The challenges facing Labour in Croydon

By - Tuesday 3rd June, 2014

Sean Creighton examines the key issues for Croydon’s incoming Labour administration

Croydon Clocktower. Image by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

As the party now in control of Croydon Council with a substantial majority of 10 seats, Labour is faced with a set of serious challenges and a commitment to develop a new approach to running the council with more openness and transparency. It has several new councillors who may not have had previous experience of being on a local council. Even continuing members may find it useful to look again at the way they operate.

The big issues are how to gain public confidence in the way the council operates from now onwards so as to build up Labour’s chance of increasing its vote in Croydon Central, find a way to take the parliamentary seat from sitting Conservative Gavin Barwell in 2015 then ensure it retains all 40 seats and makes further gains in 2018.

It would make sense for the Labour Group to timetable in some shared learning sessions to explore how it can maximise its effectiveness. I hope it will also develop a strategy that avoids the traditional yah-boo behaviour in the council chamber, leaving that to the Tories to do but for Labour to ignore. I am sure there will be activist supporters, including non-Labour Party members, who will be willing either to help facilitate debate or take part in it. This will bring fresh perpectives to the discussion.

How can Labour in Croydon ensure coherent governance?

I think it’s worth examining in detail some strategic questions and underlying tactical issues the new administration faces.

1. How can Labour in Croydon set up a style of behaviour that will ensure as far as possible coherent governance?

To do this, they will need to decide:

• How good coherent governance can be achieved

• How the quality of debate in the council chamber can be improved

• Whether an official code of conduct would be useful in dealing with conflicts of interest between charities, councillors and commercial businesses

• Whether the Charity Commission, the Regulator of Community Interest Companies and the Audit Commission should be asked to look at practices in Croydon and suggest ways to improve

• How Labour can be critical of the Tories’ period in power, and respond to Tory attacks in the council, without resorting to abusive or aggressive exchanges

• How public meetings can be run so that people are genuinely listened to

Let’s clarify how the council machine works

2. What training do councillors need to ensure they can ask and get answers to challenging questions?

It would be helpful to clarify:

• How the council machine and its committee processes work

• How to ensure committee reports and papers contain all background details, including options and information provided by officers that may not support their cases

• How links can be created with people who can help analyse these papers, frame questions and provide alternative information

• How the scrutiny process can be made genuinely investigative, for example by inviting non-council officers to present their perspectives

3. How can local empowerment be achieved within Croydon?

To do this it’s important to ensure:

• That Labour councillors remain and become even more closely involved in their wards: reporting back, campaigning and engaging with a diverse range of residents and businesses

• That pressure is kept up on officers to act quickly and efficiently in response to residents’ and councillors’ reports

• That the planning control system defends local communities and prevents distortions created by property developers and landlords

• That allies in the community are identified with whom Labour councillors can constructively engage

• That the difficulties of possible further cuts to come are presented to the public in such a way that people will understand and not react negatively because some things cannot be done

• How campaigns can be built around local issues so that residents are lobbying MPs, the Greater London Authority, Transport for London and national government regarding matters on which the council would like to act but cannot

It’s clear that challenging days lie ahead. I hope that these issues can be addressed.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Anne Giles

    This is just for the next four years, of course, as we Conservatives will almost certainly be back then!