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Resignations for Labour – a silver lining for Tories

bettydavifdLocal Black Labour party members wait to hear their leaders’ response to the recent spate of departures following unrest at local constituency branches, writes Winsome Grace Cornish

The latest resignation casualty is long serving member and community stalwart David Michael (right) who has turned in his party membership.

Michael’s resignation has come swift on the heels of Lambeth Councillor, Betty Evans-Jacas who threw in the party towel defecting to the Conservatives.

David Michael was recently selected to contest the Whitefoot Ward, Catford in the 2010 council elections, but tendered his resignation citing lack of support from branch members.

On his exit Michael extols past Labour party policies naming legislation that brought in the CRE and New Equalities Bill but lambasts the lack of support for equality issues at local branch level.

He says: “The Constituency Labour Party (CLP) and other groups pay scant regard to policies brought in to support issues arising from inequality. They take other issues seriously but are unhelpful, deliberately thwarting progress when it comes to ethnic minorities”.

Michael believes the lack of CLP support for minority issues is in direct contradiction to the work of Equalities Minister Harriet Harman, who he says has a good record – measured against contrary local working practices.

“There is a real absence of leadership and people in senior positions must do more to ensure that national strategies are carried thorough at local branch level”, he said.

A local, Michael has lived in the area for the past 36 years and was disappointed that although he has lived in Catford South for the past 26 years he was not selected to contest that ward but instead was selected for neighbouring Whitefoot.

“One of the reasons I was not selected for Catford South is because I could not have had the confidence of the three sitting councilors, even though I voted, supported, campaigned and filled in at surgeries for them.

“But other members would have supported me if I had their backing”, he asserted. Michael believes he has been shabbily treated and condemns the two tier system which he says “allows friends to sort out seats for themselves and leaves others to pick up the crumbs.

“A system which does not consider ability or capability and one that is devoid of succession planning or diversity considerations”.

A disappointed Michael continued: “The local branch does not reflect the Labour party or the local people”. He concluded: “Others may be happy to operate under a scandalous apartheid system accepting that they are second class citizens, but there is no way I can continue in an organisation that is presenting itself like that. I do not want to hoodwink the locals”.

Only two weeks before, Cllr Evans-Jacas resigned as a Labour councillor for Lambeth’s Brixton Hill Ward. Defecting to the Conservative Party,   Cllr Evans-Jacas blamed the failure of Labour Party leadership to listen to voters for her dissatisfaction with the party.

She stated: “I have been increasingly concerned about the Labour Party’s complacent attitude to its supporters and its unwillingness to improve its performance in engaging with the electorate and developing local policies and programmes to meet their ideas and needs.”

The Labour Party’s loss was welcomed by the Conservatives when Opposition leader, Councillor John Whelan, told the local press: “Betty is a woman of great integrity who is respected throughout the borough for her dedication to public service and service on Lambeth council where she has been a consistently strong voice for the residents, faith groups and small businesses of Brixton Hill.”

And back in Lewisham, candidate Sylbourne Sydial announced the news that he is the Conservative Party candidate for Catford South on Facebook. OBV alumni member Sydial said: “I’m not sure this was the normal procedure but I wanted to gauge the initial reactions from my Facebook colleagues”.

Sydial will campaign to win the Lewisham seat at the local Council elections in May 2010. He said of his selection, “Representing a local ward where I live will enable me to represent the interests of local citizens of Catford within the Borough of Lewisham and ensuring that they have an effective voice in local issues.

Sydial who is Chairman of the Whitefoot Ward branch continued, “As a Conservative I am confident that political participation is crucial to and is part of the answer in ensuring that all spheres of society has a voice, and most important for those who are marginalised”.

.

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9 Responses

  1. I note with surprise the comments attributed to David Michael in your article dated 30th October 2009. David’s resignation letter to me as Chair of Lewisham East CLP cites none of the specific examples given in your article. I spoke to him after his resignation and whilst he did talk about differences with the party around equalities issues, which I take seriously,
    he gave the impression that his resignation was on balance more to do with personal reasons. Presumably this is also why he is standing down as Chair of the Lewisham Police Community Consultative Group.

