CROYDON IN CRISIS: Opinion polls suggest that the Tories should have no chance of electoral success in this borough. But as WALTER CRONXITE outlines in this second part of a special report, ‘the Croydon effect’ of the Newman years has left the Town Hall without any effective opposition
Labour should have been making huge strides forward in Croydon, with Tory poll standings nationally as low as 19per cent recently.
But Labour’s record in Croydon, bankrupting the borough and then failing to deal effectively with those who were responsible, while the venal Conservatives in national government have sent the country spiralling into inflationary and cost-of-living crises, have seen many voters across the borough switch to third parties, some for the first time.
In Croydon’s Mayoral election in May 2022, 32.5per cent – a chunky 1-in-3 – voted for other non-Tory parties or candidates.
That was just 0.2per cent shy of Labour’s vote share.
Croydon Council staged two ward by-elections later in 2022. Here, matters got even worse for Labour, despite the Conservative crises at Westminster deepening by the day. Between local election day in May and the South Croydon ward by-election two months later, Labour had lost yet more ground, polling 5per cent less than they had eight weeks earlier.
The party’s candidate that day, Ben Taylor, was selected despite his delivering the worst election performance for Labour in Croydon since 1965 when he stood in New Addington in May. Taylor is now Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Croydon South, a seat the party must win if Keir Starmer is to form a majority in parliament at the next General Election.
More than 30per cent of voters chose “third parties” in that South Croydon by-election at the end of June, their ballots being divided up among LibDems, Greens and independents.
Labour being such a weak opposition presents a real danger to the way that the council is being run. Having won the mayoralty with fewer than 600 votes, Jason Perry really doesn’t have much of a mandate to push through some of the wilder, right-wing ideologies that his party tried to inflict on the country under Liz Truss calamitous, and mercifully brief, premiership.
Yet Labour, the bankrupters of the borough, still have many of those who happily served between 2014 and 2020, pocketing their allowances while sitting on front as well as back benches, or even on the ceremonial Mayor’s throne.
It has quickly been established that they have no moral authority when they might attempt to criticise the Conservatives, tainted as many of the Labour councillors are by their unquestioning part in the Fairfield Halls fiasco and the Brick by Brick disaster.
Judged by the way council meetings have progressed in the early months under the new Tory administration, the untainted “third parties” at the Town Hall, the Green and LibDem councillors, are not being allowed much time to hold Mayor Perry to account, either. They are given no more than about 10 minutes in a three-hour meeting.
The three rookie councillors – two Greens from Fairfield ward and a LibDem representing Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood – must quickly find their feet and make a real impact with the precious few minutes they are allotted at these meetings.
Croydon’s LibDem supporters, mostly scattered to the far north and deep south of the borough, are still seemingly in awe of their electorally more successful neighbours in Sutton, where they have had control of the council for 32 years.
This is amply illustrated by their local party’s profile page for Claire Bonham, who in May became the first LibDem elected to Croydon Council since 2002. The cheery photograph chosen does not have, as its backdrop for Bonham, any of the splendid views they might have chosen of the Crystal Palace ward she represents. Instead, it shows Bonham beside Carshalton Ponds, deep in Sutton LibDem territory…
It is not impossible that, come the next local elections in 2026, Bonham – if she has not pursued loftier political ambitions elsewhere – could be joined on Croydon Council by two party colleagues representing her Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood ward.
Labour are being modestly active in doing a few canvass sessions in the borough’s most northerly seat, but the momentum is with the Liberal Democrats who just keep communicating with local residents, to the potential embarrassment of Croydon North MP Steve Reed OBE, who lives in the area.
The Greens face a tougher task in building up an incumbency in Fairfield ward, with its rapid turnover of executive renters among their voters. Peter Underwood is likely to press on with his campaigning, in the hope that he will eventually join his colleagues Ria Patel and Esther Sutton in 2026.
The Green campaigning certainly jumped up a notch in the Selsdon Vale and Forestdale by-election in November. The Greens are benefiting from the party agent skills and electoral know-how of Paul Ainscough, a former Labour parliamentary candidate, one of many in Croydon who have quit the party recently.
