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Southwark councillor defects

Labour has lost yet another black local politician after a Peckham councillor defected to the Liberal Democrats.

Southwark News reports this morning that Ola Oyewunmi, a party member for ten years, has ditched Labour after growing disillusioned with the policies of Gordon Brown.

The Nigerian-born councillor says she was also disappointed at being “shabbily treated” by the local Labour Party, who failed to reselect her to stand in next years’ town hall elections.

Columba Blanga welcomes Ola Oyewunmi

Oyewunmi is the second Labour councillor to join the Lib Dems recently, after Milton Martin of Waltham Forest crossed the floor in July.

Labour has also lost black councillors to the Conservatives this year, most notably Denise Headley in Enfield and Betty Evans-Jacas in Lambeth.

Other sitting Labour members have been deselected in Haringey, Waltham Forest and Barking and Dagenham but have not switched parties.

Last month Tottenham MP David Lammy told OBV Blog there should be an investigation into the ditching of black councillors. Ahmed Shahzad, head of BAME Labour, also expressed concern.

In a stinging letter to Gordon Brown today, Oyewunmi lists a litany of failures from Iraq to child poverty. But having worked with people suffering mental illness, she expressed anger at Labour’s policies in this area.

She writes: “When mental health patients have to wait an average of seven months for treatment on the NHS after 12 years of a Labour government and a Labour Health Secretary closes the Emergency clinic at the Maudsley hospital, you have to ask what is Labour for?”

Oyewunmi, who has represented the rock-solid seat of Peckham since 2006, added that there were also personal reasons for her decision. “I was rejected by the local party despite my years of service with the barest of explanation.

“Since then I have had no communication about the decision or thanks for my work for the party over the years. It would be dishonest of me to say I wasn’t personally disappointed at the shabby way I have been treated by the Camberwell and Peckham Labour Party and Harriet Harman’s office as a result.”

The defection tips the balance towards the Lib Dems in a knife-edge council of no overall control, but is run by a minority Lib Dem administration in partnership with the Conservatives and a sole Green councillor.

Frontbench councillor Columba Blango, who is challenging Harman for her Peckham and Camberwell seat at the general election, welcomed Oyewunmi to the Lib Dems.

He said: “Ola is taking a stand for thousands of Peckham residents who have been let down by Labour.”

By Lester Holloway

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