And then there were four… Political editor WALTER CRONXITE on Labour’s shortlist for the ‘must-win’ Croydon South constituency
Being parachuted in from the north of the borough with endorsements from Starmer shadow cabinet member Steve Reed OBE and Stuart King, the leader of the Labour group on Croydon Council, eventually counted for nothing when it came to Mike Smith’s selection prospects in Croydon South.
Smith, a former councillor under Reed in Lambeth, is the only applicant who was on the long list to have been discarded after Labour’s London Region conducted its candidate interviews.
The National Executive Committee-approved shortlist comprises two men and two women, in the interests of gender balance.
On that shortlist ahead of a selection meeting to be held on December 14 are two members who managed to lose council seats when they stood in the local elections in May, Jess Hammersley-Rich and Ben Taylor, plus former Constituency Labour Party official Paul Waddell and serving Merton councillor Natasha Irons.
Senior sources within the Croydon Labour Party suggest that Irons’ candidacy has the backing of the hierarchy at London Region.
The bungled selection process, including the clash of dates for the selection meeting – to be staged at the same time as a full meeting of Croydon Council, thereby potentially ruling out around 20 Labour councillors from attending what is only the second to be held in Croydon South in more than 15 years – continued into this week.
One nomination meeting managed to make two nominations when it was attended by just five people… and one of those lost connection from the Zoom meeting midway through.
Inside Croydon is also aware of some Croydon South members having been given no notice of their branch nomination meeting, and of one candidate’s pitch to members failing to be presented to those attending one of the influential nomination meetings.
The selection in Croydon South is among dozens being conducted by the Labour Party ahead of the next General Election, which must be held by December 2024.
Conservative-held Croydon South has only two elected Labour councillors (down from three 12 months ago). Both represent Waddon ward. Tory 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 win.
Croydon South CLP 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 nonetheless staged nomination meetings at branch level. Several of the meetings had to be abandoned as inquorate when disinterested and disillusioned members didn’t bother to log-on to the remote Zoom meetings.
Irons, a cabinet member for the environment in Labour-run Merton, is seen as having an advantage in being unsullied by association with the Blairite clique in Croydon that managed to bankrupt the borough, balls-up the mayoral election and lose control of the council.
Whether Irons will be prepared to give up around £30,000 per year in extra allowances as a Merton cabinet member while she spends two years trying to become the first-ever Labour MP for Croydon South remains to be seen.
“Delighted to be on the short-list for Labour’s parliamentary candidate in Croydon South,” she tweeted this morning after being given the nod from the powers-that-be at London Region.
“Excited to speak to as many members as possible about how we make history here at the next election.”
Irons is undoubtedly on a steep learning curve about the area.
Responding to the observation that her publicity material shows her with a backdrop of the central Croydon skyline – which happens to be a different constituency altogether – Irons responded by saying, “It’s a picture of me on Purley playing fields. Thought the view would be recognisable.”
The picture is entirely recognisable: of Irons on what is actually known as Purley Way Playing Fields…
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