Four out as Labour picks candidates for 2018’s Greenwich Council election

A polling station
Greenwich Council election: Voters will go to the polls on 3 May 2018

Four long-serving Greenwich councillors have been deselected by Labour members after local parties picked their candidates for next May’s council elections.

The casualties include Charlton councillor Allan MacCarthy, who first took a seat on the council in 1976, and Glyndon representative Don Austen, who made his council debut in 1986.

Former cabinet member Harry Singh also lost his spot in Woolwich Common, while former mayor Barbara Barwick failed to be picked by members in her Woolwich Riverside seat.

51 candidates – three per ward – are being picked to contest the 17 wards which make up Greenwich borough on 3 May. Labour currently has 42 councillors to the Conservatives’ nine, and will be looking to make further gains after eating into the Tories’ Eltham strongholds in 2014’s election.

So far, 45 have been chosen – selections in Eltham South and Coldharbour & New Eltham, the two wards wholly held by the Conservatives, were due to take place last night, but have been postponed, ostensibly due to candidates dropping out.

Two current cabinet members also narrowly avoided being deselected. Environment boss Jackie Smith – whose department’s failings in street cleaning have been criticised by fellow councillors – lost out at a shortlisting meeting of the Woolwich Riverside branch party before being re-selected at a follow-up meeting.

Children’s services cabinet member Miranda Williams also failed to get on the shortlist in her Charlton seat, but instead managed to be picked for the Eltham West seat instead.

Williams’ treatment – the selections coincided with her becoming a mother for the third time – has caused particular anger among her supporters, who feel she did not have a proper chance to defend her record.

Steve Offord, an ally of former leader Chris Roberts, was deselected in Abbey Wood, but is now standing in the key Eltham North seat.

Bitter fights

Clive Efford
All smiles: Clive Efford has been making his presence felt both inside and outside his Eltham constituency

As ever, the selection fights have been bitter, although often based on personal animosity rather than political principle or policy difference.

Indeed, in the run-up to the selections, one sitting councillor even discovered they had been the subject of a fraud allegation which had been investigated by police and was found to be baseless.

Eltham MP Clive Efford is also understood to have made his presence felt in selection battles both inside and outside his constituency.

What has been striking this year has been the willingness of rank and file party members, particularly in the north of the borough – away from the centre of power in Eltham – to turn on sitting councillors, particularly on issues such as the Silvertown Tunnel. In one northerly ward, current councillors were mocked as being from the “Eltham First” party.

Supporters of the Jeremy Corbyn-backing Momentum faction have made little progress under their own steam, but instead have teamed up with other disgruntled factions to push through new faces – or block those backed by Efford and the council leadership.

The delayed selection in Eltham South is likely to see a tussle between Momentum supporters, who are prominent in the branch party, and those loyal to Efford.

A push to unseat possible future council leader Danny Thorpe failed in Shooters Hill, while current leader Denise Hyland has held onto her Abbey Wood position.

But those who want change in the council – whether Momentum or not – declare themselves pleased with the new choice of candidates.

Charlton turmoil

The turmoil in Charlton also saw the exit of MacCarthy, whose service began when he was co-opted onto the council as an alderman, a long-gone position elected by councillors rather than the public. When aldermen were abolished in 1978, he was elected in the old Kidbrooke ward, a year after losing to the Tories in a by-election there. He left the council in 1986, returning to represent Charlton 20 years later. The council leadership’s decision to build a skate park in Charlton Park is credited with causing at least some of the bad feeling in that branch.

Don Austen was originally a leading light in the old Social Democratic Party – penning a letter to a local paper in 1981 implying the Labour Party had no future after the defection of local MP John Cartwright.

Don Austen letter to the Kentish Independent, March 1981
From the Kentish Independent, March 1981.

He was first elected as an SDP/Liberal Alliance councillor for Thamesmead Moorings in 1986. He lost his seat four years later, but was re-elected under the Labour banner in Glyndon in 1994, where he has stayed ever since. More recently, Austen took on the role as the sole trustee of the troubled Shrewsbury House community centre to try to save the facility from collapse.

