ANALYSIS Why the selection of Janet Daby to fight the Lewisham East by-election is bad news for Jeremy Corbyn

Posted On: 
21st May 2018

Janet Daby says she voted for Jeremy Corbyn in both his leadership races - so surely her nomination to fight the Lewisham East by-election is a victory for the left? Well… not quite.

Janet Daby is set to replace Heidi Alexander as the next MP for Lewisham East
PA Images

When Heidi Alexander dramatically quit as the MP earlier this month there was a sense of relief among the local left that she could be replaced by someone more sympathetic to the Labour leader. The mission should not have been difficult. Alexander was the first MP to quit the Shadow Cabinet in the wake of the EU referendum and co-chaired the Owen Smith campaign to oust Corbyn from the leadership. She then became a major force in parliament to keep the UK in the single market and customs union - both of which are against Labour policy.

The pick to replace Alexander was always going to lead (eventually) to an easing of tensions. But Lewisham East members cannot breathe a particularly big sigh of relief. Local deputy mayor Janet Daby - who was elected as the Labour candidate on Saturday - is not good news for the Labour leader. She was the pick of the moderates in the constituency - where the word ‘moderates’ can legitimately be supplanted by ‘Blairites’, since the CLP is run by ex-Blair aide and top political plotter Ian McKenzie. McKenzie and friends managed to mobilise effectively and get 288 people out to vote for Daby - a whole 153 more than for her nearest rival, the Momentum-backed Sakina Sheikh. Daby winning the coveted nomination proves that the right of the party in Lewisham East still has what it takes to smash the left when it matters.

Jeremy Corbyn never revealed who his top pick for the selection was but we can be sure it was not Janet Daby. The leader was thought to back his Islington pal Claudia Webbe, an ardent enthusiast for the leader who enjoyed support from the likes of Diane Abbott during the selection contest. If not Webbe, it is likely Corbyn would have preferred Sheikh to win - a 20-something activist who won plaudits from the pro-Corbyn Novara types and who had been a councillor for five days before she threw her hat into the ring. There is little doubt Corbyn would also have preferred UK Black Pride co-founder Phyll Opoku-Gyimah over Daby - but she quit the contest after getting caught up in a Guido Fawkes holocaust hit. Hell, he probably would have sooner chosen Brenda Dacres too, who pulled out the day before the selection due to “recently diagnosed health reasons”. So the candidate who was furthest from his top choice won it.

And then there’s Brexit. Daby campaigned on a doggedly pro-EU platform and vowed to fight against pulling the UK out of the single market and customs union. She even said the constituency needs “a Labour MP that will continue Heidi’s work in holding the Government to account on Brexit”. That means rebelling on official party policy and being a thorn in the side of the leadership on arguably the most crucial issue of the day. Her stance on the EU institutions won her a rapt response at the selection meeting in the pro-Remain stronghold on Saturday. There is no doubt Labour members are sending her to parliament (she is guaranteed to win the safe seat) to send a message to the leadership. Not only does it mean Corbyn is unable to count on his new MP to toe the party line in crunch votes - but it is a reminder of the Brexit predicament in Labour: the split between young and pro-Remain metropolitan members and the older pro-Brexit camp in northern Labour heartlands. Corbyn has to find a way to keep a lid on the debate - and Daby does not help.

Corbyn will have no choice but to support Daby in the by-election in full knowledge she represents a blow by the Labour right to his leadership. He will have to champion her potential as a Labour MP in full knowledge she was his last choice for the job. And he will have to stand beside a candidate vowing to overturn one of his central Brexit policies.

Janet Daby may have voted for Corbyn in his two leadership elections - but the claim is a slim consolation for the headaches to come.