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Labour pains over candidate selection and alliance with the Greens

The decision by Labour’s National Executive Committee to exclude borough councillor Maya Evans from the longlist of parliamentary candidates for Hastings & Rye has prompted a widely supported letter of protest from local party members. HOT’s Chris Connelley reports.

Summer is normally a quiet time in Hastings politics. With local elections over and the holidays looming it’s time for activists to take advantage of the long light days, to catch up on Wimbledon or the cricket, and to spend time with family and friends in the garden or on the beach.

This year, though, June has been anything but a period of well-earned time out for Hastings Labour, some of whose active members are currently embroiled in a tense dispute with the national party over the selection of their parliamentary candidate for a seat that ranks as one of the party’s best prospects in the south-east.

Currently held by Conservative Sally-Ann Hart, who won with a majority of 4,043 in the 2019 Brexit general election, the constituency, which takes in Rye and surrounding rural areas as well as Hastings itself, is precisely the kind of seat that Labour must win if it is to stand a chance of forming a majority after the next election.

Victory for the party at parliamentary level is notoriously elusive, however. It has only ever elected  a single Labour MP, local lawyer Michael Foster, who was swept in as part of Tony Blair’s landslide in 1997 and held the seat for 13 years. In 2010, Amber Rudd, back then an A list newcomer who would go on to become Home Secretary, snatched it for the Conservatives, winning again in both 2015 and in 2017, in the latter case by a wafer-thin majority of just 346 votes.

At every general election since 2015, Labour has mounted massive ground campaigns and confidently anticipated victory, only to see its hopes dashed at each election night count. But with the government now consistently behind in the polls, by up to 11% in the latest from Ipsos MORI, Labour will be hopeful that it can break its long run of defeats next time.

Critical

Selecting the candidate best able to reach out to the broadest base of voters is critical in a marginal seat like Hastings and Rye, with factors like a high profile and strong local identity potentially making the difference between winning and losing in a close-run contest. And unsurprisingly, given the party’s recently improved fortunes, interest in becoming MP here is growing, reflecting the fact that Hastings and Rye is one of a small number of southern seats liable to swing from blue to red at the next general election.

Over recent weeks, a number of candidates have thrown their hats into the ring, including Maya Evans, councillor for Hollington Ward and deputy leader of Hastings Borough Council in the new red/green co-operative alliance. A former Green Party activist and Labour convert under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Evans is a seasoned campaigner who, though a Londoner by birth, has lived in the town for almost 20 years.

Announcing her candidacy on social media, she committed to “standing to give Hastings and Rye a local champion, with a strong track record of fighting and winning for local people, on the issues that matter to you.” She also unleashed an impressive list of backers, including her immediate predecessor as parliamentary candidate, Peter Chowney, and council leader Paul Barnett, as well as leaders from the wider community, including James Robinson, co-founder of Surviving the Streets, and Tara Reddy, the originator of Arts on Prescription.

Bella Sankey

Another candidate declaring an early interest was Bella Sankey, a Hove-based human rights lawyer who was a visible campaigner in Hastings during the recent local elections, and issued her own campaign video days later. Her backers include Trevor Webb, the leader of the Labour Group on East Sussex County Council, and Sabina Arthur, who won her Braybrooke ward seat in May 2021.

They were joined by former police officer turned politician Christine Bayliss, who serves as a councillor in neighbouring Bexhill, and Helena Dollimore, a London-based Oxford University graduate who sits as a councillor in the London borough of Merton and works for the charity Save the Children. Dollimore comes with strong local connections, having spent her childhood years in Battle.

Former Hastings Council deputy leader Colin Fitzgerald also put himself forward, as did Ben Clinton, a Peasmarsh councillor, and Tony Mears, a Unison member.

Short longlist

Under Labour rules, the national party can interview potential candidates and agree a longlist from which the local party is able to make a final choice. The Hastings and Rye longlist was published a fortnight ago, and includes just three names, Bayliss, Dollimore and a London-based councillor, Simon Thomson, a former journalist turned charity worker who now serves as a councillor in Bromley.

Evans and Sankey both failed to make the longlist, as did Fitzgerald, Clinton and Mears. Sankey has issued a statement expressing disappointment, and a little surprise, at the decision, whilst reaffirming her capability – “I  know I am a strong candidate with a lot to offer and my time will come” – and seeming to have moved on.

Evans, on the other hand, continues to campaign to be added to the longlist. and has submitted a letter to the NEC, Labour’s most senior committee, signed by over 80 local members, inviting the national party to reconsider the decision to exclude her.

The letter reads, “A popular figure locally, holding a senior Council position for Labour, and with a track record of community activism for good causes, Maya fully deserves a chance to compete alongside other excellent candidates in a democratic selection process locally.”

“Deeply concerning”

“It is deeply concerning, therefore, that Maya has apparently been prevented from standing, without any grounds being given or rule breaches cited. Indeed, we note that other strong candidates have been omitted from the longlist. This is a matter of basic party democracy – CLPs [Constituency Labour Parties] should have the right to choose candidates, on the basis of Party rules.

