Lewisham Labour selects 2018 borough mayor candidate

by Dave Hill

Labour Party members in Lewisham have selected Damien Egan, the council’s cabinet member for housing, to be their party’s candidate in next year’s mayoral election despite a strong showing by his fellow councillor Paul Bell, who had had the backing of the Lewisham branch of Momentum.

Egan won the largest number of first preference votes under the single transferable vote election system with Bell in second place, and extended his lead in subsequent rounds of the count as other candidates were knocked out.

He was finally declared the winner with a cumulative total of 1,434 compared with Bell’s 911. Three other councillors in the five-candidate field, Brenda Dacres, Alan Hall and Paul Maslin, finished third, fourth and fifth respectively. The turnout was 2,468.

Egan becomes hot favourite to succeed Sir Steve Bullock as Lewisham’s executive mayor next year. Bullock is retiring from the position, which he has held since its inception in 2002, having secured a fourth term in 2014 with 51% of the vote, compared with just 11.1% for the Conservative runner-up.

Egan, whom some local observers say has lately re-positioning himself to the left, said he looks forward, if elected next May, to “working with the rest of the Labour Party: our national leader Jeremy Corbyn, our Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan and our local MPs and councillors in delivering a Lewisham we can all be proud of”.

He paid to tribute to Bullock’s “fantastic service over the years” and, looking ahead, said: “Lewisham, like much of London, has been left behind by the Tories and their pro-Brexit, austerity agenda”. He described the borough’s greatest asset as “our strong community” and pledged to “always make sure Lewisham is a strong and welcoming home for everyone”.

The selection contest began in July, focused strongly on housing and health and local development issues, notably the council’s plans for the redevelopment of 30 acres of land adjacent to Millwall Football Club in a project known as New Bermondsey.

Egan had originally supported the council’s intention to use compulsory purchase powers (CPO) to push the scheme through against opposition from the football club, but in January, following negative media coverage, announced that he had “less confidence” in the developer than before and that the council should “completely revisit” the original planning application, made in 2011. During the campaign he said he opposed the use of CPO and the sale of the freeholds of land owned by the council but leased to the club.

Of the five candidates only Maslin, the only other cabinet member in the field, said he still supports the use of CPO to help the scheme progress. The council’s decisions in relation to the abandoned CPO are currently subject to an independent inquiry it set up. The inquiry’s report is expected by the end of the year.

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