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31 July 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 4:01pm

Labour moves early to replace Chuka Umunna in Streatham

By Patrick Maguire

Who will challenge Chuka Umunna as Labour’s candidate for Streatham? The party has formally fired the starting gun on the selection process to replace the Independent Group turned Change UK turned independent turned Liberal Democrat MP, much earlier than many local activists in the south London constituency had expected.

The selection, which will begin next month, will be decided via an all-woman shortlist at the request of the local party and is certain to be hotly contested: Umunna increased the Labour majority in Streatham to more than 26,000 in 2017, and while it is likely to be quite substantially reduced at a future election, the seat is still prime political real estate.

Not only will the selection be watched closely by MPs in neighbouring constituencies (due to undergo reselection themselves in September), but it is likely to influence other London selections too: some activists in Vauxhall, soon to select its replacement for Kate Hoey, argue that the replacement of a male MP with a woman in Streatham justifies a fully open shortlist in their patch.

So who will win? There is already an early favourite in the shape of Bell Ribeiro-Addy, chief of staff and political adviser to Diane Abbott, who was selected as Streatham Labour Left’s designated candidate after it held its own preliminary selection. As such Ribeiro-Addy has already been vigorously promoted by her local allies, and the perception among other shadow cabinet advisers is that her selection is assured.

As their opponents discovered to their cost in February, the left is sufficiently well-organised locally to have changed the organisational structure of the constituency party from a General Council to an All-Member Meeting model, increasing the power of individual lay members at the expense of trade unions and other affiliates. The deciding vote, however, was narrow, and the CLP is still more factionally mixed than others.

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Until recently, the great hope of centre-left members had been Florence Eshalomi, a Brixton councillor and London Assembly member for Lambeth and Southwark. Her candidacy, however, is no longer deemed the racing certainty it once was: last month members in Streatham voted against reselecting her as their Assembly candidate, though the vote was later voided after the regional party concluded that the trigger ballot procedure had not been followed correctly. Nonetheless, Corbynsceptics are writing nothing off.

But regardless of its eventual winner, the fact of the early selection is significant: more than anything else, it is a sign that the Labour hierarchy is alive to the risks of a strong challenge from a high-profile Liberal Democrat incumbent in a seat in which it was roundly beaten at the European elections.