POLITICS
19/05/2018 13:44 BST | Updated 19/05/2018 15:05 BST

'Moderate' Candidate Janet Daby Wins Labour's Lewisham East By-Election Selection Race

Victory follows last-minute drama over Momentum-backed rival

Janet Daby

‘Moderate’ candidate Janet Daby has won the hard-fought Labour party selection contest for the Lewisham East by-election.

Daby beat her Momentum-backed rival Sakina Sheikh in the final ballot by 288 votes to 135, sources told Huff`Post UK. 

NEC member and Unite-backed Claudia Webbe secured just 35 votes.

Daby won on the first round, a comprehensive victory which means she is now almost certain to become the MP for the rock-solid Labour seat in the 14 June by-election.

Lewisham East had a majority of 21,000 at the last general election, but sitting MP Heidi Alexander opened up a vacancy after deciding to quit Parliament to work for London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn swiftly congratulated Daby on her success, which followed last-minute drama around the eligibility of Sheikh on the all-women, all-BAME shortlist.

Fellow Lewisham councillor Brenda Dacres pulled out of the race in recent days, making it easier for centrist supporters to back Daby.

On the morning of the Royal Wedding, the Lewisham East party turned out in big numbers for the 9.30am hustings meeting and selection vote.

Minutes before the meeting, Sheikh was asked to step aside as NEC officer Jim Kennedy suggested that she could be ineligible to stand.

Claims had emerged overnight that she had previous links to the radical grassroots organisation Take Back the City, which had stood against Labour in the 2016 London Assembly elections.

Momentum sources strongly denied Sheikh had been acted on behalf of Take Back the City and party general secretary Jennie Formby intervened to insist she remained on the shortlist.

Corbyn’s chief of staff Karie Murphy is understood to have been present for the shortlisting meeting.

One senior source told HuffPost that Murphy had been involved purely because she was the one on the ground on the day. She had had a role in “implementing the decision of the general secretary”, following discussions with Kennedy.

But the decision was academic as Daby won by a huge margin on the first ballot.

The former deputy Mayor of Lewisham is set to continue her predecessor’s strong opposition to a ‘hard Brexit’.

Alexander had repeatedly defied the party whip on the issue in the Commons, reflecting Lewisham’s strong pro-Remain make-up.

In the run-up to the selection meeting, Sheikh - who had the backing of Momentum nationally as well as locally - had made clear she would instead follow the party whip on Europe.

Daby benefitted from a strong organisational effort by centrist group Labour First.

Lewisham East has around 1,600 members but Momentum’s well-established success in organising online votes for NEC slots, and party conference votes, failed to materialise.

One moderate source said: “This shows that when we organise we can not just win these contests, but win them by a big margin.

“It also shows that Momentum are not as strong as people think on the ground, as opposed to online votes. We may have passed ‘peak Momentum’.”

A Progress source added: “Janet’s success was down to a good local record, an amazing campaign run by leading local members of Progress and Labour First - and the ‘Remain’ voters turning out in force.”

However, leftwingers pointed out that Daby had twice voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election, underlining her loyalty to the leader even though she had won support of ‘the right’ of the party.

In a statement, Daby said: “The Lib Dems/Tory coalition tried to close our hospital. I am proud to have been part of the campaign which stopped that, and I’m proud to have campaigned against the punitive Tory cuts that have put all our services under intolerable pressure.

“I’m also proud to have campaigned against this government’s appalling immigration policies which have caused so much heartache to a generation which helped us rebuild our country.”

The result is also a blow to some in the Labour leadership and to Unite the union, both of which had supported Webbe’s candidacy.

She had won the public backing of senior figures like Diane Abbott and Richard Burgon. But in the end, as an Islington councillor, her lack of local south London links appeared to have counted against her.