The Hon Emily Benn is quitting as a Labour councillor in West Thornton less than two years after being elected, in order to take up a new job in New York with her merchant bank employers. If The Hon Emily’s recent work promotion was intended as a test of her commitment to the West Thornton community or her job, then it is a clear victory for UBS.
The Hon Emily departs having fired a parting shot at her own national party leadership last night via social media, when she retweeted a comment which appears to try to compare Labour to the Taliban.
It is not the first time that The Hon Emily has questioned the Labour leadership under Jeremy Corbyn, having last year fronted up a demand for the expulsion from the party of a Croydon Labour colleague.
The 26-year-old is the daughter of hereditary peer Viscount Stansgate and Nita Clarke, who is a former adviser to Tony Bliar and Whitgift Foundation governor. She is also the niece of Labour shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn and the grandaughter of the late parliamentarian Tony Benn, a political hero of Corbyn.
As a scion of a political dynasty, the Croydon councillor’s own political career has been less than a spectacular success, so far at least. She has fought, and lost, two Tory safe seats in General Elections, most recently in Croydon South last year. Her campaigning technique was unusual, at least, in that it saw her performing as part of a classical music string ensemble for voters. She may have been slightly off-key: Chris Philp managed to increase the Conservative vote.
The only time when The Hon Emily has managed to win a public vote was at the May 2014 local elections, after she had been carefully selected for the ultra-safe Labour ward of West Thornton – having previously submitted “anyone who’ll have me” applications to the local Labour Party in many of the 24 wards of the borough. On at least one occasion, despite being short-listed, The Hon Emily failed to show for the selection meeting in a ward with a less-promising prospect of electoral victory.
The official Croydon Labour Twitter account responded to the news this morning by stating: “Wishing Emily Benn well in her new endeavours She has been a great advocate for Croydon particularly in her role as Military Champion.”
As yet, there has been no such response to the news from Labour Party headquarters nor from Andrew Fisher, the Croydon activist and Corbyn adviser whom The Hon Emily sought to have expelled from the party last year.
Benn allowed her name to be put forward on a complaint over Fisher’s loyalty following his own comments on social about some of her Blairite colleagues and sympathisers. Benn called for Fisher’s expulsion despite having herself tried to promote a rival political party, the newly formed Women’s Equality Party. The Hon Emily’s complaint against Fisher failed, with John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, declaring, “Andrew Fisher has knocked on more doors in the Labour cause than Emily Benn’s had hot dinners.”
It seems that some of Benn’s bitterness towards the Labour leadership still lingers. She spent part of Wednesday evening retweeting messages complaining about the controversial Gerry Downing, who had been portrayed at that day’s Prime Minister’s Question Time as an apologist for the Taliban who had recently been allowed to join Labour. Downing was expelled later that day, but The Hon Emily’s Twitter activity might not be seen as wholly helpful to her party by some activists.
This morning, The Hon Emily issued a statement on Facebook announcing that she will be standing down later this month. The timing appears careful to ensure that the Labour-run council incurs no unnecessary costs for a going-through-the-motions West Thornton by-election, which will probably be held on May 5, the same day as the London Assembly and Mayoral elections.
At a mid-point in the Labour Town Hall term, it may be instructive in terms of the tensions within Tony Newman’s group as to who wins selection – or gets hand-picked by the so-called “strong leader”- in the scramble for the safe council seat, which amounts to a £12,000-a-year-plus sinecure for life for the person who assumes the role.
Whoever is selected by Labour cannot help but make a bigger impact on local Croydon politics than The Hon Emily, who often gave the impression that juggling her banking career and her duties as a councillor were something of a strain, as she would arrive from her job in The City for Town Hall meetings looking flustered. According to official council records (correct up to November 2015), in her first 18 months as a councillor she managed to miss nearly one-quarter of the council meetings she was due to attend.
The Oxford-educated Hon Emily’s statement today, in full, complete with typos and errors, reads:
With regret, I am announcing my resignation as a Local Councillor for West Thornton with effect from Thursday 24th March. Having recently been promoted, I have been offered and accepted a fantastic new opportunity by my employer to work in New York. Inevitably, I will unable [sic] to represent my constituents from New York, so I am very sorry to have to resign my seat.
It has been a huge privilege to serve as a Labour Councillor in West Thornton, the ward I was born in, for the past two years. I want to thank my two ward colleagues Stuart King and Bernadette Khan and local Labour members for their help and support. It has been a particular honour to serve as Armed Forces Champion, setting up the Croydon Armed Forces Community Covenant Group. I am very proud of the work the group has achieved, and know that with my co-chair Colonel Ian McRobbie it will go from strength to strength.
Thank you to the community of West Thornton for giving me a chance to serve. My capable and committed colleagues, Cllr Stuart King and Bernadette Khan, will continuity [sic] to do a fantastic job in standing for the interests of the people and communities of West Thornton Ward. I wish the Croydon Labour administration every continued success in fighting and delivering for the people of Croydon.
And here is the full list of achievements of Councillor Benn, May 2014-Mar 2016:
- Showed up for some council meetings
- Managed to arrive on time for some
- Errr, that’s it
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