    David may well be disappointed with not being selected in Catford South but if he had attended more than one Catford South Branch meeting in the 6 or 7
    months prior to the selection he might have stood a better chance. I offered David advice and support throughout his five years in the Labour party, a fact he agreed with when we last spoke. Prior to the selection
    meeting I offered to run through his speech but he turned the offer of help down. These are not acts of a party where the crumbs are left for the ‘others’ as David describes. There was no campaign to stop David being selected and the sitting Councillors decided it would be inappropriate to support any of the candidates as the branch should be free to make its own decisions based on the merits of the candidates. The selection in Catford South ended up between David and another BAME member,who won the vote. David has made no formal complaint about the selection procedures or complained about irregularities in the way the selections were run.

    Lewisham Labour’s procedures have long reflected positive action designed to increase the numbers of BAME candidates. Whilst we have not finished selecting all of the Labour candidates for the 2010 local elections over 20% of our candidates are from BAME backgrounds and I expect this figure to rise. In the last year, Lewisham Labour Party has organised a number of successful events to encourage more of its BAME members to consider standing as candidates and to encourage even better links with the wider BAME community.

    Rebecca Packwood
    Chair of Lewisham East Constituency Labour Party

  2. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Hamlet Act 3, scene 2 by William Shakespeare. Impressions, assumptions, Hmmmm………….

    When people or organisations are found wanting, this is often a standard response, however seriously misleading and seriously inaccurate the contents of their response may be in reality.

    Rebecca Packwood and every member of Lewisham East CLP and Lewisham Labour Party knows that factually, I was in my second year as Chair of Catford South Labour Party.

    My only period of absence in the last five years coincided with my medical evaluations, diagnosis, treatment and recovery from a major operation for prostate cancer.

    Infact, the first time I ventured out of my house for any reason after coming home from hospital following my radical surgery for prostate cancer was to attend the Catford South Branch Labour Party AGM when I was re-elected as Chair.

    I shall leave it to the people of Lewisham, Londoners more widely, people who know me as a community activist and decent and right thinking people in the Labour Party, people in the other political parties as well as apolitical people to draw their own conclusions if the remarks by Rebecca Packwood remotley resembles the David Michael that they know or conversations I’ve shared with them about diversity, equalities and fairness issues in all structures of Lewisham Labour Party over a period of time.

  3. As the writer of the article I’m not going to get too involved in the resulting discussion, but I was moved to make a comment about all the efforts Rebecca Packwood says have been made to select BME council candidates.

    It’s important to make a distinction between overall numbers of BME candidates, and those in safe or winnable seats.

    If some candidates are not in winnable seats, then there is not an entirely accurate picture being painted for the reader.

  4. It’s a shame Rebecca Packwood did not take the time to speak with Lewisham’s Labour Mayor Sir Steve Bullock before writing her remarks.

    I delivered my resignation letters from Lewisham Labour Party to Rebecca Packwood, Chair of Lewisham East CLP and to Sir Steve Bullock on the same night Sunday 04 October 2009, the day after Lewisham East CLP selected Heidi Alexander as their Parliamentary Candidate to succeed sitting MP Bridget Prentice in preference to black candidates Florence Nosegbe and Mandy Richards. (I wonder what derogatory remarks will be aimed at them for their non-selection).

    The following morning I received a courteous e-mail from Rebecca who accepted my resignation without hesitation. We later had a mutually courteous conversation.

    I received a telephone call from Sir Steve Bullock that same Monday morning enquiring what brought on my resignation. Again, to all intents and purposes he accepted my resignation without hesitation.

    We had a lengthy conversation mainly with me amplifying my succinct resignation letter and sharing a number of anecdotes touching on the issues. I have since had a further meeting with Sir Steve Bullock to discuss my resignation amongst other things.

    Interestingly, although Rebecca Packwood as Chair of Lewisham East CLP did not, a number of other Labour Party members, including a very senior Party member in London asked me if I would reconsider now or consider in the future rejoining the Labour Party.

    And although Rebecca Packwood did not, another member encouraged me to at least keep voting for the Labour Party.

    I would also gently ask Rebecca to review her diary and calender with regard to my non-attendance at Branch meetings and her calculation of 6 to 7 months absence.

    After various appointments and medical tests, I was given the news that I had prostate cancer on 16 December 2008. I had major surgery on 16 January 2009. By early February I was at Catford South Branch AGM being re-elected as Chair for a second year. By early March, I was collecting rounds of leaflets from Rebecca’s house for delivery. Are those the actions of a malingerer or someone with a lacklustre involvement?

    During that time I was in regular communication with Rebecca.