Singh held the largely symbolic “Greener Greenwich” cabinet position under Chris Roberts, a job town hall insiders say was invented purely to head off a short-lived threat from the Green Party. But perhaps the most surprising deselection is that of Charlton Athletic season-ticket holder Barwick. A councillor since 1998, she and her husband Fred are stalwarts of the local Labour scene.

Other councillors are standing down of their own accord, including Eltham West’s Ray Walker, the former chief whip and planning board chair who acted as Roberts’ “enforcer”. More troubling for local Labour figures will be the loss of three younger female councillors – Cherry Parker of Blackheath Westcombe, Ambreen Hisbani of Woolwich Common and Clare Morris in Middle Park & Sutcliffe.

New faces for the council

Anthony Okereke
Young activist Anthony Okereke – pictured here in his own publicity material – is one of the new Labour candidates

Nearly half of those chosen in the Greenwich & Woolwich constituency come from BME backgrounds, compared with none so far in Eltham.

Standing in Woolwich Common is young activist Anthony Okereke, who works as an assistant to Peterborough MP Fiona Onasanya. Alongside him is bookkeeper Ivis Williams. Over in Woolwich Riverside, local activist Dominic Mbang is standing.

In Charlton, Unison union official Linda Perks has been selected alongside Gary Dillon, who took a more typical journey to becoming a councillor – joining the committee of the Charlton Society amenity group, then becoming a school governor and being co-opted onto a council scrutiny panel.

Labour will be looking to pinch all three seats in Blackheath Westcombe – it currently has two – and one of the hopefuls is Leo Fletcher, father of former Kidbrooke with Hornfair councillor Hayley Fletcher. Alongside him is Sabiha Shahzad, briefly a councillor in the mid-1990, and Mariam Lolavar, former chair of Her Centre, a Woolwich-based charity for women in crisis.

In Abbey Wood, party members picked Ann-Marie Cousins, the chair of the Greenwich African Caribbean Organisation.

Caroline Walsh, one of the Eltham party’s best-known members, will contest the marginal Eltham North seat, where Labour won two seats for the first time in 2014, although it lost one of those in a by-election last year.

Of the two remaining seats, Eltham South was also once seen as a Tory stronghold, but Labour came within 68 votes of snatching a seat here in 2014. Coldharbour and New Eltham, at the far south of the borough, is Labour’s least rosy prospect – but even then, campaigners see hope in Clive Efford’s performance in the recent general election.

Full list of candidates so far

A full list of selected candidates is below. This is likely to change between now and the election – and apologies for any misspellings. Incumbent councillors are in bold, incumbents who are moving seats are in bold and italics.

Abbey Wood: Denise Hyland, Clive Mardner, Ann-Marie Cousins
Blackheath Westcombe: Leo Fletcher, Mariam Lolavar, Sabiha Shahzad
Charlton: Gary Dillon, Gary Parker, Linda Perks
Coldharbour and New Eltham: to be selected
Eltham North: Linda Bird, Steve Offord, Caroline Walsh
Eltham South: to be selected
Eltham West: Bill Freeman, Mick Hayes, Miranda Williams
Glyndon: Tonia Ashikodi, Peter Brooks, Adel Khairah
Greenwich West: Mehboob Khan, Maureen O’Mara, Aidan Smith
Kidbrooke with Hornfair: Norman Adams, Christine Grice, David Stanley
Middle Park and Sutcliffe: Ian Hawking, Mark James, Christine May
Peninsula: Stephen Brain, Chris Lloyd, Denise Scott-McDonald
Plumstead: Anglela Cornforth, Rajinder James, Matt Morrow
Shooters Hill: Chris Kirby, Sarah Merrill, Danny Thorpe
Thamesmead Moorings: Olu Babatola, Sizwe James, Averil Lekau
Woolwich Common: Anthony Okereke, David Gardner, Ivis Williams
Woolwich Riverside: John Fahy, Dominic Mbang, Jackie Smith

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