Labour’s Kensington Intervention: What We Know

Labour’s National Executive Committee torpedoed local party democracy to prevent local candidates from being chosen in the marginal seat of Kensington for the next general election. Here’s what we know about how they did it…

Former MP barred

October 17th: Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) excludes Labour’s only ever Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad from the candidate longlist. Read about it here.

The three-person NEC panel that excludes Dent Coad includes two influential figures committed to Sir Keir Starmer’s purge of socialists: Luke Akehurst, director of the lobbying organisation We Believe in Israel. And Shama Tatler, co-chair of Labour to Win, a right-wing campaigning group.

NEC & London Region usurp local officers

October 20th: Regional Director of Greater London Labour Party Pearleen Sangha dismisses two Kensington Selection Committee members for “openly supporting” a candidate. Sangha speculates about “a blatant attempt to undermine the process” – the two members reject the accusation.

A more right-wing member of the Committee remains in post, despite openly campaigning for candidate Joe Powell, even appearing in his campaign video. Complaints from party members to London Region about the double standard go unanswered.

Local candidate would have been shortlisted

October 27th: Councillor Kasim Ali wins every round in the South Branch vote, meaning he needs to be selected by just one of the remaining two branches to make the shortlist. Afsana Lachaux is also nominated.

Results from the South Branch vote are circulated to members in accordance with Labour’s democratic procedures. Sangha declares that this constitutes a “leak” and runs all subsequent meetings and votes herself, keeping the results secret.

In a statement, senior Kensington Labour officers say: “In all three Kensington branch selection meetings, Sangha overruled local elected role-holders and chaired the Zoom call herself…muting all attendees. She has been unprofessional, hostile, and insulting to local role holders, often making threats and rarely responding to messages”.

screengrabs from twitter / tomorrowsmps

Intervention over Black History Month

October 31st: A Constituency Labour Party (CLP) ‘All Members’ meeting with a Black History Month theme is scheduled, but on the day of the meeting, London Region informs the CLP Secretary the meeting cannot take place during the selection process. The CLP Secretary asks if the meeting can go ahead if the discussion is limited to the Black history theme and presented by a local campaigner. London Region agrees but states that no candidates can attend.

Kasim Ali told us that the Black History Month intervention was triggered by a rival candidate complaining that the event would give Ali, the only Black candidate, an unfair advantage in the constituency selection. Cllr Ali complained to London Region about being barred from the meeting but has not received a reply.

The NEC chose the shortlisted candidates

November 1st: Sangha takes control of the North East Kensington Branch vote on the grounds of “incompetence.” She postpones the meeting and vote until November 9th.

November 3rd: On the day of the North West Branch vote, an email is circulated to local party members attacking candidate Mete Coban’s credentials using clumsy anti-Israel and antisemitic language. Access to the membership mailing list is strictly limited so the email must have been circulated or enabled by somebody holding a senior position within Labour at local, regional or NEC level. The email is amplified by a local blog and Jewish News to attack Kasim Ali and his supporters, strongly suggesting they should answer accusations of antisemitism, despite there being nothing linking them to the message. Read more on this here.

London Region blocks up to 20 British Somalis (the same ethnic background as Ali) from participating in the North West vote – details here. London Region declares Joe Powell the winner but keeps the results secret. A senior Kensington Labour officer and two local councillors tell us that the branch would have shortlisted Kasim Ali in a democratic vote.

‘Antisemitism’ again

November 9th: At the North East Branch vote, according to a statement from senior kensington members, Sangha refuses to admit dozens of members, “justifying denying entry on factually incorrect grounds, such as stating that members were in arrears, despite them having proof that they were not.”

London Region imposes a ‘heir and spare’ approach. With no results released, Joe Powell is awarded nomination along with Afsana Lachaux, “a woman for diversity.” With party rules allowing an additional BAME nomination, there is a run-off between Kasim Ali and Mete Coban. A Hackney councillor with ties to Tony Blair, Coban is shortlisted with the results from the run-off also kept secret.

image from twitter / metecoban92

November 10th: With the shortlist finalised, Pearleen Sangha dissolves Kensington’s selection committee, replacing it with a new committee consisting of herself and two others of a similar political persuasion. Sangha emails members to explain the dissolution is due to “serious concerns” requiring a “serious investigation” into antisemitism. She claims Kensington Labour members have been suspended “due to antisemitism”.

