Former Unite Chief Tony Woodley And London Labour Activists On Jeremy Corbyn's New Peerages List

As May prepares to pack Lords with Tory and DUP peers.
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A former Unite union leader, a veteran black community activist and a close ally of Ken Livingstone are all being lined up as new Labour peers by Jeremy Corbyn, HuffPost UK can reveal.

Union stalwart Tony Woodley, former councillor Martha Osamor and ex-London Assembly member Murad Qureshi - who chairs the Stop the War Coalition - are understood to be among nominations discussed by the leadership for two or possibly three new peerages for the party.

In a bid to strengthen her numbers to push through crucial Brexit bills in the Lords, Theresa May is expected to appoint a raft of between 12 and 15 new Tory peers in coming days.

HuffPost has been told that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is also expected to get one or two peers of its own.

The independent House of Lords Appointments Commission is working on nominations from all parties and Downing Street is poised to make an announcement as early as next week.

Shami Chakrabarti, Corbyn's only peerage appointment since he became leader.
Shami Chakrabarti, Corbyn's only peerage appointment since he became leader.
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Corbyn is a long-time opponent of the unelected Lords and has stated during his first leadership campaign in 2015 that he saw ‘no case’ for extra Labour peerages.

But he has since relented as the party recognises it needs to refresh its team in the Upper House if May increases her own numbers in a bid to avoid defeats over Brexit and other issues.

The Lords currently has an anti-Tory majority, with Labour. Lib Dem and crossbench peers outnumbering the Government.

In David Cameron’s resignation honours list, Shami Chakrabarti was the only Labour figure nominated by Corbyn for a peerage. She has since become a key figure in his inner circle as Shadow Attorney General.

Martha and Kate Osamor with Jeremy Corbyn at the Bernie Grant Centre in 2015
Martha and Kate Osamor with Jeremy Corbyn at the Bernie Grant Centre in 2015

77-year-old Osamor, who is the mother of Shadow International Development Secretary Kate Osamor, is a former deputy leader of Haringey Council during Bernie Grant’s era and leading campaigner in the party’s ‘Black Sections’ group of the 1980s.

A former member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, the Tottenham activist’s leftwing views led to her being blocked by Neil Kinnock from standing from the Vauxhall by-election in 1989, despite winning more local nominations than rival Kate Hoey.

She has since said that her opponents in the party “started flogging the idea that a black person couldn’t win a by-election and certainly not a person like me, who was defending people who had smashed up the [Broadwater] Farm [in the 1985 riots] and all that.”

A long-time ally of Corbyn, she said after his first leadership landslide in 2015 that the “demonising, witch-hunting of Jeremy brings back memories of what we went through”.

Former Unite joint-general secretary Tony Woodley.
Former Unite joint-general secretary Tony Woodley.
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Woodley, 70, was the first joint-general secretary of Unite. He beat Jack Dromey to become the leader of the T&G union in 2003 and went on to become an arch critic of New Labour policies that he felt undermined his members.

The Liverpudlian former car factory worker succeeded Bill Morris, who was himself made a peer in 2006. Insiders say Woodley’s ennoblement would continue the party’s tradition of securing union experience in the Lords.

A former official at the Vauxhall plant on Merseyside, as Unite’s executive officer for organising, Woodley continues to play a big role in the motor industry and sits on the Automotive Council.

“He’s a strong northern voice and respected in both industry and the unions. For a government-in-waiting, that’s an asset,” one insider said.

UPDATE: However, although Woodley’s name was discussed by Corbyn’s team, on Friday he insisted “I am not seeking nomination to the House of Lords”. The removal of his name from consideration makes Qureshi’s nomination more likely to be successful, not least has he has strong supporters in the Leader’s office.

Qureshi, 52, was a London Assembly member for eight years and a close ally of Ken Livingstone during and after his mayoralty.

He now chairs the Stop the War Coalition, having succeeded Corbyn ally and Unite veteran Andrew Murray in 2016.

Ken Livingstone and Murad Qureshi at London's City Hall in 2004.
Ken Livingstone and Murad Qureshi at London's City Hall in 2004.
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Although Osamor is described as ‘almost certain’ to get a peerage, Woodley and Qureshi appear to be in competition for the second slot. If Labour is granted three extra places in the Lords, all of them will be appointed, one insider said.

Some in Labour circles also want the party to nominate the first ever Sikh peer, and others have supported a peerage for leading figures in the Jewish community such as Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Education Trust.

May wants her own new Tory peers in place before the EU Withdrawal Bill starts its Committee Stage in the Lords in early February.

Theresa May and DUP leader Arlene Foster.
Theresa May and DUP leader Arlene Foster.
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With just three peers per day eligible to be ‘introduced’, she faces a race against time to get up to 15 new members in place in time for the crucial legislation.

The DUP’s 10 MPs currently provide the May government with its wafer-thin Commons majority, and the PM could face a fresh row over the Northern Irish party’s disproportionate influence if it is given nearly the same number of peerages as Labour.

But Tories point out that David Cameron set a precedent when he created nearly 50 new Lib Dem peers during the Coalition government from 2010 to 2015.

In January, Lords Speaker Lord Fowler, a former Tory minister, warned May against trying to pack the Upper House with new Conservative members in a bid to help her Brexit legislation through.


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