The rumoured frontrunner to stand as Labour’s candidate for Lambeth and Southwark’s seat at City Hall is a male councillor from Wandsworth, leading to claims of a “stitch-up” selection from overlooked local female candidates.
Last week the News reported that Cllr Evelyn Akoto, Southwark Council’s cabinet member for public safety, who grew up on Aylesbury Estate, had announced she was standing as Labour’s candidate for Lambeth and Southwark’s place in the London Assembly.
But just days later, Labour’s National Executive Committee confirmed its shortlist of possible contenders for the poll and neither Akoto nor several other black women councillors who put themselves forward had made the cut.
The selection, believed to have been overseen by a committee including Momentum founder Jon Lansman, has now been described as a “stitch-up” by figures including Lord Kennedy, in the House of Lords.
The News understands the chosen shortlist of candidates list includes three councillors – Lewisham’s Salina Sheik, Bromley’s Marina Ahmed and Wandsworth’s Maurice McLeod. It is believed McLeod is the frontrunner.
Also selected were grassroots activist Shahina Jaffer – who describes herself as a black woman socialist, and GMB’s Taranjit Chana, an LGBT and women’s rights campaigner. Among those rejected were Dora Dixon-Fyle MBE, an ex-Mayor of Southwark, and chair of Camberwell Community Council, and Lambeth Council’s deputy leader Jennifer Brathwaite, who was even shortlisted as a parliamentary candidate for Streatham in 2019.
More than 90 councillors across both boroughs have signed an open letter calling on the party’s leaders to reconsider and allow members to have a “full and representative choice”.
“We cannot understand how the panel failed to put forward extremely hard working, talented and respected councillors who live and work in our communities, know the issues and fight for our residents every single day,” the letter explains.
Peter John, Southwark’s council leader, has described the committee’s actions as “staggering”.
The usually measured politician was unequivocal: “If it looks like a fix, sounds like a fix, and smells like a fix – it is a fix” before saying that Labour’s members “deserve better from this discredited party leadership”.
Sources say MP Harriet Harman is livid and has been working hard behind the scenes to challenge the decision.
“It’s a travesty that three great local councillors were excluded from the list precisely because the members would choose one of them,” she tweeted.
The News understands the decision was made by a committee including Jim Kelly, Hazel Flynn, Jon Landsman, and Michelle Gordon.
Bermondsey MP Neil Coyle said they should be wary of parachuting candidates in. “If they do this then good people won’t put themselves forward in future.”
Long before the shortlist was announced the selection had proved controversial, with many figures saying the seat, held by Florence Eshalomi, who was elected as Vauxhall’s new MP in December, should have been advertised as having a women-only shortlist.