Voters in Lewisham East will decide tomorrow who will be next to represent them in the House of Commons, following the unexpected resignation of sitting MP Heidi Alexander in May.
Alexander stepped down to join London Mayor Sadiq Khan at City Hall, working as the deputy mayor for transport.
Lewisham East has been under Labour’s control since Bridget Prentice won the seat from the Conservatives Colin Moynihan in 1992 by a majority of just over 1,000 votes. Since then it has become one of Labour’s strongest seats in London with Alexander holding her position as MP in 2017 with a majority of over 21,000.
For this reason, the by-election itself has been seen by many as a formality and instead much of the focus has been placed on the selection of Labour candidate Janet Daby, which highlighted divisions within the party.
Daby is seen by many as a moderate within the party and her appointment will undoubtedly be a boost for Labour centerists. After Alexander’s high profile resignation from the Labour cabinet in 2016, she was seen as being on the anti-Corbyn wing of the party and there was speculation that she would be replaced by a left-wing candidate in an attempt to strengthen Jeremy Corbyn’s position as Labour Party leader.
However, Daby secured selection with over 60 per cent of the vote, beating both Momentum backed Sakina Sheikh and Claudia Webbe who had the support of several key unions.
Daby has served as a councillor in Lewisham for eight years, and also set up the Whitefoot and Downham Community Food Plus Project, an award-winning organisation set up to combat poverty and deprivation where she now acts as director and chair.
Throughout her campaign Daby has been vocal about her anti-Brexit stance, repeatedly saying she would push for the UK to stay a part of the single market and customs union, something Corbyn has categorically said will not happen.
Daby told ELL about her plans to carry on working for a soft Brexit if elected: “I fought hard for Remain and I will continue to fight against the Tories’ extreme Brexit, which will be catastrophic for jobs and the economy in Lewisham East. I will do everything in my power to ensure that whatever happens, jobs and rights are protected.”
Daby, who has lived in Lewisham her entire life, said there were other problems faced by Lewisham East constituents, “The Tories have cut funding for the NHS in a damaging policy of austerity which the Lib Dems ushered in. It is vital that we properly fund our NHS, including achieving true parity of care for mental health, so that people can continue to rely on this amazing institution. The Tories and the Lib Dems tried to close Lewisham Hospital but thanks to a fantastic local campaign with Labour at its forefront we managed to keep it open.”
In Lewisham, 47 per cent of the population are from BAME groups and Daby is aware how recent Home Office failings could be especially shocking for constituents, “People in Lewisham have borne a lot of the brunt of the Tories’ terrible and iniquitous policy on immigration with the Windrush Generation being treated unforgivably. We have to send a message to the Tories and to those elements who seek to divide us that we are Labour and we will not stand for their kind of nasty small-nation politics.”
Running against Daby in the election on Thursday is Ross Archer, the candidate for the Conservatives, who currently works for a not-for-profit organisation where he chairs the Employee Representative Board. Archer, who has lived in Lewisham since he was 6, was also the Conservative candidate in the Lewisham Mayoral elections earlier this year but was beaten by Labour’ Damien Egan who won 54.3% of the vote.
During the EU referendum, more than 69 per cent of Lewisham voters elected to remain within the EU and this has become an important talking point for the by-election, Archer told ELL: “Whether people voted to Leave or Remain, what I hear on the doorsteps is people want us to get on with it and deliver the best possible deal for the whole country, including us here in Lewisham East.
“We are making good progress, guaranteeing EU and UK citizen’s rights and getting a good deal for taxpayers as we leave the EU, but there is still work to be done. The Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates are working to frustrate the process, meaning we won’t be respecting the referendum result or be able to secure the Brexit deal which will protect jobs and the economy here in Lewisham East.”
Despite the battle to save Lewisham Hospital from clopsure ending up in the High Court, Archer believes the Conservative’s are in the best position to guide the NHS: “Under the Conservative Government NHS funding has risen by £20 billion since 2010 and I am pleased that the Government is delivering a long-term plan for our NHS so it is always there to look after people. But we can only deliver more funding for our NHS with a strong economy, and just like last time, Labour would risk our economy, meaning less money for our public services.”
In this election, Archer is under no illusion that winning would take an unprecedented swing in his favour: “Since the election has been called, I have been realistic about my chances. Labour have held this seat for over 30 years, all the local Councillors are Labour and Heidi Alexander had a majority of over 21,000. But this election does give us the opportunity to send Labour a message. Labour have taken Lewisham for granted for too long.
“As someone who went to school in Lewisham, education is an important issue for me. Sadly, Lewisham is rated worst for education in all of inner London. This is simply not good enough.” He said.
“Our young people should have the opportunities and education they need to succeed, but Lewisham Labour have failed to act. They should be introducing new academies and free schools as a start, so our children get the education they deserve.”
The ballot paper will also include Liberal Democrat candidate Lucy Salek, another Lewisham resident. Lib Dems will be hoping that there strong anti-Brexit stance will attract voters who wanted to stay in the European Union, and may take votes from the Labour party, who have appeared less decisive about the issue.
The Green Party and several other smaller parties also have candidates up for election, a full list and more information can be found here.