A senior CLP officer with access to the membership database tells us that no members are suspended. To date, no party investigation into antisemitism in Kensington has been initiated. Summoned to an interview with the NEC on November 4th, Cllr Ali is reassured that Labour does not think that he or his supporters were connected to the dissemination of the email.

November 24th: The final hustings and vote is held in North Kensington, managed by London Region. The result is a comfortable victory for Joe Powell with 170 votes to Coban’s 90 and Lachaux’s 30. Powell will be Labour’s candidate, up against Conservative MP Felecity Buchan, who won by 150 votes in 2019.

screengrab from twitter / michaellcrick

“Whatever it takes”

Somebody close to events in Kensington outlined to us Labour’s approach to candidate selection: The key officials are Matthew Faulding, Selections Manager, and Morgan McSweeney, Elections Director, who oversees every candidate selection. According to The New Statesman, Faulding and McSweeney are two of the three “most powerful people in the Labour Party” in terms of “party management and operations”.

At London Region, some officials wanted Powell, and some wanted Coban; none wanted Dent Coad or Ali. Faulding liked Coban, but McSweeney preferred Powell and the NEC instructed London Region to “Support Joe Powell. Whatever it takes.”

Why was Councillor Ali blocked?

Kasim Ali asked the party for a breakdown of the results in the two North Kensington branches but was told “we cannot give everyone feedback.”

Despite party officials denying him the chance to fulfil his ambitions, Ali told us that he is “happy” with his position in Labour after meeting with senior party officials including Starmer.

Labour’s motivation for such a blatantly anti-democratic move against Ali is open to interpretation given Ali’s floating ideological commitment that has seen him transfer his enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn to public support for Starmer.

Two possible explanations exist, neither of which London Region hinted at in their response to us: Shortlisted candidates were chosen based on their alignment with the Starmer project before any campaigning took place. Or McSweeney and colleagues viewed a Black, Muslim, working class, British Somali with a track record of community campaigning and openness to more radical Corbynite policies as a risk.

The Starmer bureaucrats could rely on the mainstream media’s acquiescence over their authoritarian approach. The journalists who published the dubious ‘antisemitism’ email to attack Cllr Ali played their part to perfection.

Jewish fear is collateral damage for Starmer’s Labour

There are questions to be answered about the party’s invocation of antisemitism to control the Kensington selection process. In their brief reply to us, London Region expressed no concerns about Pearleen Sangha’s apparently false claims about “antisemitism” locally. The tactic of manufacturing the appearance of an ‘antisemitism crisis’ is used relentlessly against left-wing party members, seemingly without concern for the impact this might have on Britain’s Jewish communities.

Local Labour is divided

The CLP will meet this week, but the issues of dubious antisemitism smears and the NEC’s disenfranchisement of British Somalis are not on the agenda. Councillors are treading carefully under constant threat of suspension should they speak out against Starmer. A local party source told us that December’s Kensington CLP meeting saw the return of numerous right-wing party members, including former councillors “with a grudge against Emma Dent Coad”. This faction is now dominant in the CLP.

Another source said that former councillors exploited the obviously polarised CLP to persuade London Region that left-wingers would ‘rig the vote,’ triggering the first intervention that removed the two committee members.

A local councillor told us that the longlisted candidate Salman Sheikh accused these two selection committee members of leaking members’ contact details to a preferred candidate, although he did not name the candidate. London Region accepted the accusation at face value without seeking evidence. Two Labour sources separately told us that it is an “open secret” that candidates Joe Powell and Mete Coban were provided with members’ contact data “months before” campaigning began.

screengrab from twitter / tomorrowsmps

A more harmonious CLP might have been less vulnerable to intervention. This was the case in Sheffield Central where high-profile establishment candidates were parachuted in, yet there was no NEC interference and a pro-Palestine British Somali candidate with grassroots support easily secured selection. 

Whatever the failings of Kensington CLP, Starmer’s bureaucrats were ruthless in crushing party democracy as they move the party inexorably to the right.

by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

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