CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Rows and candidate shortage hits Labour’s selection process

Meeting is shut down in West Hampstead, while party is currently short of enough approved candidates to contest every ward at next year's Town Hall elections

14 September, 2017 — By Richard Osley

The victorious Labour team at the 2012 local elections

THE Labour Party’s search for people to stand in Camden’s council elections has become beset with problems amid a shortage of candidates and internal disputes about the way they are picked, the New Journal can reveal.

Despite estimations that Labour has around 5,000 card-carrying members across the borough’s two political constituencies, it has only 53 approved candidates in place. The party needs 54 to have a complete slate capable of contending every council seat at the Town Hall. Despite pressure from some members, organisers have been reluctant to re-open up the process to new applications. They now face little choice and, as a first measure, will start by appealing for more women to come forward.

Options for people joining the process will be limited by a schedule however, as the party has already started designating candidates to some of the key wards. Richard Olszewski and Lorna Russell were re-selected in Fortune Green this week, and will be joined on the ballot paper by Sorin Floti, who is aiming to be the first Romanian councillor in Camden.

The internal strife, however, was compounded on Monday evening when a private selection meeting in neighbouring West Hampstead was shut down without reaching a verdict on who would stand there. Amid angry exchanges, protesters questioned the rules on how long people needed to be members to take part in the vote. While the process was delayed by the general election, the freeze date was not extended. There were different accounts of events inside the library with claims that abusive words were flung across the room before a vote to close the meeting.

Organisers insist the rulebooks have been followed fairly, with one source suggesting: “This was just a destructive protest, student union politics which will achieve nothing.” It has been suggested in private that further trouble could lead candidates being imposed on wards.

On Sunday evening, the party did have 54 approved candidates in place, but only after Roger Robinson had been cleared to stand through an appeal to the regional office; the longest-serving Labour councillor and popular member having bizarrely not been put through the basic interview stage to the dismay of his colleagues. The case only heightened internal suspicion about the effectiveness of the process.

Then on Tuesday, sitting councillor Phil Jones announced he no longer wished to stand again.

The elections take place next May and could lead to a fresh look to the council, with several familiar names stepping down including former leader Sarah Hayward, finance chief Theo Blackwell and former leadership candidate Sally Gimson. Although played down by the opposition, some predictions have Labour advancing even further into ground traditionally held by their rivals.

This has led to people who once stood as “paper candidates” not willing to put their name forward again due to the risk of winning. It has also provided a challenge to the balance of power inside the ruling Labour Party, which has been divided by a large tranche of councillors who once signed a letter calling for Jeremy Corbyn to step down as leader and those who are excited by the emergence of a more left-wing direction at the top.

The latter has struggled in the recent past to win slots on the decision-making cabinet but would have a better chance if like-minded new recruits won seats next May.

Earlier in the week, two councillors associa­ted with the “left caucus” of the group – Maryam Eslamdoust and Sue Vincent – were over­looked for promotion when Danny Beales and Adam Harrison were elected by the Labour group to fill two cabinet vacancies.

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