If Conservatives in their totemic parliamentary seat of Chingford and Woodford Green have been fretting about the erosion of Iain Duncan Smith’s majority to less than 2,500 votes, they might be heartened by indications that his Labour challenger at the next general election will be the Full Jeremy – not, perhaps, the sort of politician likely to persuade disenchanted Tory voters to change sides in an Outer London constituency which, despite demographic change, has yet to entirely dispense with the values of Essex Man.
Labour List’s coverage of the local candidate selection process has focussed on two hopefuls firmly on the party’s Corbyn Left: Waltham Forest branch chair and former National Union of Journalists organiser Jenny Lennox, and Faiza Shaheen, who is director of the union-funded think tank CLASS.
Shaheen seems to have got off to a fast start, winning the backing of Momentum and unions Unite, Aslef, TSSA and BFAWU. She has a higher public profile than Lennox, appearing often on television, including to argue that housing built in the UK should be reserved for UK taxpayers because too much of it is owned by foreigners. “With a limited supply of housing there is less to go round for the rest of us,” she said, perhaps unaware of research done for Sadiq Khan, which found that without overseas finance London’s housing shortages would be even greater than they are already – or of how much she sounds like Nigel Farage.
Shaheen’s biography lists a degree from Oxford in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and she is represented by the prestigious talent agency Curtis Brown. Her name was second on a list of signatories of a letter published by the Guardian on the first anniversary of Grenfell, a list that serves as a roll call of the familiar “social cleansing” populists who have the run of the liberal media these days.
Her supporters include the garrulous Guardian columnist Owen Jones and Lisa Mckenzie, a London School of Economics research fellow (and Guardian contributor) who in tweeting her congratulations to Shaheen mentioned that she stood in Chingford & Woodford Green for Class War in 2015. Among detractors Shaheen is described as “a cold fish on the doorstep”. It is believed by some local members that she has been a party member for about one year. Shaheen herself has yet to answer my emails asking if that is correct.
If Lennox, a Momentumite like Shaheen, is to prevail in this clash of Corbynites, she will probably owe a lot to shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who has endorsed her.
Judging by her Twitter profile picture (below), Lennox also enjoys the backing of prominent members of the “Corbyn Council” now running Waltham Forest’s borough neighbour Haringey. I might be mistaken, but the man with the red rosette looks a lot like Noah Tucker, formerly the administrator of the Far Left website 21st Century Socialism, and the woman to his left closely resembles Haringey cabinet member Peray Ahmet, who survived as a councillor after changing sides over the previous Haringey administration’s contentious Haringey Development Vehicle plan. It is an under-reported fact that Labour lost more seats in Haringey on 3 May than in any other London borough. True, the party’s overall vote share rose, but in the marginal wards in the west of Haringey its candidates were wiped out by the Liberal Democrats.
Naturally, Lennox is making the most of her connections with Labour’s national top brass, using Twitter to praise Corbyn’s recent activities in Syria and elsewhere and using a photo of herself attending the recent Labour Live event in Tottenham to accompany her candidacy announcement.
Is it possible that the Corbyn vote will be so split that a different sort of Labour candidate will come through the gap and win? There isn’t much talk of that, even though two other contenders, Yemisi Osho and Sally Littlejohn, are councillors and as such have experience of frontline politics that neither Shaheen nor Lennox have acquired. Furthermore, the local constituency party organisation has a strong Corbynite presence, as personified by its chair Gary Lefley.
Labour has grounds for optimism about unseating Duncan Smith – as well as his majority shrinking last year, the party gained council seats and vote share in the constituency in May’s borough elections. Local members’ judgement about the best sort of candidate to capture what was once a Thatcherite stronghold will be exercised on 15 July.