In the two months since by-election day, where Underwood finished a strong second well ahead of Labour’s candidate, the Greens have already put out a follow-up leaflet. The message from the Greens is clear: we’re here to stay.
Labour made a big effort in that by-election, in a ward partially in the Croydon Central parliamentary constituency of Sarah Jones MP. That Labour only managed to persuade 372 electors to vote for them that day ought to ring alarm bells for Jones, as 36.2per cent of the Selsdon Vale and Forestdale electorate voted outside the two main parties on November 3.
Labour’s 2022 Mayoral candidate Val Shawcross celebrated the Selsdon Vale and Forestdale by-election result on social media. This was not because the Greens overtook Labour to be more than 7per cent ahead of the reds, but because of the collapse in the Tory vote by 21.2per cent. If that loss of support was repeated in a Mayoral and council election, it would see Labour back in power in Croydon, assuming that the third parties’ vote continued to be split among a number of contenders.
The under-resourced Greens doing their leafleting in Selsdon Vale and Forestdale also presents an interesting contrast. When was the last time any Labour literature dropped on to your doormat? Anything, anything at all, since May 5?
Shamed into ineffectualness in the Town Hall Chamber, it seems Croydon Labour has opted for discretion being the better part of valour when it comes to doorstep encounters with the Council Tax-payers they let down so badly…
The Tories, meanwhile, reinvigorated by getting Perry (just) across the finish line in May, have been out to hammer home their messages of financial incompetence by their political opposition. Which is more than Part-time Perry has been prepared to do when it comes to making himself available, and accountable, to the fourth estate…
Sources inside Croydon Tories’ Purley HQ react with disgust at the suggestion that the £81,000 per year Mayor is not “working himself into the ground”, as one councillor put it.
This despite Perry continuing with his personal outside business interests, while also acquiring further directorships, while his Town Hall office answers the phones only 20 hours of each week.
Perry has, though, recently found the time to indulge a notorious local group by attending one of their online meetings, despite their committee including local figures well-known for holding vile racist, anti-migrant and far-right views.
And while Perry undertakes ridiculously matey chats with local religious groups, or visiting residents’ association meetings (where he has performed much better than some expected), Croydon’s new Mayor has now gone nine months without putting himself forward for interviews from any serious broadcast or online publications. Especially not Inside Croydon.
He may be well-advised, in the interests of saving his own arse.
This is, after all, a Mayor of Croydon who, after nearly 30 years on the council, still doesn’t know what the acronym “SLWP” stands for.
Croydon’s recent leaders have not been great when they have had a microphone put in front of them. Remember those painful car-crash TV interviews given by Hamida Ali when she had the top job?
And remember what happened to another one of Perry’s predecessors, the ill-prepared, bombastic and hubristic Tony Newman, when he got taken apart, piece by piece, by the very diligent and well-briefed Eddie Nestor on BBC Radio London in April 2019?
Perry has more than three years in office before the next elections. Neither he nor his party advisers dare jeopardising the opportunities that might present by doing anything as rash as being subjected to proper questioning and his real shortcomings being exposed. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
Croydon Labour’s ineptitude and emasculation as a political force allows Perry such leeway. Which makes it much easier for Croydon’s Conservatives, with their hands back on the levers of power, to build an incumbency entirely reliant on highlighting the crippling financial mismanagement by Labour when they were in power.
Croydon Labour, meanwhile, is still being managed by the party’s regional office, and remains in “special measures”, while two members of the most senior members of its former leadership team – Newman and Simon Hall – are still officially on “administrative suspension” from the party after two years.
It won’t be until such matters are publicly resolved that Labour in Croydon will be able to begin the very long process of trying to rebuild the public’s confidence. And all the while, with each passing week, the party locally risks losing members and public support as voters look to the “third parties” for more convincing political answers.
Read more: Labour’s ‘toxic legacy’ in Croydon proving hard to shake off
Read more: Library closures are on Mayor’s lists of cuts for New Year
Read more: Newman and Negrini’s pay-off: no papers, no notes, no reasons
Read more: #PennReport wanted police probe into possible misconduct
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