On Saturday, fewer than 200 Labour members will get to hand-pick the person who is almost certain to become the MP for Croydon East. Political Editor WALTER CRONXITE sifts through the shortlist
This Saturday, a group of people will meet in St Luke’s Church Hall on Spring Lane and decide, in what the veteran political correspondent Michael Crick calls “Britain’s hidden primaries”, the person who almost certainly will become the MP for the new parliamentary constituency of Croydon East.
Who are these people wielding such power and influence? They are Labour Party members who find themselves living in the new constituency, which has been carved out of much of the old Croydon Central seat with a little bit of Croydon South chucked in.
Many will have been bombarded with emails and leaflets over the past few weeks. Some might have had the offer of a chat over a coffee. Some will have already decided who they will vote for, from a shortlisted group of four.
However, there may yet be one or two members who are as yet undecided, and so Inside Croydon offers an earnest and independent appraisal of each of the candidates.
Some readers may be old enough to remember a popular beat combo of the late 1970s which had a strong association with Croydon: The Damned. The band provides a useful analogy for the candidates.
The Dave Vanian of the group is Joel Bodmer, considered by many to be a dark force in Croydon politics. Although he can’t play an instrument, he has been instrumental in some of the grand failures of the Labour regime in Croydon. Not for nothing is he widely known now as “Bodger”.
Bodmer saw to it, for example, that the highly effective Labour Councillor for Waddon, Andrew Pelling was banned from re-selection for the 2022 local elections.
Forced out of Labour, Pelling responded by standing for Mayor of Croydon as an independent, in doing so taking enough votes from Val Shawcross that the borough has been lumbered with Tory Jason Perry for four years. Bodmer was warned that this would happen, but he, apparently, knew better…
Bodmer had also run Labour’s disastrous, costly and doomed campaign against having an elected Mayor, swimming against a tide of public opinion and the 80% of the Croydon electorate who could bothered to turn out and vote.
On the other hand, and for the purpose of balance, he may well be a perfectly affable chap and an effective self-promoter. Bodmer does have the support of the union Unison, which considering he works for them is probably not such a surprise.
The quiet, dignified Johnson Situ is the Brian James of the group. Situ is a former Southwark councillor who most recently has been working at City Hall for Sadiq Khan. It has been suggested that Situ had some part to play in the comms team for the ULEZ expansion.
He has the support of the GMB union and Harriet Harman MP. At Southwark, he created 2,000 apprenticeships and planted 10,000 trees, which sounds like a lot of hard work.
His selection campaign in Croydon has been very quiet, however, looking almost like a practice run. You get the feeling he could do a good job, if only his heart was in it.
The part of bassist, some-time lead guitar and occasional solo artist Captain Sensible is played by the youthful and energetic Natasha Irons, who has the support of some Croydon’s Labour councillors. That, however, might not be the kind of endorsement that demonstrates good judgement, on behalf of Irons or her supporters.
It’s worth remembering, too, that when Irons sought selection as parliamentary candidate for Croydon South, the Labour members there rejected her.
For Irons, her “happy talk” is her political experience from her role as councillor and cabinet member in Merton. She is council cabinet member for the environment; Merton continues to pay Viridor/Valencia to poison the air in south London from the Beddington incinerator.
Irons’ father is from Croydon and he is, more importantly, a bus driver. Having a bus driver father is gold in Labour circles.
Inside Croydon does not have access, unlike the candidates, to a membership list. So we do not know if Saquib Chaudhri, the head teacher of Oasis Academy Shirley Park, is a member of East Croydon Labour Party. If he is, Irons will not be getting his vote.
His comment on YouTube, below one of her promotional videos, makes this clear: “Dear Natasha, it would have been nice to know you were using my school as your back drop.
“You could have also spoken about how we have changed the fortunes of students from Addiscombe and have turned one of the worst schools in the country to a school where students leave to study and LSE and Cambridge. Maybe next time.”
Taking the role of Rat Scabies, The Damned’s drummer, is one-time aspiring punk rock drummer Olga Fitzroy. At some point she seems to have dropped her sticks and become a sound engineer, working with the likes of Paul McCartney, and slipped into politics because of her experience of being a self-employed mum.
Hence her involvement in campaigns on a national level for parental pay equality for the self-employed, keeping recording studios open during covid and successfully taking Rishi Sunak (as Chancellor) to court over disriminatory employment law.
She is a councillor in neighbouring Lambeth. Among Fitzroy’s backers is Feargal Sharkey, of another punk band, The Undertones, who more recently has been a leading campaigner against water companies polluting our rivers, lakes and coastlines.
Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, is another Fitzroy backer, after working with her on the Selfie-Leave Bill. Fitzroy appears to be the only candidate who aspires for a better output from the Fairfield Halls.
On the other hand, Fitzroy missed her (albeit slim) chance as Labour’s candidate in Croydon South in 2019, and the Selfie-Leave Bill remains just that, a bill.
Whichever one of the four candidates gets picked by the Labour members, according to pollsters Electoral Calculus they have a 98% chance of winning Croydon East whenever the General Election is held, some time in the next 12 months.
The Greens (Peter Underwood) and Conservatives (Jason “Mr 15% Council Tax” Cummings) have already chosen their candidate.
If you are a Labour member living in Croydon East and you need more information about your party’s selection, then you really should go along to Saint Luke’s Woodside on Saturday morning (doors open at 10.20am for an 11am start; no late-comers allowed after the speeches begin) and listen to the candidates’ own pitch. If you’re lucky, in a selection process that has been very tightly controlled by officials from Labour headquarters, they might even allow you to ask a question.
It is an opportunity denied to the vast majority of voters living in Croydon East, because one of these four, chosen by fewer than 200 Labour members in this “hidden primary”, will almost certainly end up representing them in Parliament for as long as they want to remain as an MP.
Read more: Labour’s NEC imposes selection shortlist on Croydon East
Read more: The fix is in: Labour excludes members from Croydon selection
Read more: #TheLabourFiles: MP Reed, Evans and the Croydon connection
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