until, that is, one considers that such is the broken politics of Westminster since Labour yielded up so many seats in Scotland to the Nationalists, Croydon South has become a must-win seat if Keir Starmer is ever to make it into No10 Downing Street.
And with every passing appearance he makes on television or radio, Croydon South’s sitting MP, Chris Philp, seems to be making it a more winnable seat for Labour. Although the Boundary Commissioners may yet put paid to that notion when their proposals are published next Tuesday.
Croydon South, which includes Coulsdon and Purley, Croham, Sanderstead and Kenley, has always had a Conservative MP since the seat was created in its current form in 1974. Only one ward in the current constituency, Waddon, regularly returns Labour councillors.
Croydon South has only ever had three MPs: William Clark (1974 to 1992), Richard Ottaway (to 2015), and Philp.
The closest Labour has got to the Tories this century was in 2001, when the late Gerry Ryan, the union official and Labour councillor, was within 9,000 votes of the widely detested Tricky Dicky Ottaway.
Philp held a 17,140-vote majority in 2015 over The Hon Emily Benn (yes, the grand-daughter of Tony Benn). By 2019, Philp’s majority had been whittled down to 12,339 votes – so it would still require a swing of more than 10per cent to turn it red.
Only once in four General Elections since 2010 have members of Croydon South CLP actually been allowed the privilege – some would call it a democratic right – of choosing the candidate they trust and believe is best-placed to represent them. Instead, London Region has imposed people of various calibres, such as the disinterested Lambeth councillor, Jennifer Brathwaite, who hardly bothered visiting the constituency in 2017, and certainly never bothered to find out how to spell “Coulsdon” correctly.
Often, Labour has almost abandoned its members and supporters in Croydon South, directing its campaigning resources into the marginal, more-winnable Croydon Central next door.
Labour has never had any continuity of candidate in Croydon South in all that time, and nor will they in 2024 – when the General Election is due to be held.
Olga Fitzroy stood in 2019 and impressed local colleagues with her commitment and dedication – she even turned up this week to canvass on behalf of Labour’s doomed council-by-election candidate.
But she has decided not to seek selection this time round.
The workers’ rights campaigner, now a councillor in Lambeth, has told friends that she was not applying. According to a source, “Olga gave it a lot of thought, but with a young family as well as her work and council commitments, she doesn’t think she can justify doing a marginal campaign for two years with potentially no job at the end of it.”
There’s also a strong suggestion that while opinion polls might now have Labour at 50per cent and the Tories at Westminster imploding, we have reached, perhaps even passed, “Peak Truss”, and that the polls will narrow between now and election day.
The Boundary Commission’s recommendations, if confirmed next week, will if anything make Croydon South even more of a Tory bastion, as they want to move parts of Labour-voting Waddon into Croydon North.
Of those thought to have considered applying to be Labour’s candidate are Ben Taylor, who earned himself the unfortunate accolade in May of having the worst Labour result in the history of Croydon Council elections, Jim Dickson, the lobbyist and councillor in Lambeth, and Stuart Brady.
Brady is a former professional rugby player, is a practising lawyer and was a parliamentary candidate in 2019, losing in Loughborough. Having moved to Coulsdon in recently, “he’s probably had his application form drafted and ready to go fo a couple of months”, according to a constituency source.
Others suggest that the party is keen to have a BAME candidate somewhere in Croydon.
Labour’s move to get applications for Croydon South in now, albeit at very short notice, does represent an improvement in the way that the party has handled the constituency in the past.
As another source familiar with the workings of Labour in London said today, “A local person who can work the constituency over a couple of cycles is going to be a better bet for the seat.
“And members actually getting to have a selection meeting – no matter what other shenanigans go on in the long-listing – has got to be an improvement on what has happened before.”
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