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Claudia Webbe: Transport boss would quit Islington cabinet if chosen to run for Lewisham East MP

PUBLISHED: 10:33 11 May 2018 | UPDATED: 12:04 11 May 2018

Cllr Claudia Webbe in a PR shot admiring a rare orchid on a 'green roof' in Holloway. Picture: Islington Council

Cllr Claudia Webbe in a PR shot admiring a rare orchid on a 'green roof' in Holloway. Picture: Islington Council

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Islington’s transport chief Cllr Claudia Webbe would resign the cabinet should she be selected to stand for Parliament in Lewisham East, she has confirmed.

Cllr Claudia Webbe in a council PR shot with an all-electric street sweeper on trial in Holloway. Picture: Islington CouncilCllr Claudia Webbe in a council PR shot with an all-electric street sweeper on trial in Holloway. Picture: Islington Council

Labour members in the south London constituency, which was unexpectedly vacated by Heidi Alexander on Monday, are expected to vote on a final candidate for the June 14 by-election on Wednesday night. It is considered a safe Labour seat given Ms Alexander’s 21,123 majority in 2017.

Cllr Webbe, who has held Islington’s transport and environment portfolio since 2014, told the Gazette: “I don’t see that I could possibly have time to be a cabinet member and the candidate.”

Asked what qualified her for a position in south London, Cllr Webbe pointed to her work as a founder member of Operation Trident – which worked across London to improve conviction rates for gun-related homicides within black communities – and running youth charity The Downside Settlement in Bermondsey between 2008 and 2014, which also worked with kids across the border in Lewisham. In addition, she was an advisor to Ken Livingstone when he was mayor of London.

Of The Downside Settlement, she said: “I believe if we had a centre like the one I had in every neighbourhood, you wouldn’t have the problems that you’ve got.”

She criticised Trident’s rebranding as an anti-gangs unit under Boris Johnson, saying the spike in violence across the capital this year was partly a result of that change in focus.

At its peak, Trident had 300 Met officers attached to it, a specialist murder investigations unit, and – Cllr Webbe said – the trust of communities.

Cllr Claudia Webbe in a PR shot for the first 'clean air day'. Picture: Steve BainbridgeCllr Claudia Webbe in a PR shot for the first 'clean air day'. Picture: Steve Bainbridge

“We as activists got together and said enough was enough in the mid-1990s,” she said. “There were too many black men dying on our streets and not one person had been brought to justice.

“It wasn’t until after the Lawrence inquiry that the police finally gave in and set up a dedicated unit. They gave it the name we had already formed around.

“We said they needed to brand it that way to build trust and confidence with the community.

“The relationship between the police and the black community was at an all-time low.”

Had Trident not been resourced and run the way it was prior to Mr Johnson’s time as mayor, Cllr Webbe – who is originally from Leicester – said gun crime in London would have spiralled even further out of control.

She added news of Ms Alexander’s resignation – to replace Val Shawcross, who has resigned as Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for transport – had taken her by surprise.

Heidi Alexander, who resigned her Lewisham East seat this week, triggering a by-election. Picture: Andrew MatthewsHeidi Alexander, who resigned her Lewisham East seat this week, triggering a by-election. Picture: Andrew Matthews

“A week is a long time in politics,” Cllr Webbe added. “Val Shawcross is our link person on transport and someone I have worked very closely with, and she didn’t give any indication she was leaving halfway through her term. No one expected that Sadiq Khan had a vacancy to fill.

“Given the seat came up, it was too interesting an opportunity for me to let it go by.

“Lewisham East is quite diverse and vibrant and has quite a lot of similarities with Islington.”

She added: “Maybe my time is now to take on this opportunity.

“It’s not something I’ve planned for or thought about for too long because there was no time to think.”

Cllr Webbe, who was re-elected in Bunhill on Thursday with 1,704 votes, said she would have considered not running for council at all had she been chosen to stand prior to the election.

Val Shawcross quit as deputy mayor for transport this week and will be replaced by Heidi Alexander - whose resignation has triggered the by-election in Lewisham East. Picture: Dominic LipinskiVal Shawcross quit as deputy mayor for transport this week and will be replaced by Heidi Alexander - whose resignation has triggered the by-election in Lewisham East. Picture: Dominic Lipinski

“If I had become the candidate for Lewisham East prior to the election, it would have been pointless me standing in Islington,” she said, “because if I became the candidate it would have given an opportunity for Labour Islington to have thought about [standing] somebody else.”

But asked if she would resign her council seat should she be chosen, she said: “I don’t think that’s necessarily the plan, or what’s needed right now. I think we have to be kind to our residents.”

Cllr Webbe is currently third favourite to win the nomination. Ladbrokes was offering five to one odds on her this morning.

According to Politics Home, the chair of the CLP in Lewisham East has complained that Labour’s senior leadership has sidelined local members in rushing through a list of candidates rather than allowing Lewisham’s own Labour Party to choose them.

Cllr Webbe said she understood those concerns, but that time constraints meant the National Executive Committee (NEC) had needed to step in and pick a list of candidates rather than involving the CLP at every stage – Lewisham East is currently without an MP, and Cllr Webbe believes any delay will give opposition parties time to mobilise and campaign.

“In my experience,” she said, “every time we have a parliamentary election process, there’s always something that the CLP in question isn’t happy about, so this is usual grumbling.”

Cllr Claudia Webbe in a PR shot admiring a rare orchid on a 'green roof' in Holloway. Picture: Islington CouncilCllr Claudia Webbe in a PR shot admiring a rare orchid on a 'green roof' in Holloway. Picture: Islington Council

And she added: “It’s a London seat. I don’t think I’m too far away in Islington. It’s not as though I’m being parachuted in from Scotland or Leeds.”

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