On Wednesday, the SKWAWKBOX published an exclusive interview with Sakina Sheikh, one of two main left candidates in the contest to replace Heidi Alexander as the candidate and then MP for Lewisham East.
Today, Claudia Webbe spoke to this blog at length about her views, politics and motivations in standing for the candidacy. The SKWAWKBOX has already published exclusive audio of Ms Webbe’s impassioned description of what drives her to work for a Labour government. Below are the highlights of the rest of the lengthy interview.
SKWAWKBOX: I understand you have the backing of a number of unions in your campaign to become Labour’s candidate in Lewisham East?
CW: That’s right, Unite, CWU and the Bakers [BFAWU] have given me their support and as I’ve been involved in the union movement all my adult life I feel really privileged about that. But my focus is on the members and constituents of Lewisham East. I’ve been involved in work to prevent violent crime and to help communities for decades – including Operation Trident in the early 2000s – and that experience is really relevant to the people of Lewisham East.
SB: Lewisham’s not your home patch, how will you get to grips with local issues and dynamics?
CW: It’s a false idea that you can only identify with an area if you come from it – a misunderstanding of what London is about. But I’ve got a longstanding connection with Lewisham – it’s one of six boroughs that were identified as hotspots in Operation Trident and I worked hard there against violent crime to help keep people in Lewisham safe.
Equally in Southwark, I was a charity chief executive working with young people and their families – and I ran a centre not far from Lewisham.
I was also a political adviser – these days they call them deputy mayors – for the first directly-elected mayor of London.
SB: What’s your take on this month’s local election results?
CW: I think Labour activists should be very proud that we managed to increase our share of the vote by something like 8% overall. We have inroads left to make and the next task is to show we understand the issues that really matter to local communities and that we offer a transformative programme to deal with those.
We’ve shown there’s no seat in the country that should be considered unwinnable and if we get that right, we’ll win.
SB: One of the things that members will be most interested to find out, given the party’s history over the last three years, is your view on the responsibilities of a Labour MP in terms of supporting the leadership.
CW: It’s been a long, hard battle including two leadership contests. When Jeremy made the ballot for the first time he, Diane [Abbott] and myself were due to speak at a rally together that day, so I was involved with his leadership from the beginning, even when very few in Parliament were.
I was convinced that if people got to know Jeremy, they’d see how suited he was for the leadership and so it’s turned out. I’ve known him for years before he was ever considering the leadership and he’s genuine, he’s honest – he’s someone who means what he says and can absolutely be trusted.
And now it’s increasingly clear that we’re on the brink of a Labour government with him as Prime Minister – and he’ll face huge attacks from the Establishment, so it’s fundamental that we have MPs in Parliament who are ready and able to resist that.
That’s not to say I’d feel I could never vote against the whip, as there might be issues where that was unavoidable, but I’ll be backing Jeremy as the next Labour PM.
Jeremy has shown he can lead and can convince voters. We’ve now got the majority of the parliamentary party on board and I’m delighted about that – and the direction of the party is clear from our great manifesto.
SB: If elected and the chance comes up to serve on the front bench, would you serve and are there any particular briefs that would interest you?
CW: If elected, I’ll serve wherever and however I’m asked – but my priority is being an excellent constituency MP that stands up for my constituents in Parliament. I’ve worked with Jeremy on a variety of issues for years so I’ll do whatever I can to help make sure Labour is an effective opposition now and an effective government soon, but my priority will be to secure a Labour government for the country and especially for Lewisham East and to serve my constituents effectively.
I’ve got lots of experience to help me do that, from community organising to helping with the London Olympic bid to delivering on the environment and transport, to working on a joint investigation of child sexual abuse and more.
SB: Heidi Alexander, whom you’d be replacing, was for a time Shadow Health Secretary. What’s your position on the NHS?
CW: My position couldn’t be clearer. People are dying as a result of Tory policies. It goes further than the piece by piece privatisation of the NHS – it’s the closed departments, the woeful pay offers, the STPs [so-called ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plans’ that represent another needless reorganisation] – they all put the future of our health service at risk.
To put that right, we need an NHS that is truly national and truly public, so I’m completely behind Labour’s NHS Reinstatement Bill and our plan to invest billions to reverse the huge damage the Tories have done – it’s an urgent necessity.
As Lewisham East MP, I’ll be fighting for funds from that investment to be prioritised into Lewisham hospitals and other services.
SB: A question being asked by lots of Labour members – you’re an NEC member and you’ll have to give up your seat if you’re elected as an MP. In the short term, until the autumn conference finishes, you’d be replaced by a right-winger defeated in the NEC elections earlier this year. What’s your view on the perceived risks of that scenario?
CW: I think to some extent that’s been used to undermine my candidacy, which is unfortunate. I think it’s clear that the ability to support Jeremy’s leadership – whether on the NEC or in Parliament – I’ll be an effective voice.
But I think the notion of risks at NEC level are overblown. People forget we’ve now got a left member representing Scottish Labour in Richard Leonard and we’ve just seen a left youth representative elected.
But the question is a bit difficult for me – I don’t want to expose individuals or their political position, to say anything negative about a previous incumbent or to publicly emphasise different positions or factions. Jeremy has won the right to lead – not once but twice – and I think the majority of NEC members are on board with that, which warms me.
We’re nearly at the end of a two-year term, with only a couple of meetings to go. I don’t think it will be as damaging as some might want to believe.
As mentioned above, the audio of Claudia Webbe’s comments about what drives her to public service can be heard here.
The Lewisham East shortlist now consists of three women, as Brenda Dacres has dropped out in favour of Janet Daby.
It also has two left candidates, backed by the Unite/CWU/BFAWU unions in the case of Claudia Webbe and by Momentum in the case of Sakina Sheikh, whom the SKWAWKBOX interviewed earlier in the week.
If you are a Lewisham East Labour member, the SKWAWKBOX does not ask you to prefer one or the other, but it does ask you to make sure that you arrive in good time for the hustings tomorrow morning, which start at 9.30am.
And to make sure that, whichever candidate is your first preference, your second is the other of those two, to ensure that Lewisham and the country get the strong left MP we need.
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