BME women battle for Lewisham East seat Labour nomination

Labour shortlist for the Lewisham East parliamentary seat (left to right) Sakina Sheikh, Claudia Webbe, Brenda Dacres and Janet Daby. Pic: Roza Andreou

When Heidi Alexander suddenly quit as MP for Lewisham East, a contest for the seat began – not between the competing parties – but within Labour. 

The Parliamentary by-election, which will take place on June 14, is likely little more than a formality in what is clearly a safe seat. In this year’s recent local election, Lewisham Labour won every single one of the council’s 54 seats.  

The real competition is for the Labour nomination.

Alexander stood down from parliament on May 8 to become London Deputy Mayor for Transport following Valerie Shawcross’ retirement after 18 years at the GLA. 

On Monday night the National Executive Committee (NEC) released their first ever all-BME and all-women shortlist. 

The announced shortlist consists of Claudia Webbe, Sakina Sheikh, Brenda Dacres and Janet Daby. The four councillors will be put to a local members’ vote at a hustings this weekend. 

Claudia Webbe is the most experienced contestant of the four. The Corbyn loyalist is a councillor for Bunhill. Webbe was elected in Islington for the first time in 2010, and is the council’s executive member for environment and transport. 

Webbe is a current NEC member, former adviser to Ken Livingstone and former chair of Operation Trident which tackled the effects of gun crime in black communities. 

Webbe told Eastlondonlines, “I am deeply honoured to be shortlisted as a potential parliamentary Labour candidate.  

“It’s a huge honour [and] I would be proud to represent and help the people of Lewisham East in parliament. 

“The vibrancy and diversity of Lewisham East is significant and important and the Labour party shortlist reflects the change we all need to see.” 

Unite the Union has formally backed Claudia Webbe, while Momentum has endorsed Sakina Sheikh.

Sheikh is a former mayoral candidate and former member of Students Against Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Sheikh joined Labour in 2015 to vote for Corbyn and has recently been elected councillor for Perry Vale in Lewisham, where she grew up. 

Brenda Dacres, councillor for New Cross and BAME CLP Office, has lived in Lewisham for 35 years and is a former local primary school governor and secondary school PTA Secretary. 

Dacres said she had been inspired to stand by the Windrush scandal, as a single mother whose parents were from the Windrush generation. She said, “It was Amber Rudd and Theresa May’s unforgivable assault on hardworking British Caribbeans that sparked me to action, as a Windrush daughter.”

Janet Daby is currently deputy mayor for Lewisham and is a former social worker who founded a local food project. 

Lewisham East’s local Labour party is mostly controlled by centrists, who are likely to back Daby or Dacres. 

Another strong contender for the seat was Phyll Opoku-Gyimah (known as Lady Phyll) a PCS union official and co-founder of UK Black Pride. Though Lady Phyll withdrew from the contest allegedly after it emerged that she compared the Israelis’ treatment of Palestinians to the systematic extermination of Jews during the Holocaust. 

Labour has drawn criticism recently, having put forward no minority ethnic women for any of the 60 parliamentary selections since last year’s June election. 

Lewisham East is one of the most diverse constituencies in England, with nearly half minority ethnic voters. 

The seat has been a Labour stronghold since 1992 and the preceding campaign between the parties is unlikely to alter the outcome. 

Two local councillors were excluded from the all-BME all-women shortlist, Joe Dromey and Kevin Bonavia. 

Last week, Lewisham East Labour members protested that the by-election was to be held in only five weeks’ time. As the news was leaked last Wednesday, Lewisham East CLP chair Ian McKenzie emailed members prompting them to protest against the speedy process. 

The members accused the party’s national executive of rushing to ‘prevent the local party having a voice’. 

The likely explanation for the rush is that there will be key votes in parliament and Commons lobbies later in June. 

The NEC gave in to the demands and changed the selection date to May 19. 

McKenzie said: “I’m absolutely delighted that the NEC has listened to local members and given us a say on who is on the shortlist, so members have a genuine choice. It looks like Jeremy Corbyn’s member-led democracy actually means something.” 

Until a new MP is elected a Labour MP from a neighbouring constituency will take over responsibility of the seat. 

At the time of writing, Sheikh, Dacres and Daby had not responded to requests for comment. 

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