John Cryer MP intervenes in Labour’s 2018 local election selection process: bold, foolish, or both?

A prominent member of the wide-awake club recently forwarded this Labour Party leaflet from back in September:

Cryer pic copy

It shows my old friend John Cryer, MP for Leyton and Wanstead, hyping three senior Labour councillors, Khevyn Limbajee, Anna Mbachu, and Chris Robbins, in the selection process for next year’s municipal elections.

By intervening in this way, Mr. Cryer has broken no rules, but eyebrows will be raised, neverthelss, partly because such partisanship is considered bad form in Labour circles, but mainly because the trio who he has annointed all have baggage, particularly when viewed through the prism of what were once called ‘socialist values’.

Let’s start with Cllr. Limbajee. His Achilles Heal is the fact that over the years he has become closely identified with LBWF’s current housing policy, and in particular the very socially regressive  ‘redevelopment’ of the Marlowe Rd estate, and the Fred Wigg and John Walsh tower blocks in Cann Hall (the latter of course in Mr. Cryer’s constituency, not that he seems to have noticed).

As for Cllr. Mbachu, her antics are by now fairly well-known, and detailed in previous posts. As Mayor, she threatened to biff her chauffeur. And during the course of a disastrous appearance at a recent Employment Tribunal, her evidence was judged ‘confusing’ and/or ‘unreliable’, and she was found to have humiliated a junior colleague, moreover one who was seeking to return to work after a serious illness. Cllr. Mbachu likes to present herself some kind of community elder and inspiration, but in the light of these regrettable events, her words ring decidedly hollow.

That leaves Cllr. Robbins. After he stepped down as Leader earlier this year, he received a CBE, so he must have achieved something. However, it is difficult to think of exactly what, that is beyond some pop concerts, starring minor stars of yesteryear, and a plethora of Union Jacks on or near public buildings. Conversely, his term of office certainly had marked downsides. Cllr. Robbins was once a trade union official. Yet strangely (and revealingly) as Leader he presided over wave after wave of of Town Hall job cuts, so that, for example, in one five year period, 2011-15, the LBWF workforce declined from 3652 to 2886, that is by a fifth. Worse, he was also at the helm when LBWF twice became embroiled in major asbestos scandals, resulting in prosecutions and large fines, substantial costs to the public purse, and, most seriously of all, many ordinary employees fearing – with good reason – that they had been contaminated.

Why Mr. Cryer has chosen to ignore all this is unclear: perhaps he thinks it unimportant; perhaps his overall concern is in reciprocating political favours; or perhaps he genuinely believes that cosying up to local Labour big wigs will further cement his ascendency amongst voters, and socialist values can go hang.

However, there are signs that he may well have miscalculated, and in fact alienated important sections of a group that is crucial to his future – the rank and file in the party.

Like all sitting MPs, Mr. Cryer can count on a degree of tribal loyalty. But that accepted, he is certainly not universally popular amongst activists, and indeed now attracts significant grumbling. Some have never forgiven him for moving house to South London. Others are irritated by his rather obvious failure to enthusiatically embrace Corbynism. And so on.

In this context, publicly choosing favourites in a selection process, and in particular siding with key members of an unappealing old guard, looks like throwing down a challenge, the unashamedly bold flourishing of our Parliamentarian’s middle digit.

With the Labour party moving left, and internecine warfare growing week by week, the next few months should certainly be entertaining for the rest of us.

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