ANALYSIS Could the Lewisham East nomination be the battleground for the next Corbynite war?

Posted On: 
16th May 2018

The left loves nothing more than to factionalise - and it looks like the race to pick the Labour candidate for the Lewisham East by-election will be no different.

Claudia Webbe will fight for the support of local Lewisham East members.

PoliticsHome understands fresh divides have opened up between Jeremy Corbyn’s office and the Momentum campaign group that was set up to support his leadership.

On Monday night the party published its all-women, all-BME shortlist for the seat vacated by Heidi Alexander, with close Jeremy Corbyn ally and Islington councillor Claudia Webbe joined by Lewisham councillors Sakina Sheikh and Brenda Dacres, as well as local deputy mayor Janet Daby.

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The Lewisham East CLP will take its pick from the list at a showdown meeting on Saturday.

Sources close to both the Leader's Office and the local Momentum group say Mr Corbyn’s team favours current Labour National Executive Committee rep Ms Webbe, who the powerful Unite union backed yesterday.

But in a significant development, Momentum last night threw their weight behind Ms Sheikh.

The divide mirrors the recent Labour battle to replace the general secretary of its National Executive Committee – when Unite and the leadership backed Jennie Formby and Momentum threw its support behind its own founder Jon Lansman.

Eventually Lansman dropped out of the race and Formby won – suggesting the unions still hold a greater sway over Mr Corbyn than the grassroots campaign organisation hell-bent on boosting membership participation.

Momentum organisers in Lewisham have told PoliticsHome they are concerned about a similar trade union "stitch up" over the plum seat, which Labour retained last June with a 21,000 majority. They also point out that Ms Webbe is not local to the area.

"Sakina is local - Momentum will want the support of the local community,” a Lewisham source said. "There are reports of CLP members wanting a candidate with ‘local connections’ and don’t want a union stitch up. Sakina is inexperienced though, and Claudia knows what’s she’s doing.”

But allies of Ms Webbe within the Leader's Office are understood to be backing her candidacy due to her extensive experience as a left-wing activist.

She has served on the party's ruling National Executive Committee, and worked as an adviser to former London mayor Ken Livingstone. A source close to the Labour leader told PoliticsHome his office was yet to take a stance.

Whoever wins the local selection is likely to be a shoo-in for the south London seat on 14 June. What really matters is who wins the day on Saturday, and which leftist faction is left out in the cold.