Labour currently dominates London politics, from the mayoralty of Sadiq Khan at City Hall to command of 21 of the capital’s 32 boroughs. Despite the party’s grim position nationally, support for it in the capital seems to have generally held up, which raises interesting issues about next spring’s borough elections.
Is it possible that Labour will take a still tighter grip in 2018? Can London’s Conservatives prevent them, given the damage done to their reputation by Zac Goldsmith’s disastrous mayoral campaign last year and perhaps further weakened by the Tory government’s “hard Brexit” tone in a metropolis that voted strongly to remain in the European Union?
Another factor might be any significant changes in the ideological complexion of Labour-run boroughs in the run-up to the vote. Many are going about selecting their Town Hall candidates. London MP and shadow chancellor John McDonnell has been alleging that a “soft coup” is being conducted by parliamentary colleagues against his fellow London MP and party leader Jeremy Corbyn. But many borough politicians have long been concerned that members of the pro-Corbyn group Momentum have been seeking to de-select sitting councillors not to their taste.
The Lambeth ward of Gypsy Hill is a good example, with the three current Labour councillors, who include cabinet member for housing Matthew Bennett, facing a concerted challenge in a branch chaired by veteran hard left activist and former Lambeth Council leader, Ted Knight. Branch membership is said to have soared from around 50 to some 250 with the rise of Corbyn from oppositional backbencher to Labour leader, and Knight has been part of that surge.
He was expelled by Labour in 1956 and disqualified from holding office after the 1985 rate-capping rebellion. He’s been around the block. However, not everyone who joined Labour out of admiration for Corbyn has the same appetite for meetings and manoeuvres, so the outcome of this selection process seems in the balance. A somewhat belated meeting to settle the matter has been fixed for 6 March. Other prominent Lambeth councillors, including leader Lib Peck, have come through in their wards unscathed.
Opposition to the redevelopment of housing estates is a strong rallying point for the Labour left (and others) in Lambeth, neighbouring Southwark and also Haringey, where there has been talk of all sorts of de-selection drives. Local Momentumite Noah Tucker was comfortably elected in a by-election last October.
A less predictable hotspot of Corbynite organising is suburban Hounslow, where council leader Steve Curran is understood to be seriously concerned about surviving as a member for Syon ward. His fellow Syon residents include Crispin Flintoff, a prominent member of the Brentford and Isleworth constituency party who ran unsuccessfully for Labour in the Chiswick Homefields ward in 2014.
Flintoff’s website documents energetic fund-raising across the country – over 200 of them, which have raised more than £150,00 for CLPs he tells me, including “Curry for Corbyn” events. He says he’s still interested in becoming a councillor, but not in unseating anyone in particular.
Not all the more competitive Labour candidate contests involve challenges from the replenished left of the party. Indeed, given that London has been described as a key battleground in Labour’s internal struggles it is, perhaps, surprising that there aren’t more of them. Councillor selections are at different stages in different parts of town, with Croydon, for example, not expecting to get serious about it before summer, so there could be more to come. But Barking and Dagenham leader Darren Rodwell, a man who knows the value of respecting the Queen, appears more worried about members leaking rightwards to Ukip than insurgents from the left.
Waltham Forest has seen local MP Stella Creasy under pressure and George Gallowaysniffing opportunities in recent times, but Clare Coghill seems to have secured the succession to Chris Robbins as leader without anyone shouting things like “Blairite” or “Trot”. She will take over in May. Camden was another of the turbulent Labour councils in the 1980s, but if there is to be a challenge to Sarah Hayward, word is it may be more about approach than ideology than as was the case with an unsuccessful one last year. Social landscape plays a part in these things too. According to one wry observer, Brent, for example, doesn’t have enough middle-class intellectuals for Momentum to make a big mark.
There is a varied story too of mayoral candidates for 2018. From the camp of Sir Robin Wales come assertions that the Corbyn left and sympathisers are very much behind the questioning of the Newham “trigger ballot” process that has resulted in his going forward automatically for next year, but others insist that it’s really about style, length of incumbency and the running of the re-selection itself.
Philip Glanville, winner of a mayoral by-election last year, is solidly ensconced in Hackney. In Lewisham, where Sir Steve Bullock is to step down after four terms at the helm, the main struggle is said to be to ensure a good mix of potential successors. The names of councillors Damien Egan, Brenda Dacres and Paul Bell have all floated through the ether, but nothing seems definite. The same seems to be true of Tower Hamlets, or was. Surprised?
This has been a brief summary of some of the more interesting bits of Labour internal politics I’ve heard about of late. It was updated at 18:45 after Crispin Flintoff got in touch. Readers who can fill in gaps or provide updates or further detail are welcome to email firstname.lastname@example.org.