Labour’s Newham mayor contest too close to call, both sides say

by Dave Hill

The outcome of the contest between Sir Robin Wales and Councillor Rokhsana Fiaz to become Labour’s mayoral candidate in Newham will end on Friday lunchtime and effectively decide who bosses the borough for the next four years, such is Labour’s dominance there.

Sources in both camps tell me the outcome is too close to call. They would say that, and so on, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong. Both candidates have resolute bases of support – Sir Robin attracts both loyalists and loathers, and much will depend on how big each group is in comparison with the other.

A few straws in the wind for your attention. Hustings were held early in the race, one for members in the West Ham constituency, the other for their counterparts in East Ham, around whose internal running much of the untidiness – others use much stronger words – of the voided 2016 “trigger ballot” centred.

Fiaz’s supporters were anxious about those hustings. Sir Robin is a practiced, pugnacious debater, able to punch out bullet points of achievements without pausing for breath. Fiaz has little comparable experience. Reports from those who hope she wins were along the lines of “not too bad, all things considered.” She seems wary of head-to-heads: Sir Robin went on Eddie Nestor’s BBC Radio London show, but Fiaz declined the invitation to be there too.

She will, though, be encouraged by her endorsement today by West Ham MP Lyn Brown – many members will have voted already, but Brown’s intervention will certainly influence some who are still undecided. It follows East Ham MP Stephen Timms weighing in behind Sir Robin a month ago.

The Fiaz campaign has also seized on the “in error” publication on the council website of a proposal for transferring council land and property holdings into a separate, council-owned company, which would “own and manage” current and future assets.

This appears to be a potential variation on the widespread practice among London boroughs of setting up companies under council control, which serve as vehicles for increasing the supply of housing because they aren’t subject to the same borrowing restrictions as local authorities, and, depending on the kind of company, can put council rented homes beyond the reach of Right to Buy legislation.

However, some criticise such vehicles as forms of privatisation that put public assets at a greater distance from the mechanisms of public accountability. Fiaz has made this point, furnishing her broader case that Sir Robin has become too powerful and impossible to subject to proper democratic scrutiny. Sir Robin has said any such new company would, like others Newham has formed, be “completely owned by the council” and be a form of protection against Tory government spending cuts. There’s a good piece in the Newham Recorder about their disagreement.

On London carried extensive interviews with both Sir Robin and Councillor Fiaz at the start of selection contest and has been covering the entire re-selection saga for over a year. Friday’s result will be reported here too.

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