CROYDON IN CRISIS: Around the country, the Tories are in retreat thanks to the failings of their three Prime Ministers. But not in Croydon, where they face a neutered opposition, as political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports
In London and in Croydon, it is genuinely a tale of two cities for the Labour Party.
For Croydon Labour, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times.
National opinion polls reflect the impact of having three Tory Prime Ministers in 2022, giving Labour such a large lead nationally that if a General Election were held today, they might win 71 of London’s parliamentary seats, with the Liberal Democrats taking the other four seats and the Tories completely wiped out in the capital.
That includes the entirely unlikely prospect of Labour’s Ben Taylor becoming the next MP for Croydon South.
Croydon Labour canvassers, often made up of the leafletting cult that is local councillors or wannabe councillors, console themselves that they can distract residents from the troubles that their party have brought upon their borough by pointing to the sleaze of Boris Johnson, or the incompetence of Liz Truss, and the state of national politics.
But Croydon’s voters have proved themselves to be rather more savvy than that.
When Labour’s London dominance reached new highs last May with the party gaining control in long-standing Tory bastions of Westminster and Wandsworth, here in Croydon, Labour was stinking the place out.
Labour lost both the Croydon Mayoralty – and therefore control of a council they had held since 2014 – and seven council seats across New Addington North and South, Fairfield, Upper Norwood and Crystal Palace and Waddon. Labour didn’t only lose council seats to the Tories in Croydon. They lost seats to a LibDem and the Greens as well, the first time in the 57-year history of the London Borough of Croydon that Labour had lost council seats to these parties.
But after eight years of the residents in the south of the borough being sneered at and ignored by the now discredited ex-leader of the council, Tony Newman, the malaise for Labour in Croydon is deepest there.
In the Croydon South constituency at last May’s council elections, Labour finished in third place in every ward with the exception of Waddon, South Croydon ward and the two Selsdon wards. In a subsequent Selsdon Vale and Forestdale by-election, Labour was beaten into third place by an energetic and organised Green Party campaign.
Those sorts of results suggest that extrapolating the opinion polls to suggest Labour is going to have an MP in Croydon South any time soon is very wide of the mark. The selection of a Labour candidate for the constituency who has a record losing performances at the ballot box underlines that point, and probably reflects how Labour has little real intention of seriously contesting Croydon South.
Croydon Labour’s priorities, come a General Election between now and December 2024, are more likely to be getting Sarah Jones re-elected in what is likely to be a reconfigured Croydon East seat that will be more marginal than the current Croydon Central seat.
Bewilderingly, Croydon Labour, and Labour’s London regional office, have so far shown no real sign of having any strategy to recover from the damage that Newman, Alison Butler, Paul Scott and David Evans’s other mates managed to inflict on the borough, and upon their party’s own political fortunes here. All we see is a hope for the national tide to raise the firmly beached SS Croydon Labour. That and a dependency on demographic change to help paint the town red again.
Such complacency is reflected in really poor performances by Labour councillors at meetings since the local elections.
Labour is a neutered, impotent opposition. They have little credibility after crashing the council’s finances, and are unable to call Mayor Jason Perry to account. Their ill-judged questions are easily dismissed.
The Green and LibDem councillors have no such baggage as bankrupters of the borough. It is fair to say that their questions come across as intellectually cogent, unlike much from the Labour benches.
Stuart King, Labour’s leader on the council (their third in two years), was made to look foolish at the December meeting in the Town Hall Chamber when he taunted Mayor Perry about which libraries will be closed. Perry resorted to his stock answer: Labour’s bankrupting the council is the cause of any cuts. We can expect to hear that line trotted out many more times between now and the next council elections in 2026.
The Conservatives look far better organised at council meetings, with a consistent line about Labour’s “toxic legacy”. The Tories are determined to make Labour take all the blame for Croydon becoming what the Conservatives call a “minimal council”.
Labour councillors’ contributions at council meetings either lack self-awareness or reflect inexperience. Those councillors who were responsible for bankrupting the borough and shamelessly chose to stay on the expenses gravy train have mostly been relegated to the back benches… out of sight, out of mind. That, or handed the ceremonial mayoral robes of office.
Others, meanwhile, are compromised by having failed to back Labour’s Mayoral candidate, Val Shawcross, in her condemnation of Croydon Labour during last May’s election.
This leaves Labour’s Town Hall front bench populated mostly with novices. And it shows.
Questioning from Mike Bonello, the party’s education spokesperson, reveals that he is unaware that councils don’t run much education these days.
Chrishni Reshekaron decided to use the last full council meeting to complain that there is not a landlord licensing scheme in place. It did not take long for it to be pointed out that this was because her Labour council did not even have a basic housing strategy in place to allow for approval to be given for the scheme to continue. Tory Lynne Hale politely schooled the rookie.
And Chris Clark, one of Newman’s numpties who has been given a front-bench job, just takes the mickey out of the Croydon public when he told the council that the Conservative council was building on “the work of the previous council on improving council governance”. Seriously.
It’s seriously unfunny when you take into account how the council of which Clark was an enthusiastic member lost at least £163million of Croydon residents’ money through failed governance.
Labour also lack all discipline in having one councillor after another ask for more spending by the council they bankrupted. They also appear hypocritical in complaining about the impact of cuts on the needy when less than a year ago they were cutting up to £200 a month from the household budgets of some of the poorest residents with their reductions of Council Tax benefit. And it is Labour who “left council tenants living in squalor” at Regina Road and elsewhere, as Mayor Perry was able to mention.
Perry’s charge that Labour are not reconciled to what they have done, that they “can’t admit that they did it”, strikes home and Labour needs to confront that issue to be successful in Croydon again.
Labour cannot rely on the national political tides to rescue them. The 2022 Croydon elections show that there are real problems for Labour which might yet impact forthcoming parliamentary elections.
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