CROYDON IN CRISIS: With the party flying high in the polls nationally, Labour’s London region staged a conference over the weekend where the mood was bullish as the implosion of the Tory government and its tax dodgers continues. But for Labour in Croydon, the outlook is far from optimistic.
A General Election is less than two years away and with four parliamentary seats to contest, WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, considers what lies ahead for the likes of MPs Reed, Jones and former mayoral candidate Shawcross
Labour continues to poll at 20percentage points, or more, ahead of the Conservatives nationally. Keir Starmer is being predicted as having a 300-seat majority if an election were held today.
But in Croydon, after the disastrous council administration of Tony Newman and his numpties bankrupted the borough and seems to have inflicted considerable suffering on the poor and vulnerable for years to come, as one erstwhile party supporter put it to me last week, “Labour couldn’t even win one of their own Ruskin House raffles with their reputation at the minute.”
So how can Croydon Labour recover its fortunes?
Labour needs first to admit to itself and then to voters that it did wrong, and they need to keep on admitting that.
Croydon Labour needs to prove to voters that it will change, and it needs to provide proof of that. Repeatedly.
Jason Perry, Croydon’s Tory Mayor, has a modest vision, full of vacuous, meaningless soundbytes, but little else. At December’s council meeting, he offered “residents and businesses fulfilling their potential”.
He said that he aspires to “a council with a balanced budget that listens to our residents and our businesses and carefully focuses our limited resources on the core services our residents need”. Which amounts to a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, but without any of the charm of Tony Hancock…
Labour can try to build a vision based on an alliance with the voluntary sector, the charities and community groups that the local Tories are abandoning.
Labour can reject the Tory offer of a “minmalist council”, making the case that cutting voluntary sector funding will cost more than it saves, as the chief executive of Croydon Voluntary Action has warned.
Labour councillors have very little to do at the council because of the paucity of meetings and their time would be better spent building networks of residents able to give of their time to help in the community to look after the needs of fellow residents.
This may not go down at all well with trade union members who rightly defend the rights of council employees to run council services, but many local trade union members are now very much ex-Labour members, some having been expelled and others having left the party of Starmer and David Evans of their own accord.
The Town Hall’s Unison branch is also seen as very much compromised, with a senior union official at the council having been complicit with the Labour regime under discredited Tony Newman and its failed council election campaign.
As councillors build networks, they can also gain the much-needed voter ID that’s needed for both the May 2024 London Mayoral election and the next General Election. This effort should be focused on defending Sarah Jones’ new Croydon East seat and the wards at risk from the Greens and the Liberal Democrats in Fairfield and Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood.
A complete renewal of the local council candidates that Labour offers to the voters can be secured by the networking activity, drawing in people who are truly contributing to their local communities.
Too many of the current crop of Labour councillors are compromised by having run on the record of the previous regime. Proving that Labour has changed is vital to their prospects of re-eIection. In any case, the calibre of the Labour group, with a few notable exceptions, is conspicuously poor, and that’s showing itself at council meetings.
The chances are that come the General Election results, because of the “Croydon Factor”, the borough’s Labour MPs will underperform compared to their party’s forecasted national gains, as they take a hit for their complicity in the council’s bankruptcy.
Sarah Jones campaigned against the change in the council’s governance, but Steve Reed is more culpable, having directed the disastrous anti-mayor campaign, with its photographs of burning £20 notes only serving to remind the public of how the Labour council had bankrupted the borough.
While Croydon Labour at the Town Hall sulks its way through a period of opposition, the anti-mayoral stance remains local party policy, despite party members having chosen the new system as their first choice in a formal internal poll.
It may well be, thanks to Misinformed Mayor Perry, that the mayoral system loses some of its appeal with the public, so that the Labour Party’s leadership comes back into fashion on this subject. After all, even a broken clock gives the right time twice a day…
The council’s financial crash and Labour being anti-mayoralty made the task for their candidate for Mayor, Val Shawcross, a very tough one. Shawcross did well to come up short by just 590 votes.
Some gloomy Labour members say to Inside Croydon that they feel that prospects for the party in Croydon can’t improve until Steve Reed moves on – whether finding another constituency or by standing down as an MP.
Reed is seen within the local party as controlling or spiteful, or both. His silence on the conduct of Newman and his numpties has been interpreted, correctly, as support for the discredited former leader of the council and his disastrous administration.
Reed’s involvement in the handling of stolen correspondence in the hacking of this website has caused considerable damage to the local party’s reputation, especially in the context of his being the shadow minister for justice.
There is though the prospect of a new senior Labour politician role coming into existence that might break the Reed logjam to progress. This comes in the form of newly configured parliamentary boundaries.
The Boundary Commission announced its revised proposals in November. The final version will be announced in July, and unless the Tories call a snap General Election this year – and given the polls, there’s no reason why they would want to – then it will be on the new constituencies that will shape a new parliament some time in 2024.
In Croydon, there will effectively be an additional, fourth seat which will be safe for Labour. It is thought that this seat will go either to Val Shawcross after her mature and surefooted performance as the Croydon candidate for Mayor or, if needed, to any sitting MP who has lost out on selection elsewhere in London.
Shawcross has maintained that she will never contest an election for public office again.
But she has remained more active in local Labour politics since last May’s obvious disappointment, though a move to take over the running of the powerful, and secretive, Local Campaign Forum was blocked by allies of Reed and Newman.
