Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports that while Labour in London is sitting on their hands over next year’s Assembly elections, their polling booth rivals are already getting to work
Chuka Umunna, who was elected as the Labour MP for Streatham at the 2017 General Election but is now on his third political party in less than six months, is not the only new member of the Liberal Democrats.
According to the party’s own figures, they have attracted 20,000 members this month. They have also claimed something of a head start in Croydon and Sutton for next May’s London Assembly elections.
While London Labour sits on its hands over choosing candidates to stand for the Assembly, with the feeble promise of perhaps having them in place by November – less than six months before polling day – the LibDems have gone out and picked their candidates, by constituency as well as the capital-wide list system, to campaign alongside their Mayoral candidate, Siobhan Benita.
The London elections are part-first-past-the-post and part-proportional representation, which is why the Remain-supporting LibDems have a special spring in their step in London following their performance in last month’s PR-determined European Elections. There, results suggest that Benita, rather than Tory Mayor candidate, the dull Shaun Bailey, is likely to be the closest challenger to the Labour incumbent, Sadiq Khan.
Those Euro results, if voting takes a similar pattern in 2020, could even see the LibDem candidate in Croydon and Sutton cause an upset for the Conservatives, who have held the super-constituency since the London Assembly was established 20 years ago.
As Inside Croydon reported last week, the Brexit dynamic could see “the most fragmented Assembly ever”, with the LibDems winning as many as seven seats in City Hall. In 2016, the Liberal Democrats claimed just one seat, through Caroline Pidgeon from their London-wide list.
The LibDems have never won a constituency seat at City Hall in the five elections staged since the Assembly was formed, but following last month’s Euro results, they are eyeing at least two in south London, including Sutton and Croydon.
Trying to become Sutton and Croydon’s first woman London Assembly Member is Claire Bonham, who works as “strategic lead for volunteering” for the Salvation Army and, somewhat surprisingly given the strong influence of the LibDems from Sutton, she is the chair of the far smaller Croydon Liberal Democrats Party.
Like Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones, Bonham is a graduate of Durham University, and she has a PhD in international relations. She has spent a good part of her career working in prison reform.
A Crystal Palace resident, Bonham stood for the LibDems in her home ward last year’s Croydon Council elections, where she finished fourth, ahead of the Tories, though more than 1,300 votes behind the three winning Labour candidates.
Bonham says she watches cricket at The Oval and enjoys “watching the football on a Saturday”, studiously avoiding mentioning which team.
“I am passionate about empowering and enabling communities to solve their own issues and believe in the power of volunteering to effect local change”, something which chimes with the LibDems being the enablers of Tory austerity, which has seen so many public services axed in the past decade, with volunteers struggling to replace them.
Of course, Bonham will be buoyed by the voting numbers across Sutton and Croydon last month, when the LibDems outpolled all other parties in the European elections, with the Brexit Party second, Labour third and the Tories a poor fifth. Neil “Father Jack” Garratt, the Sutton councillor selected by the Conservatives for the Assembly elections, may have to pin his hopes on a Boris Johnson Premiership. How desperate is that?
The LibDems have named 11 candidates for the London-wide list, headed by Caroline Pidgeon AM. There may still be some alteration to their list candidates before declarations have to be submitted, since No6 on the list, the Harvard-educated Irina von Wiese, is now an MEP representing London.
Candidates on the London-wide list become Assembly Members depending on their party’s proportion of the vote across the capital, which means that there is a strong possibility that Hina Bokhari, a councillor for West Barnes ward on Merton council and second on the LibDem London list, may find herself at City Hall in a year’s time.
The LibDem list candidates are:
- Caroline Pidgeon
- Hina Bokhari
- Rob Blackie
- Chris Maines
- Joyce Onstad
- Irina von Wiese
- Ben Mathis
- Hussain Khan
- Michael Bukola
- Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett
- Adetokunbo Fatukasi
Other constituency LibDem candidates in south London include:
Bexley & Bromley: Allan Tweddle
Greenwich & Lewisham: Ade Fatukasi
Lambeth & Southwark: Florence Mele
Merton & Wandsworth: Sue Wixley
South West: Gareth Roberts
Apart from Croydon and Sutton, the LibDems are likely to target the South-West seat (made up of Hounslow, Kingston and Richmond). Their candidate, Roberts, is the leader of Richmond Council, so already has some profile locally. In 2017, the LibDems won back Twickenham and Kingston parliamentary seats, only just losing Richmond, and had big gains in the 2018 council elections in Richmond and Kingston, taking control of both councils.
In Richmond in last month’s European elections, the LibDems got 53 per cent of the vote.
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