Camden Labour divided: Starmer confirms support for Smith as Hampstead and Kilburn backs Corbyn
PUBLISHED: 11:18 08 August 2016 | UPDATED: 16:35 08 August 2016
As the battle for the soul of the Labour Party continues, leader Jeremy Corbyn found support locally with the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency branch giving him its nomination over challenger Owen Smith.
In a vote open to all members of the Hampstead and Kilburn Constituency Labour Party (CLP) - thought to be around 2,000 - last Thursday’s meeting gave its backing to Mr Corbyn by 96 votes to 54.
But one disaffected party member contacted the Ham&High to complain he had not been invited to vote - which he said he finds “suspicious” because of his belief the branch has been hijacked by members of Momentum and other Corbyn-backing groups.
He did not wish to be named, but said that although he “doesn’t like” Smith, he would, “vote for a sack of potatoes if it removed Corbyn!”
He added: “I was talking to a friend in the Tory Party last night – we do mix – and I came to the conclusion that I may vote for Corbyn to accelerate a split in the party and put us all out of our misery.
“(Corbyn) can keep the shell of the Labour Party, and maybe it’s time we find a place for a new centrist group in Westminster.”
But Hampstead and Kilburn constituency CLP branch Secretary Peter Taheri said he was aware of just six members who did not receive their invitations to vote because their contact details were not up-to-date.
And he took issue with allegations of “entryism” by the so-called “hard left”, saying: “While I have not conducted any statistical analysis, it appears that our recently-joined members come from a broad range of ages and social backgrounds.
“I believe our members reflect the full range of views in the party at large, and our meeting chair scrupulously ensured that equal numbers of speakers made the case for each candidate at last week’s meeting.”
Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq has so far not confirmed who she will support in the leadership contest, and did not join in with widespread criticism of Mr Corbyn in the wake of the EU referendum result, saying it was unfair to blame him for the Brexit vote.
Although Ms Siddiq nominated Mr Corbyn for leader last year - ostensibly to “widen the debate” - she did not vote for him, preferring Andy Burnham, and is not part of his current shadow team.
While Ms Siddiq has yet to declare her intentions, challenger Owen Smith is winning support from some of Camden’s political big beasts, including Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer, who confirmed he will be one of the London leaders of the Smith campaign.
Mr Starmer said he was backing Mr Smith because: “I think he can unite the Labour Party and form an effective opposition capable of winning the next election.”
Mr Starmer’s support for Smith is no surprise, given his resignation from Corbyn’s front bench team – but it could put him at odds with his constituency party, which will decide who to nominate this Thursday.
The Holborn and St Pancras branch backed Islington North neighbouring MP Mr Corbyn in last year’s contest - but recently passed a vote of no confidence against him in the Brexit fall-out.
But the “no confidence” vote was only open to party delegates - and Thursday’s nomination is open to all members of Holborn and St Pancras CLP, which could make for an altogether different result.
Also backing Smith is Camden leader Sarah Hayward, who joined the Welshman on a visit to the Camden Collective in Euston on Tuesday to discuss how to better connect young and old in London.
Cllr Hayward has never made a secret of her reservations about Mr Corbyn’s leadership, and was one of 15 Camden Labour councillors to sign a letter last month calling on him to quit.
But Mr Corbyn is the odds-on favourite to win the contest in September - a result made more likely by this morning’s High Court ruling that newly-joined Labour members should be allowed to vote