    Although my front room was awash with get well cards following my radical surgery for prostate cancer and I had a rota of visitors dropping by, Councillors and key members of Catford South Branch and Lewisham East Labour Party were conspicuous by their absence and no get well cards from them. Sir Steve and Lady Bullock did send a get well card and gift.

    The care, concern and interest I received from Lewisham East Labour Party as my reward for being diagnosed with cancer was to de-select me as their Ethnic Minorities Officer when they nodded every other role through. Incidentally, I was the only Ethnic Minorities Officer in all three CLP’s to launch an Ethnic Minorities Forum. Readers can draw their own conclusion as to why the most successful Ethnic Minorities Officer would be deposed by the Lewisham East CLP General Committee for someone who is ineffectual and ineffective.

  5. Copy letter

    The Labour Party Head Office
    39 Victoria Street
    London SW1H OHA

    The Rt Hon Tony Blair MP
    Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party

    March 2007

    Dear David

    I am delighted that you are the recipient of the London Labour Party’s “Our London, Our Future” annual award.

    This award recognises the immense work that you have undertaken within the London community over many years. After 30 years distinguished service as a Metropolitan Police Officer, where you became Chair of the first Black Police Association in the United Kingdom, you went on to work with support groups in London, nationally and internationally.

    I am pleased to add my own congratulatons for this award so richly deserved. The “Our London, Our Future” award highlights your invaluable activities within the community and your work in the fields of race relations, diversity and equalities as well as the promotion of racial harmony and good citizenship.

    With best wishes

    (signed) Tony Blair

    Mr David Michael

  6. It is interesting to hear Rebecca Packwood being so dismissive about David’s concerns.
    I am pleased to say that Lewisham Lib Dems have so far selected 24 candidates for next May’s local election. 12 are from a BME background (selected because they are the best local people to be councillors). We have made a real effort to ensure our new council group reflects Lewisham. If things were to remain unchanged – 5 out of the 6 Labour councillors in Lewisham East will be white – but I doubt they will all hold their seats.

  7. At a time when the Labour Party are in need of all its supporters this action taken by Rebecca Packwood is appalling. In areas where there is a high population of BME’s, the Labour Party needs to be seen to be a support for all ethnic groups her action instils a sense of being needed to make up numbers but not for decision making. Shame on you Rebecca, you might want to consider that perhaps you are a member of the wrong party.

  8. Totally agree with Lester’s comments.

  9. I want to make it clear that I am not making a personal attack on Rebecca Packwood. She is one of the most able, capable and hard working members of Lewisham East CLP and Catford South Branch. I have told her in the past that she was one of the people that helped to uplift me as a member of Catford South Labour Party. But she does have an enormous influence across all the systems and structures of Lewisham Labour Party and her churlish response to my concerns that actually don’t need me to make the point, diminishes her.

    I spent many hours in Rebecca’s house putting leaflet rounds together with her and her partner and then I delivered them to members so they could go on to deliver them to local residents. For her then to publicly make out that I am some sort of casual member who goes missing and making no acknowledgement to the fact that my only significant period of absence was for my cancer diagnosis and treatment, demonstrates to the public the true heart and spirit of some of the Leaders of the Labour Party in Catford South, Lewisham East CLP and Lewisham Labour Party as a whole.

    I am more concerned about the systems and structures of Lewisham Labour Party where a handful of people pick all what they consider to be safe and winnable seats for themselves and their friends and begrudgingly leave the scraps for the rest. The other crucial point is that National Labour Party policy about fairness, diversity and equalities is totally disregarded.

    Let Rebecca, Lewisham East CLP, Lewisham Deptford CLP, Lewisham West CLP, Lewisham Labour Group evidence that they have in place the most able and capable BME members in place as Ethnic Minorities Officers, that they are delivering significant work towards the overall Lewisham Labour Party Concern, that they have thriving Ethnic Minorities Forums that are valued, treated with respect and welcomed as an integral part of the overall Labour Party Campaign in Lewisham. These things are not happening, contrary to National Labour Party Policy.

    But it is not the fault of Lewisham Labour Party only. Who from the Parliamentary Party, the National Executive Committee, London Region are putting checks and balances in place to make sure the various structures of Lewisham Labour Party cannot just ignore these things with impunity.

    The worse thing is that some of the key people in Lewisham Labour party just ignore the Labour Party values while they exploit their personal self-interest and that of their personal friends.

    Labour Party values:
    •social justice
    • strong community and strong values
    • reward for hard work
    • decency
    • rights matched by responsibilities

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