Kate Osamor resigned from Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet yesterday. Her move followed The Times reporting that she had written to the judge who presided over the recent conviction of her son Ishmael Osamor for drug offences “asking for leniency” and “stressing his remorse”. Ishmael Osamor resigned as a Haringey councillor on 30 October after his conviction for possessing Class A and Class B drugs with intent to supply received media coverage.
The Times said that “the Labour Party had previously claimed that Kate Osamor knew nothing about her son’s case until after the sentencing,” which took place on 26 October. It also said she told one of its reporters, who sought a comment from her about its story, that she “should have come down here with a bat and smashed your face in”, also told him to “fuck off”, threw a bucket of water at him and called police after accusing him of stalking her.
It would be interesting to know precisely what brought about the Edmonton MP’s move to the Commons back benches. Was it the exposure of a contradiction between Labour’s official position on when she had learned of her son’s situation and the truth? Was it her reported threats of violence and other aggressive behaviour towards The Times journalist? Was it both? What precisely had she told people such as party whips and communications officers about her knowledge of Ishmael’s case in the first place?
All are interesting questions in their own right. But they also form part of a larger list relating to the selection of Ishmael Osamor as a Haringey Council candidate last year and Labour’s response to news of his criminal conviction.
The Times has established that Kate Osamor knew about Ishmael’s case before he was sentenced. But how long before?
Ishmael was arrested more than 12 months earlier, on 8 September 2017. He had been caught trying to take £2,500 worth of drugs into the Bestival music festival. It appears that an interview to establish his fitness to be included on a panel of potential Labour candidates for council seats in Haringey took place just nine days later, on 17 September 2017. According to one of his interviewers, “Nothing out of the ordinary was declared during the interview”.
On 20 November 2017, Ishmael was selected to be a candidate for West Green ward in this year’s council election, ousting a sitting councillor as part of a Corbynite deselection campaign. Kate Osamor reportedly attended the selection meeting and, according to some accounts, nominated her son from the floor.
Kate and Ishmael Osamor live in the same house. Ishmael is employed by Kate at the House of Commons as his chief communications officer. Did Kate Osamor know before his panel interview about her son’s arrest and any charges he faced? Did she know before the selection meeting? Did she know before he was elected to the council on 3 May this year?
Did anyone else in the Labour Party know about Ishmael’s predicament prior to media coverage of his conviction and, if so, when? Did Claudia Webbe, the Islington councillor, member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) and strong Corbyn supporter, who took part in many of the panel interviews have any prior knowledge? On London asked Webbe about this by email some weeks ago, but she has not replied.
Labour’s rule book states that “where a member has been convicted of a serious criminal offence” the NEC has the right to impose disciplinary action, including resolving to exclude such a member from the party. Kate Osamor is, like Webbe, a member of the NEC. Do convictions for possession of Class A and Class B drugs with intent to supply constitute a serious criminal offence for Labour? Should the NEC take action? Labour general secretary Jennie Formby has been contacted by an experienced Labour Party member to seek her view on that question. No reply has been received.
Following Ishmael Osamor’s resignation, the BBC reported that council leader Joseph Efiofor had asked the Labour Group chief whip to investigate Osamor’s “actions”. The group’s chief whip is Gideon Bull. On London has contacted Bull to ask how his investigation has progressed. A reply explaining that it would not be appropriate to disclose information about internal party matters would be normal and reasonable, but there has been no reply at all.
The problem with all this for Jeremy Corbyn, the “Corbyn Council” and the Corbynite project as a whole is that it looks absolutely terrible. People can understand why a parent in Kate Osamor’s position would be dismayed and fiercely protective. They can understand that being door stepped by journalists seeking a response to a story that makes you look bad would be unwelcome. Even so, the Times story really does make Kate Osamor look bad. And unless and until she is prepared to volunteer a plausible account of what she knew about her son’s run-in with the law and when she knew it, journalists are right to try to find out more.
The same goes for other Labour Party figures involved with last autumn’s rancorous and arguably dubious candidate selection process, especially those who, like the Osamors, are close to Jeremy Corbyn. Only last week Kate Osamor’s mother, Martha Osamor, became Baroness Osamor thanks to Corbyn nominating her for a peerage back in May. Perceptions that the Osamors are Corbynite royalty, permitted to conduct themselves in ways that other party members would not get away with and treated with kid gloves when they get found out, has not been diminished one bit by events of the last few days.
The Labour Party, both locally and nationally, needs to deal with that problem and be seen to be dealing with it. If it doesn’t, the problem and the questions it still raises, will not go away.
A by-election to find a successor to Ishmael Osamor as one of West Green ward’s councillors will be held on 13 December.