Nevertheless, Shawcross, with her leadership of the council in happier times and her past role as a long-standing London Assembly Member, remains a unifying figure in a party still wracked by factionalism, and she would represent a sound choice for either a much revised Croydon North seat that also includes Waddon, central Croydon and a small part of Woodside, or a new cross-borough parliamentary seat that straddles Croydon and Lambeth, called Streatham and Norbury, that also includes her Upper Norwood and Thornton Heath.
While the new constituency boundaries provide two very safe Labour seats to the north of Croydon, Sarah Jones’s constituency would be reframed in such a way that, on the 2019 election results, she would lose more than half of her majority.
It seems unlikely that Jones would be allowed not to stand her ground in the new Croydon East seat which makes up most of her current Croydon Central seat.
Some Conservatives have been encouraging Andrew Pelling, the Tory MP for Croydon Central from 2005 to 2010, to run in the new Croydon East seat. Pelling’s under-powered independent campaign did respectably in last May’s Mayor election, and if he were to run for Parliament again, it could disrupt Jones’s prospects.
The chasing out of Pelling, who as a Labour councillor from 2014 became a whistleblower in Newman’s regime, and other supporters of the mayoralty was one of the major unforced errors in Labour’s dim-witted 2022 campaign.
Andrew Fisher, Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party’s chair, writing for Inside Croydon after the election, said that the removal of mayoral supporters Jamie Audsley and Pelling, with the latter standing as an independent, “were probably enough to cost Labour the 500 or so votes by which Val Shawcross narrowly lost the Croydon mayoralty. It certainly lost the party a council seat in Waddon”.
This “Pelling Problem” for Labour needs sorting, as his continuing to appear on ballot papers in council by-elections has focused attention on the party’s disastrous record locally – it keeps the “Croydon Factor” as a live issue, and stops Labour increasing its vote share when it should be booming during a time of national crisis for the Conservatives.
As well as torpedoing their own mayoral election campaign, in 2022 Labour chose their candidate and launched their offer to voters much later than the Tories. If they are to do better in 2026, then their candidate needs to be identified early – there’s nothing to stop them from selecting in 2023, apart from the poor administration of the London Labour regional officials, and the usual lack of vision.
Whoever gets selected will need to have a high profile in the town and be divorced from the reputation of the local Labour party. Getting back out on to Croydon doorsteps, delivering leaflets frequently and having a much-improved, more dynamic social media presence will all be required if Labour is to revitalise its image in Croydon. They will also require some major fund-raising, too, to compensate for the loss of membership – in one Labour-voting ward, more than half of its party members have left since 2019.
But nine months since their demoralising election defeat, there have been no signs of that kind of long-term campaign activity even being discussed in local party circles, never mind implemented.
Croydon Labour’s damaged reputation might be rescued by promising that a future Labour-controlled council will consult on all financial decisions with a panel drawn from better-performing Labour councils. Progress can also be made by trying to move the conversation on to how poor government grants are for Croydon – Conservative austerity driven by even more financial ill-discipline than Croydon Labour.
For now, Labour needs to discipline itself not to ask for any increased council expenditure but instead to try to discredit Mayor Perry for not being effective enough in finding new savings.
The Tories’ “listening to Croydon” mantra needs to be dealt with, too.
Listening to party members and actually acting on what they are saying will aid Croydon Labour’s reputational recovery. Not persecuting whistleblowers will help, too. Neither are hardly radical changes, but they are not thought to be possible as long as MP Reed maintains his grip on the local CLPs, Campaign Forum and Labour council group.
Unless such change is embraced, and quickly, Labour risks losing even more ground to the Greens, LibDems, maybe even independents, as more credible alternatives to piss-poor Perry and Croydon’s Tories.
Who is chosen as the additional Labour parliamentary candidate will be vital to changing the balance of power in a torpid local Labour.
Might Val Shawcross ride to her party’s rescue again?
Read more: Voters looking for third parties’ assurance over reds and blues
Read more: Labour’s ‘toxic legacy’ in Croydon proving hard to shake off
Read more: Newman and Negrini’s pay-off: no papers, no notes, no reasons
Read more: #PennReport wanted police probe into possible misconduct
- Inside Croydon – as seen on TV! – has been delivering local community news since 2010. 3million page views per year in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
- If you want real journalism, actually based in the borough, you should consider paying for it. Please sign up today. Click here for more details
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at email@example.com
- Our comments section on every report provides all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content. Our comments policy can be read by clicking here
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named among the country’s rottenest boroughs for a SIXTH successive year in 2022 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine
The recurring problem with UK Labour is that it does not say what its policies will be.
I want to hear what it will do about sewage in the rivers and sea. Even if that falls short of re-nationalisation. What about affordable housing–and factory farming?
Another is its lack of a fair and firm, disciplinary process fit for purpose.
The “accused” have no rights.
Not sure, but my guess that it has done nothing to make up for, or even understand why its treatment of Andrew Pelling,Jamie Audsley, and David White were totally wrong, unfair and ………unacceptable to most Labour members in Croydon. Tried by a kangaroo court in absentia. more like Russia.
It really needs to make its own internal processes open, accountable and just.
Locally, Val Shawcross is a respected name even outside Labour members.
Has she got the armour of truth, lance of incisive action, and battle horse of stamina, to come to Labour’s rescue?