Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, reports on the glacial progress in Labour choosing its candidates for London elections which are now barely 12 months away
The Labour Party thought they had sorted a major selection dilemma last night when they finally announced the names, and list order, of their candidates for London in the European Parliament elections which will be held next month, despite Brexit.
Yet with London Assembly elections now barely 12 months away, a clutch of eager – in one or two cases, perhaps a tad too eager – candidates to contest the vacated Croydon and Sutton City Hall seat have been left to twiddle their thumbs while waiting, with no decision on the selection process likely to be reached for weeks yet. And meanwhile, the Tory candidate to succeed “Silent” Steve O’Connell, Neil Garratt, has been on the campaign trail for two months already, helping to get himself recognised among the voters.
Inevitably, as Labour’s internal battle rages on between Blairites and those loyal to the current leadership, there had been a tug-of-war over selection and possible deselections, though on this occasion some sense appears to have prevailed.
The National Executive Committee’s somewhat rushed process only got underway when it became clear that Britain would not be exiting the European Union before the end of May (even if Brexit has prompted the end of May in an altogether different sense).
Eventually, they have opted to stick with tried and trusted MEPs at the top of the list, to help steer Britain’s passage through some likely very choppy waters ahead.
Under the proportional representation system which applies in these elections, Labour in London is likely to get two MEPs. So placing sitting MEPs Claude Moraes and Seb Dance as No1 and No2 on the party list suggests that Katy Clark (Jeremy Corbyn’s former political secretary) and Laura Parker, Momentum’s national co-ordinator, named at Nos3 and 4, are unlikely to have to spend their summer shuttling between Brussels and Strasbourg.
According to Labour London region sources, however, there has been no real discussion whatever about the process for selecting candidates for constituencies or the party list system for next May’s City Hall elections.
They had better get started soon, as they have a lot of empty seats to fill, with nearly half of the party’s 12 sitting AMs opting not to seek re-selection.
Five of Labour’s London Assembly Members have announced that they are to stand down next year: Croydon resident Fiona Twycross, a list AM who has been at City Hall since 2012, together with veteran Nicky Gavron (list), Andrew Dismore (Barnet and Camden), Jeanette Arnold (Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest) and Navin Shah (Brent and Harrow) are all going.
In many cases, in an increasingly Corbyn-supporting Labour Party in the capital, it is suggested that they have opted to go rather than face the ignominy of an unsuccessful re-selection process.
Not that there’s any shortage of wannabes to replace them, even just in Croydon and Sutton.
Here, Croydon councillors Jamie Audsley and Patsy Cummings long ago declared their hands, with Cummings since getting some less-than-subtle backing from Town Hall leader Tony “Nuclear” Newman.
With Cummings being regarded as a Corbyn loyalist, support from unreformed Blairite Newman may seem odd.
But Audsley has never really recovered the full confidence of the council leader since an unfortunate misunderstanding when he advised a young party member to consider standing for selection as a council candidate in Woodside ward – where Newman is one of the sitting councillors.
Oxford graduate Audsley was initially subject to local party discipline as a consequence of “trying to be too effing clever”, although his vindictive suspension from the Town Hall whip was quickly dropped when Newman’s hapless cronies discovered that they had failed to follow proper procedure.
Audsley’s had another important knock-back more recently, too, when at selection hustings staged by Croydon Momentum, Cummings was the overwhelming favourite of the (modestly attended) meeting.
Sutton’s Labour parties seem likely to back the former Mayor of Epsom, Sheila Berry, who recently polled an underwhelming 301 votes to finish only fourth in a council by-election in Wallington North.
But a late entry to the contest could be Manju Shahul Hameed, the former Mayor of Croydon and now the council’s cabinet member for a stuttering local economy and not enough jobs. Hameed has been a borough councillor for Broad Green ward since 2006, and is a widely respected for her work with a charitable foundation.
A Katharine Street source said this week, “I feel sorry for Jamie, really.
“He’s been so blatantly campaigning, almost full-time, as if he were already selected as the candidate. Yet Patsy’s been telling people she’s got it in the bag.
“I don’t know how she knows that, though Newman, through Steve Reed, is still well-connected with a few mates at London region. It could be decided to make it an all-woman shortlist, and that would scupper Jamie straight away.”
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