Amid all the “excitement” and “euphoria” (those are not entirely the right words, but you’ll know what we mean) surrounding Corbynmania over the weekend and the election of Labour’s party leader and London Mayoral candidate, one other selection took place, that to choose a candidate to take on Tory incumbent Steve O’Connell for the London Assembly seat of Croydon and Sutton next May.Labour was rightly delighted that around 250,000 party members, “affiliates” and the three-pounder supporters voted for Jeremy Corbyn. In London, an impressive 88,000 took part in the election of Sadiq Khan as Labour’s Mayoral candidate.
And in Croydon and Sutton, fewer than 1,000 bothered to vote to select Marina Ahmad over Emily Brothers to run for the London Assembly.
Desultory. Now that is the right word.
The “turn-out” in Croydon and Sutton (the votes were conducted by post or online) was worse than for any of the other four Assembly selections being contested: Lambeth and Southwark, the safe Labour seat where Lambeth councillor Florence Nosegbe won the right to replace Val Shawcross, had 2,800 party members and affiliates take part.
Not exactly inspiring stuff, is it?
Labour decided that Croydon and Sutton should be a women-only selection. Sarah Jones, who came so close to winning Croydon Central from the Tories at the General Election earlier this year, nor Louisa Woodley, the New Addington councillor who stood for the seat in 2012 and out-polled O’Connell in Croydon (but crucially not by enough to outweigh the Tory vote in Sutton), did not want to contest the seat in 2016, and no other Croydon councillors came forward, either.
In the end, Labour had only three people put forward, only two acquired the necessary nominations from Constituency Labour Parties to be short-listed, and only one of those – Brothers – is actually from Croydon or Sutton.
“It’s all very well having a women-only short-list,” one experienced Labour figure told Inside Croydon, “but it doesn’t really make any difference to gender equality unless it is for a safe seat, and locally we missed that opportunity with Croydon North.”
A local Labour official said, “The selection process for Croydon-Sutton London Assembly candidate was rather sidelined by the bigger contests for Leader, Deputy Leader and Mayoral candidate.
“People who voted online were obviously mainly concerned with the contest for Leader, Mayoral candidate, and so forth, and might have been surprised to see at the end of the form the GLA candidates vote. It wasn’t possible to cast this vote separately from the others, so I suspect a lot of people abstained.”
Ahmad is from West Wickham, and stood in the Conservative safe seat of Beckenham at the General Election, where she improved the Labour vote by 5 per cent, which barely scratched Tory incumbent Bob Stewart’s 18,000 majority.
Labour were very encouraged by their performance in the 2012 London elections in Croydon, as it presaged the Town Hall election win in 2014 and pointed towards the closeness of the Croydon Central contest. In 2012, Woodley enjoyed a 13 per cent swing to Labour from 2008 (indeed, Woodley’s vote in this constituency out-performed Labour’s Mayoral candidate, Ken Livingstone), but she was still 10,000 votes short of O’Connell in a ballot where UKIP probably under-performed thanks to their candidate being… Winston McKenzie.
But Ahmad, who is qualified as a barrister and has worked as an NHS manager, will have to harness much greater grassroots support over the coming eight months than the 557 votes which got her selected (or her 110 followers on Twitter – after she’s run in a General Election campaign) if she is to match or improve on Labour’s well-run 2012 campaign.
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