Thamesmead town centre
The constituency includes both the Greenwich and Bexley parts of Thamesmead

With a general election looming on December 12, Labour party members in Erith and Thamesmead will have their own poll on Friday as they choose who will succeed longstanding MP Teresa Pearce on the ballot paper.

Greenwich Council cabinet member Denise Scott-McDonald is on the three-woman shortlist, alongside former Bexley councillor Abena Oppong-Asare and GMB union rep Nadine Houghton.

The selection is being handled by Labour’s national executive committee rather than the local party, with members only getting to have their say on Friday night when the final vote takes place. The process has seen three of the area’s local councillors fail to make it onto the shortlist.

Pearce, a much-liked figure in and beyond the local Labour party, had a majority of just over 10,000 at the last general election. The constituency, which stretches from Plumstead station, across Thamesmead and Abbey Wood to Belvedere and Erith, straddles parts of both Greenwich and Bexley boroughs.

853 understands there is particular anger that Mabel Ogundayo, the Thamesmead East councillor on Bexley Council, did not make it onto the shortlist, while her Bexley Labour colleague Sally Hinkley, who represents Belvedere and is a caseworker for Pearce, also did not make the final cut.

Greenwich cabinet member and Thamesmead Moorings councillor Averil Lekau did not even make it to the longlist. She tweeted in support of Oppong-Asare, “the only local candidate”, after the shortlist was announced – despite sharing a cabinet table with Scott-McDonald.

The three candidates

Nadine Houghton is believed to be the NEC’s favoured candidate, with an explicitly left-wing agenda, slick videos and the backing of union figures and MPs including Laura Pidcock, the shadow employment secretary. Party members have even been sent a note from John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, backing her.

While some members have complained that she is being imposed on the constituency, and wonder why her old Twitter account has suddenly been deleted, she can point to a track record of union activism both in the constituency and across southeast London.

Abena Oppong-Asare is the local favourite. A former councillor in Erith and once the deputy leader of Bexley’s opposition Labour group, she is the chair of the Labour Women’s Network, which supports women seeking public office for the party. She has also worked as a researcher at City Hall, and was involved in the mayor’s response to the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Well thought-of locally, it is likely to be between Houghton and Oppong-Asare as to who wins the selection.

Denise Scott-McDonald’s tilt at Erith and Thamesmead comes nearly two years after she was shortlisted for the Cities of London and Westminster. While cabinet member for transport, environment and air quality in Greenwich, she has spoken out in favour of the Silvertown Tunnel – which the Erith & Thamesmead party has passed a motion against, and despite aligning herself with opponents of the project in May 2018’s council election. Earlier this year, she initially dismissed the idea of Greenwich Council declaring a climate emergency before reversing the position two months later.

Her video mentions Greenwich investing in its libraries while Bexley handed its over to volunteers. However, the method Greenwich used to keep hold of its libraries was by contracting them out to GLL in April 2012, two years before she became a councillor and three before she became the cabinet member in charge of them.

A former journalist for a financial TV news channel, she also works as a university lecturer and is on the Co-op’s members’ council.

Missing out on the prize

As mentioned above, one local figure who didn’t get on the shortlist was Bexley councillor Mabel Ogundayo. An account manager for a developers’ lobbying company, she was widely expected to be in with a shout. Despite an impressive campaign video, it wasn’t to be.

As with others across the country, the Erith & Thamesmead result will be closely watched to see if the Labour leadership’s favoured candidate prevails – similar contests have so far had mixed results.

Members will make their choice on Friday night after hustings in Erith.

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