Lewisham East - Labour's runners and riders in a very short race

Who are the many and who are the few? That question is set to be put to the test in the forthcoming Lewisham East byelection, which has been triggered by Heidi Alexander's resignation. The Guardian reports:

"Labour party members in... Lewisham East are protesting furiously that the byelection caused by the resignation of the MP Heidi Alexander is likely to be held in just five weeks’ time.

"They accuse the party’s national executive of rushing through the process to prevent the local party having a voice, with the candidate to be shortlisted and selected in just six days.

"The Lewisham East CLP chair, Ian McKenzie, emailed members calling on them to protest against the speed of the process.

"The national executive committee (NEC) always selects byelection candidates, but Lewisham East is a plum seat with a solid 21,000 majority.

"Several people have already let it be known they are interested, but there are indications that Labour HQ would like to see an all-female shortlist and is likely to favour at least a majority of BAME candidates in a constituency where nearly half the voters are minority ethnic."

So are the many the local party members who represent the grassroots of the party, or does the Labour leadership, with a huge national mandate represent the interests of the many against a few local refuseniks who can't get with the glorious programme? Reducing complicated issues down to trite oppositional catchphrases is harder than it looks.

Anyway, let's have a look at the candidates who somebody somewhere will choose from to install in power in a borough where 70% of the residents voted Remain:

Kevin Bonavia - Blackheath Councillor and Spurs fan? Uh oh. Running on a strongly pro-immigration platform following his work with refugees in Lewisham. Pledges to work to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit, which is to say he supports the Labour Party's pro-Brexit stance.

Brenda Dacres - the New Cross Councillor is a familiar face in local politics. Her candidacy declaration included a personal connection to every wicked Tory injustice meted out since 2010. Follows the Corbynista line on Brexit, which is to say she is pro.

Joe Dromey - A job with the Moral Maze's favourite think-tank the IPPR, a solid track record as a Councillor and a tendency to say sensible things in a moderate tone on Twitter give him impeccable centrist dad credentials. Good luck with that... 'Passionately pro-European' (hint hint), but nominally supports Labour's pro-Brexit stance.

Sakina Sheikh - Inspired by Corbyn to join the party two years ago and only elected as a Lewisham Councillor a few days ago.  Together with our new Lewisham Mayor and Telegraph Hill Councillor Paul Bell, she recently shared a platform with a local Islamist imam Shakeel Begg, who in 2016 was found by a high court judge to “clearly promote and encourage violence in support of Islam and espouse a series of extremist Islamic positions.” Her statement does not mention the EU at all and she has ducked repeated questions put to her about Brexit on Twitter. Reportedly the Corbynista candidate of choice.

Claudia Webbe - Former Chair of the Met Police's anti-gang crime initiative Operation Trident, her statement is admirably detailed and definitively socialist. Says she is proud to call Corbyn a personal friend. Pro-Brexit.

So there you have it. Five candidates so-far, all toeing the pro-Brexit party line. A reminder of two things: Firstly, if you want to be the next MP for Lewisham East you'd better tailor your manifesto for the ears of the national leadership rather than the local electorate. And secondly, the Labour Party is a pro-Brexit party.

The Huffington Post reports that Labour is contemplating selecting candidates based on an all-women, all-BAME shortlist, which would have the fortuitous consequence of weeding out the centrist candidates.

Phyll Opuku-Gyimah, the co-founder of UK Black Pride, is also expected formally to enter the race shortly.


Whitefoot Councillor and Lewisham Deputy Mayor Janet Daby has declared her candidacy.

The former social worker's platform is the most locally-relevant, including references to the Bakerloo Line and problems with gang violence. A good and considered local politician. She makes no reference to Brexit or related issues at all.


Another one to add to the list. Rachel Onikosi is a former Lewisham Councillor who ducks any reference to Brexit in her declaration. Instead, her florid note majors on things like mental health, mean tweets and 'the stigma' of maternity leave.

From this plethora of options, will any pro-Remain candidate emerge?


Down goes Lady Phyll, who's dropped out amid media reports of anti-semitic social media posts.


Tom Willetts has entered the race. He is a governor of Trinity Lewisham school and a Catford resident. His declaration majors on issues affecting young black people in the borough. Describes himself as a socialist who wants radical change. Opposes 'hard Brexit', which is to say will support the party line in favour of Brexit.