Political editor WALTER CRONXITE looks at the election chances of Croydon East’s version of ‘Captain Oates’: noble but utterly futile
The party conference over for another year, one of the newest Constituency Labour Parties, Croydon East, will formally begin its candidate selection process next week.
Whoever is chosen to stand for Labour in the General Election, whenever it is called between now and December 2024, will know that they have been gifted a gilt-edged chance of becoming an MP, and thanks in large part to the local Tories.
Because last night, Croydon Conservatives opted to select Jason Cummings to be their candidate for Croydon East, guaranteeing that every election leaflet for the next year, from every opposition party, not just Labour, will almost certainly include a reminder of the Shirley councillor’s central part in imposing a 15% Council Tax hike on all Croydon voters.
Cummings was selected from the shortest of shortlists, with Croydon Tory members picking him ahead of former Westminster aide Samia Hersi. Hersi has been doing the rounds of Tory selection meetings over the past couple of months, and must be wondering what she has to do to get picked even for a seat which everyone knows the Tories won’t win.
Electoral Calculus, the political forecasting website, had the Conservatives’ chances of winning Croydon East to be 2%. That was before the latest Tory clusterfuck of a conference and Labour’s somewhat dull, but worthy, annual gathering of their own. Even at the end of September, Electoral Calculus was predicting a Labour majority at the next election of 186 seats, including Croydon East.
Once the number crunchers get wind that “Mr 15%” Cummings will be on the ballot paper in Croydon East for the Conservatives, it is possible that they will reduce their prediction of Tory chances of success even further.
“Conservatives are not realistic challengers in this constituency under current national opinion poll standings, regardless of the local Labour’s Party’s poisoned brand arising from the council bankruptcy and corrupted local governance,” Andrew Pelling, a former Conservative MP for part of the area covered by the new constituency and, until 2022, a Labour councillor in Waddon ward.
Croydon will get four MPs, instead of the current three, at the next General Election. Croydon South will probably remain Conservative, while Steve Reed has gravitated back towards Lambeth in the reconfigured Croydon North and Streatham seat, Sarah Jones is to stand in a new Croydon West seat, and then there’s Croydon East.
That comprises the Addiscombes wards, New Addington North and South, both Selsdon wards, a bit of Woodside, and the two Shirley wards.
Cummings is, at least, rated to be one of the more competent of ward councillors and council cabinet members to be inflicted on the long-suffering residents of Croydon in recent times. But as well as this year’s huge Council Tax hike, his ambition to run for parliament is also to blame for Croydon having pompous windbag Jason Perry as its piss-poor Mayor.
Cummings began working life managing the pick ‘n mix at Woolworths, before essentially becoming a full-time politician. He now describes himself as “Former political adviser to the Prime Minister”, which may not look as good on anyone’s CV as Cummings might think…
He has been a councillor in Shirley for 15 years, and when Gavin Barwell became MP for Croydon Central in 2010, Cummings got the job as his head of office. After Barwell lost the seat amid the wave of Corbynmania in 2017, Cummings followed him to Downing Street to work as an aide to Prime Minister Theresa May.
Since 2019, there are some gaps in Cummings’ employment history on LinkedIn, although he does take credit for organising the Conservative local election campaign up to May 2022, and is known to work pretty much full-time in his role as cabinet member for finance at the Town Hall.
And there’s the rub, as far as his (lack of) electoral appeal at the General Election might go.
Cummings and Perry came to an agreement that they would not oppose one another over Tory mayoral selection and parliamentary selection. That plan, as far as it goes, appears to have worked.
But Cummings now carries much of the responsibility for Croydon’s 15% Council Tax hike, which required special approval from Michael Gove to go three times over the legal limit for increases.
Cummings therefore comes with a giant-sized albatross around his neck.
Cummings might pass as a credible Conservative parliamentary candidate in any other constituency, so his choice of seeking election in his home seat is commendable, but also smacks of the political equivalent of Captain Oates popping outside the tent for a quick wee… Noble, but utterly futile.
Cummings will well know that Croydon East is a lowly 395th on the Tory Party’s own list of target seats. If he were to win here, it would be among the most remarkable political turnrounds of all time.
Thus, the importance of the political parties’ closed and usually secretive selection processes in such an apparently “safe” seat is greater than ever.
The next MP for Croydon East is most likely to be chosen from a poor-turn-out meeting of possibly fewer than 100 unaccountable Labour Party members, including a good number of mates and allies. When it comes to the names on the ballot paper, the electorate will just have to like it, or lump it…
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