Islington's transport and environment chief Claudia Webbe pulls out of race for parliamentary seats
PUBLISHED: 18:00 28 October 2019 | UPDATED: 13:12 31 October 2019
The town hall's environment and transport chief Cllr Claudia Webbe has confirmed her withdrawal from the race to become an MP in Luton or Coventry.
Cllr Webbe said a national newspaper report on Labour's selection process, which alleged she had applied to run in at least four seats, may have done so simply because she was perceived as "easy game" - and possibly because of her race and gender.
She also claimed that, while she did run for both Luton South and Coventry South as was reported, she did not apply for either Poplar and Limehouse or Enfield North, and said an application form purported to be hers and tweeted by a Sunday Times journalist in support of the story was fraudulent. The Sunday Times is understood to refute the allegations.
The bulk of the article, published by the paper earlier this month, dealt with the claims of some grassroots party members who said they had been overlooked in their own constituencies while other candidates close to Islington North MP and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had been longlisted. After detailing clashes within local parties in Coventry North West, Bassetlaw, Ealing North, Liverpool Wavertree and Ilford South, it mentioned Cllr Webbe as an example of a candidate close to Mr Corbyn who was said to have applied for "more than the usual three seats", although this is not against party rules. On Thursday Cllr Webbe revealed on Twitter that she pulled out of the running for Luton South on October 14, so she could focus on Coventry South, where she used to live, work and campaign. She later clarified that she had pulled out of Coventry South as well.
Asked by the Gazette on October 22 what her preferred patch was, Cllr Webbe said: "It would be nice to represent a London constituency. I have been in London now some time. But, equally, I was born in Leicester and of course it would always be nice to represent your home city, but that's not how politics works because there are no vacancies in Leicester or there are no vacancies in the Labour Party in those areas, and so it's hard to say at the moment. I went to university in Coventry and Birmingham.
"I have worked and lived in Reading. I have worked and lived in Bath and North East Somerset and I have worked and lived in Leeds. In Bath and North East Somerset - I ran the Bath Equality Centre there."
The purported leaked form published by the Sunday Times seems to show a candidate selection sheet where Cllr Webbe has applied to stand in Luton South, Enfield North, Poplar and Limehouse (spelled "Popular"), Coventry South and "any" other seat available.
She tweeted on Thursday: "The breach of data produced by the [Sunday] Times reporter Gabriel Pogrund, sharing my personal details on social media was not the application form I submitted to be considered as a Labour Parliamentary candidate for Coventry South."
Asked about the Sunday Times piece by the Gazette days earlier, Cllr Webbe said: "I mean, actually, there's no breaking of any rules of course [in running for more than one seat].
"And The Times has an over-obsession, I think, with people like me, maybe because I'm fair game, or maybe because I'm easy game, maybe because I'm black and I'm female. But, you know, most people applying for a job don't apply for one job. You know, this is not life. You don't simply say you're just applying for one job, right? So why the over-focus on me? There have been many vacancies over a period of time. Does that mean that people don't apply each time something comes out? [...] I think to give [the Sunday Times article] a response is to give it some credence, so I don't really want to comment on it."
Prior to pulling out in Luton and Coventry, Cllr Webbe failed to be chosen in Poplar and Limehouse or Enfield North.
Cllr Webbe came third in a bid to represent Labour in a by-election for Lewisham East last year, when she missed out to Janet Daby.
Asked why she'd be a good MP, Cllr Webbe said: "Getting things done and bringing about change - I have done that from as long ago as I remember. As a councillor I feel very privileged to have been elected in the place where I live and I can get things done and I have seen change from pioneering the Bunhill Energy Centre to transforming a school. Countless estates in this neighbourhood, from King Square Estate, Redbrick Estate and others, have seen new homes, change, new community centres.
"From tackling fuel poverty to dealing with crime, I think I have served my community very well. I believe passionately in this agenda. I have had the privilege to be a cabinet member to lead the environment and transport agenda - I have brought that agenda to life.
"I fought from the beginning to bring both the environment and transport together. It was in two portfolios before and I fought and said they relate to each other and therefore must be seen together."
Reflecting on challenges she has faced over the years, she said: "It's not an easy agenda because it's public facing, so of course there's been battles over the years, from both those who want us to do more and those who are resistant to change, And I'll never forget a public meeting where I was trying to say why we need to have less cars on our roads and a doctor stood up and said: 'I am a doctor, and I must have three cars.' And they spoke with such passion that they believed they actually did need the three cars in their family, and those days have changed.
"I don't think we have people that say that any more, but that's the challenge of the not-so-distant past we have come from - people's fundamental belief in their entitlement to have what they want to have, what they can afford. 'I've worked hard,' says the doctor, 'to have what I want, and the only thing I ask of the council is to keep the bins clean but don't interfere in my life,' not realising that their entitlement and what they believe impacts on their neighbours and other people's lives, because their polluting cars is an injustice against other people who don't hare that sense of entitlement.
"So facing down those attitudes alongside those who want us to do more people who want us to do more - that is the contrast.
"And in a borough that is of two halves, people living side by side - those who are wealthy against those who are not so wealthy. It is a borough of contrast."
Running through her CV's highlights - being policy director for Ken Livingstone, running charities in children and young people's services, and being director of two equality councils - she said she had a "long track record of community activism and public service".
"I believe I have something to offer that doesn't exist in great numbers in Parliament," she added. "I come from a working-class background and obviously I am black and I'm female, and I believe therefore with my experience and long track record, I have something to offer.
"I get things done - I don't just sit still. And I think that I can take this to a different place."
Cllr Webbe is also in contention to be Labour's Assembly Member for the North East, ahead of the May 7 election.