Will they ever learn? Political editor WALTER CRONXITE on the latest fumbling efforts by the Labour Party to organise a selection process in Croydon
The Croydon Labour Party and their bosses at London Region have lost none of their capacity for poor judgement, bungling and stitch-ups, if the on-going selection process to find a parliamentary candidate to stand in Croydon South is anything to go by.
The Tory-held Croydon South constituency has only two elected Labour councillors (down from three 12 months ago); both represent Waddon ward. MP Chris Philp had a 12,339-vote majority in 2019, but Croydon South – 122nd on Labour’s list of targets – is considered a seat that Labour must win at the next General Election if Keir Starmer is to collect the keys to No10 Downing Street.
Croydon South Constituency Labour Party is unusual in that it is not organised on a branch basis, where individual wards have a degree of autonomy. Despite the absence of any branch organisation, the CLP has nonetheless been staging nomination meetings at branch level over the past week.
Even though they have used Zoom, so no one has to venture out from the comfort of their living room, the meetings have been very poorly attended. Labour sources confirm that branch meetings for Old Coulsdon, Purley’s two wards and South Croydon all had to be abandoned as inquorate.
It’s not a particularly high bar set for a meeting to go ahead. A ward nomination requires just 10per cent of members from that area to participate to be quorate.
Sanderstead managed to go ahead with its meeting with just seven members present.
There, Stuart King, the leader of the Labour group on the council, made a significant intervention to ensure that Mike Smith received a nomination that should ensure he gets shortlisted.
Smith is clearly the anointed candidate of the right-wing Labour hierarchy that played such a conspicuous part in bankrupting the borough, ballsing-up the mayoral campaign and losing control of the council.
Smith is a Mike Tindall lookalike from the north of the borough who is known to be closely aligned with Blairite MP Steve Reed.
Smith and his wife, Catriona Ogilvy, were both previously active in the party in Reed’s old Lambeth stomping ground – Smith was a councillor in Lambeth for four years (2010-2014) when Reed was council leader at Brixton Town Hall – and Ogilvy is a former chair of Croydon North CLP.
Smith is one of the five names on the long list, all of whom might yet go forward to a short list, subject to approval from London Region and the National Executive Committee.
Missing from the list is Stuart Brady, the Coulsdon-based barrister and a former parliamentary candidate, who some suggest might be seeking a more winnable seat, or is fully occupied professionally with a class action being taken against rugby authorities by former players suffering the impact of multiple concussions.
Of those who have put themselves forward, one is a councillor in Merton, Natasha Irons, whose knowledge of Croydon South is so poor that her publicity features a photograph of herself showing the skyscrapers and cranes of Croydon Central…
The other three on the long list are all locals, two of whom both managed to lose council seats to the Tories in the local elections in May – though neither Jess Rich (now calling herself Jess Hammersley-Rich) nor Ben Taylor manage to mention such an important detail in the blurb they’ve sent out to Labour members.
Taylor claimed his own little bit of Croydon political history when he delivered the worst result ever by a Labour candidate in council elections in Croydon.
Undaunted by such a set-back in New Addington South, Croydon Labour’s Local Campaign Forum still put Taylor forward as the candidate for the South Croydon ward by-election that was held in June. Taylor just happens to be vice-chair of the LCF.
In the South Croydon by-election, Coulsdon resident Taylor managed to do even worse than he did in May: he got fewer than one thousand votes, representing just 6.6per cent of the electorate.
Hammersley-Rich lost one of Labour’s three ward seats in Waddon, though apparently she does not regard that as any hindrance to her parliamentary ambition.
But Hammersley-Rich’s pitch is embarrassingly poor. For commuter belt Croydon South, she’s drafted a five-point action plan that makes no mention of public transport in the constituency. Her message to members opens with mention of the “brilliant schools” in the area, and comes complete with a spelling mistake in her first sentence.
The fifth contender is NHS worker Paul Waddell, who appears to have been caught out by the swiftness of the application process and was late to the fray with his candidate website. A former vice-chair of the Croydon South CLP and a losing candidate in council elections in his home ward of South Croydon (Croham as was), Waddell did receive a nomination from Waddon’s branch meeting, which also nominated Hammersley-Rich and Taylor.
Unlike his rivals, Waddell does at least have a recent record of winning in elections: last year he ran a successful campaign to be elected as a lay member of the Church of England’s General Synod.
Coulsdon Town ward nominated Taylor and Irons, who also has nominations from trades unions Unison and the GMB. Hammersley-Rich has backing from the CWU and USDAW, as well as a Labour affiliated group, the Labour Movement for Europe.
Taylor has no such union endorsements, while Smith has got the backing of something called the Labour Campaign for International Development.
Having any kind of candidate selection process is, for Labour members in Croydon South, something of a novelty, after they have had candidates imposed for three of the last four General Elections.
But after the lack of interest shown at the nomination meetings, there’s a real risk that the CLP’s selection meeting, due to be held at Ruskin House on the evening of December 14, could be a bit of a damp squib. It clashes with the World Cup semi-finals, right at the time when Gareth Southgate’s men could be trying to get England to the global final for the first time since… well, you know, since 1966.
So no big deal, much. Or maybe Croydon South and London Region somewhat unpatriotically don’t fancy England’s chances of making it to the last four?
There are other significant considerations for the choice of date, though.
December 14 also happens to be the same night as the first meeting of full council at Croydon Town Hall since the borough declared itself effectively bankrupt for the third time in two years. With so many Labour councillors, despite representing wards in the north of the borough, having their homes in the south, the important council business risks denying the selection meeting of around two dozen of Croydon South CLP’s most senior members.
As one underwhelmed Labour member told Inside Croydon: “Didn’t they realise this meeting could clash with an England World Cup semi-final fixture? It definitely clashes with a meeting of full council.”
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