“In that regard, we note that the commitment in the procedures that candidates supported by trade union affiliates be automatically longlisted has been disregarded, despite Maya’s backing from Unite and others. Yet no reason has been given for this course of action, nor any evidence presented. Additionally, the local CLP has been entirely cut out of the process, without even having received notification from the NEC”.

Evans’ exclusion from the longlist even made the national press last week, forming part of a story in The Guardian about an alleged clampdown on left-wing candidates initiated by the national party under Keir Starmer. There certainly seems to be a perception on the left of the Labour Party that Starmer is keen to draw a line under the Corbyn years and mark out his territory, and a number of activists have been expelled from the party under his leadership, including some prominent former members in Hastings, most notably former deputy council leader Jay Kramer and former Castle Ward councillor Leah Levane.

In response to suggestions that Evans had received no explanation for her failing to make the cut, The Guardian article cites Labour sources as insisting that she had been told why and goes on to say that, “They cited her involvement with Stop the War, the anti-imperialist peace group Starmer has strongly condemned, as well as her arrest during an anti-Iraq war protest, and Hastings Labour’s decision to strike a cooperation agreement with the Greens on the council”.

As deputy leader of the Council, Evans is a key player in the co-operative alliance, and a member of Cabinet, which is made up of eight councillors, six from Labour and two from the Greens. The two parties have been working together since May’s local election, when Labour lost its overall control after the Greens took three seats from them, depriving them of a majority.

Alliance questioned

The alliance arrangement, whose extended negotiation led to a one-week delay for Annual Council, seems to have played badly with the national party, and is understood to be disliked by a number of local Labour councillors and activists. One senior local party member HOT spoke to, who wished to remain anonymous, estimated that up to half of the Labour group have issues with the arrangement.

As presstime, both issues remained live, and are likely to be raised at party meetings later this week. With political temperatures on the rise, it promises to be a long hot summer for Labour.

 

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Posted 18:48 Tuesday, Jul 5, 2022 In: Politics

5 Comments

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  1. Alex Jenkins

    She should consider running under the TUSC banner, Hastings is in desperate need of a political shake-up and this would be a clear message to Labour about attacking local CLPs

    Comment by Alex Jenkins — Sunday, Jul 17, 2022 @ 21:25

  2. J.Wilson

    Im relieved Cllr Evans was overlooked, shes simply not MP material. Well meaning hard working yes but lacks required depth, tact & diplomacy. Shes supported many poor council decisions (as did Fitzgerald) resulting in Labour losing ward seats. & she cheer led that bonkers idea of covering Hastings country park with solar panels. When I watch council meetings her speeches seem overly long & indulgent. Disappointing for Evans & her supporters yes but move on, show grace support remaining candidates ensure we get a Labour MP voted in. Sour grape infighting stories undermine Labour at a critical time & Evans own credibility for future Westminster opportunities.

    Comment by J.Wilson — Thursday, Jul 7, 2022 @ 12:40

  3. J B KNIGHT

    I dont know what you are bleating over Maya being exempt. She would not appeal to and broad section of society and would not bring everyone in.

    Whoever is the choice HAS to appeal and bring in a large cross section of society including business, farmers, and tories cheesed off with Boris and way things are going.

    Howver, it does not occur to many Labour still, that people voted Green and ousted local historical Labour safe seats, because they don’t want Labour again for many legitimate reasons.

    If people vote Green but get Labour because Green water down to have a coalition many scratch their heads and wonder why did I bother when my vote was anti-Labour, Still not getting the message, Not Good Enough.

    Left Right and Central they are pretty all c**p.

    Maya would not be a good choice.

    Comment by J B KNIGHT — Thursday, Jul 7, 2022 @ 01:26

  4. Jacquie Hart

    Because anyone associated with a deeply toxic flawed Labour council like Hastings Borough is quite rightly written off. That local Hastings Labour cannot recognise that is deeply telling. Time & time again they have cheered truly appalling decisions from the sidelines like those cheering the emperor’s new clothes & bullied anyone piping up in honest opposition. They have enabled this failure & yet STILL do not get it. Shades of bunker Johnson here? It has been obvious for years that they need to airlift a Labour candidate in untarnished by HBC. & now they have done this with candidates with decent local connections they undermine this opportunity for success by bitching & moaning about selection. Such elite blinkered thinking by the same lot that thought Chowney an uncharismatic leader of a deeply unpopular council would win – shock horror he didn’t, the man was never King yet still lauded for ‘almost winning’ = losing. Jeez… local Labour REALLY need to think about the many not the elite back slapping few. & stop bitching, blaming & moaning – move away from the feeding trough, own your failure, learn from it – then & only then you might just bless us with a Labour MP.

    Comment by Jacquie Hart — Wednesday, Jul 6, 2022 @ 22:53

  5. Erica Smith

    Excellent article. Thank you for that thorough briefing! I’m disappointed in the lack of local candidates on the short-list too.

    Comment by Erica Smith — Tuesday, Jul 5, 2022 @ 19:33

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