A candidate with a record-breaking losing record has been selected as Labour’s parliamentary candidate – though not before party officials tried to interfere with the voting process, reports WALTER CRONXITE, political editor
A freelance marketing consultant who lives on Coulsdon’s Cane Hill Park was selected last night to be the Labour candidate for the Croydon South parliamentary seat in the forthcoming General Election.
Ben Taylor was selected over three other short-listed candidates, by just two votes in a third and final round of voting.
It is the first “election” that Taylor has managed to win this year, his having lost a New Addington council seat to the Tories in May’s local elections with the worst result for Labour in Croydon in more than 50 years.
For Taylor the wannabe politician, worse was to come.
Taylor lost again in June when the candidate in the South Croydon council ward by-election, where he created a controversy after he tried to claim that he lived in the ward. Then he got votes from just 6.6per cent of the electors – in a ward that is mostly in the parliamentary constituency he hopes to represent.
“I am honoured and humbled to have been selected tonight by local members as Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Croydon South,” Taylor said last night.
Michael Crick noted that, “Taylor is the first black man to be chosen by Labour for a winnable seat since Clive Lewis in 2011”, although the highly respected former BBC Newsnight and Channel 4 News political reporter might be stretching the definition of “winnable” beyond breaking point there.
Croydon South is held by Conservative MP Chris Philp, who had a 12,000 majority at the 2019 General Election. The seat, which includes true-blue areas on the borders of the Surrey stockbroker belt including Coulsdon, Kenley and Purley, has always been held by the Tories.
But Croydon South is among the seats that Keir Starmer’s Labour must win if they are to have a majority after the next election.
The Croydon South CLP selection meeting was staged at the same time as last night’s full meeting of Croydon Council – making it impossible for several Labour councillors to attend – although a clash with England playing in a World Cup semi-final was averted when Harry Kane missed a penalty in Qatar on Saturday.
Nonetheless, the turn-out for only the second parliamentary candidate selection meeting held in Croydon South CLP in more than 12 years was pitiful: just 117 votes determined the selection.
Jess Hammersley-Rich, another Croydon South CLP member who managed to lose a council seat in May, was the first of the short-listed four to be eliminated from the contest, then Paul Waddell was dropped after the second round of voting.
That left Taylor and the Merton councillor, Natasha Irons, in the third and final ballot.
Party insiders suggested that Irons might have been the candidate favoured by Blairite officials at Labour’s London Region, especially after an extraordinary and suspicious 11th-hour intervention ahead of the selection meeting.
Pearleen Sangha, Labour’s regional director for London, contacted party members in Croydon South – going over the head of the local procedures secretary – on Tuesday to say, “Due to the extreme weather conditions…”, there had been a light dusting of snow two days earlier, “…we wanted to extend the voting period to apply for a postal vote to 10am tomorrow [Wednesday] and, in turn, extend the voting deadline to 12:00noon tomorrow, 14th December.”
Sangha’s note then directed members who wanted to get a late, late “postal” vote to contact London Region’s office directly. So not suspicious at all.
Sangha’s efforts in the end came up two votes shy…
Taylor’s selection was warmly greeted by Croydon Labour members, including MPs Sarah Jones and Steve Reed OBE (“You’ll be a fantastic candidate with a real passion for the community… blah, blah, blah”), but also by senior Croydon Conservatives.
“YAY!” was the monosyllabic tweet from Jason Cummings, a Tory councillor in Shirley.
Cummings, a former Downing Street aide, elaborated: “Happy to go on record and say that I think Chris Philp will beat Ben Taylor at the next General Election.”
Taylor’s calamitous track record at elections appears to be well-known. Alasdair Stewart, one of the new intake of Conservative councillors at Croydon Town Hall, said ahead of last night’s CLP meeting, “Looking forward to Ben, with his long history of electoral success in Croydon, being selected and continuing his record-breaking streak!”
And senior sources within the Croydon Labour Party were privately expressing their dismay, too. “Not the most inspiring contest,” the source said when asked for comment over the poor turn-out for the selection meeting.
A General Election has to be held between now and December 2024.
Read more: Election results leave Labour supporters angry and dismayed
Read more: Labour officials pick ‘worst-ever’ candidate for by-election
Read more: Tiverton. Wakefield. Can South Croydon be an election shock?
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