Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, on the latest candidate to be confirmed for the upcoming parliamentary election
The only Liberal Democrat to be elected as a councillor in Croydon for 20 years has been selected as her party’s candidate at the next General Election for the new cross-borough constituency of Streatham and Croydon North.
Claire Bonham, elected for Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood ward at the local elections in May 2022, will be challenging Labour’s Steve Reed for the parliamentary seat, whenever Rishi Sunak gets round to calling the election.
Bonham is one of only three councillors in Croydon to have voted consistently against the borough’s Tory Mayor’s 15% Council Tax hike back in March. Reed’s Labour colleagues eventually all abstained, even though they had a real opportunity to block the Council Tax increase.
That, and Reed’s increasingly toxic reputation as a Tory-lite Starmerite, has made the LibDems a little more hopeful of giving Labour a bit of a challenge in the new constituency.
Blairite Reed has been MP for Croydon North since 2012, having previously been the Labour leader of Lambeth Council for six years. Earlier this year, Reed announced that he would be gravitating back to Lambeth in the new seat, shunting the current Labour MP for Streatham, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, into the revised, and very safe, Lambeth Central seat.
Those moves come in response to the parliamentary boundary changes which, using bits of other boroughs, have created a fourth Croydon constituency, all to be implemented at the next General Election, which needs to be held before the end of December 2024.
The cross-borough mix has given the Liberal Democrats some, albeit very slim, hope.
Between 2002 and 2006, Lambeth Council was under no overall control, with the LibDems holding 28 of the borough’s 63 seats, and taking four wards in the south of the borough, including St Leonard’s, Streatham Hill and Streatham Wells, which are all in the new parliamentary constituency. As a consequence, LibDem Peter Truesdale was council leader for four years.
It was Reed who took over as council leader at Brixton Town Hall in 2006, a role he held until 2012 when he was elected MP for Croydon North.
Following their coalition with the Tories at Westminster, in 2014, the LibDems were wiped out as a political force in Lambeth. By 2022, their slow recovery saw them win just three seats at Brixton Town Hall. So Streatham and Croydon North, as it will now be known (rather than the originally proposed Streatham and Norbury) ought to be a firmly safe Labour seat.
Bonham stood as the LibDem candidate in Croydon North in the December 2019 General Election, when she finished only third with a modest 8% of the vote, as Reed retained his seat with a 25,000 majority.
Liberal Democrats have not issued any details of who the alternative candidates to Bonham were, nor what her margin of victory was in a secret selection process held among their members in the new constituency.
Bonham has worked in the voluntary sector for more than 20 years – she is a trustee of Croydon Community Against Trafficking, for example – and she works as the chief executive of Sculpt, a youth-led charity that works with young Londoners shaping their transition to adulthood.
“I am delighted to have been selected,” Bonham said.
“As a local councillor, I am already proud to represent the community I call home. I am committed to working hard for residents and enabling them to have a say in issues that affect them in our local area.
“I believe that many local residents have been let down by both Lambeth and Croydon councils, and I will be someone who will stand up for their rights to have decent housing, clean air to breathe, green spaces to enjoy, the opportunity to explore and use their creative talents, and to feel safe as they live, work, go to school and enjoy everything that this amazing constituency has to offer.”
Peter Ladanyi, the chair of the Croydon Liberal Democrats, said: “Local people have been let down by this hostile and out-of-touch Conservative Government and the complacent local Labour administrations in both Croydon and Lambeth.
“As a Liberal Democrat councillor in Croydon, and in her work across the voluntary sector, Claire has proven that she’s someone who will get things done.”
Sarah Lewis, the chair of the LibDems in Lambeth, explained why her party has some hope of unsettling Labour front-bencher Reed: “At last May’s local elections, the LibDems gained councillors in Streatham to become the official opposition group on Lambeth Council… At the last Westminster election, we polled a strong second place and, when the next General Election comes around, I am delighted that Claire will give our community the chance to elect a truly liberal voice and hard-working MP.”
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