Kate Hoey’s parachuting into Vauxhall by Neil Kinnock sent shock waves through the local party. They had wanted a black candidate but the most likely ones to win were considered too left wing by Labour’s leadership so Hoey, a Kinnock loyalist, was imposed as a candidate with a “like it or lump it” note from Labour HQ.
Qucik background, the previous Vauxhall MP had been Stuart Holland, the chief theoretician of the Alternative Economic Strategy that formed the bedrock of Bennism and the Labour left in the 1970s and 80s. He quite being an MP in 1989 to go into academia, leaving a vacancy in Vauxhall, one of the safest Labour seats in the country.
This is an exert from Radical Lambeth about what happened next…
After a period of reflection, Vauxhall put forward its list of the preferred candidates to the NEC which was duly noted and totally ignored. In what became a national scandal in the party, Osamor was banned from standing by the NEC who also leaked malicious lies to Patrick Winter of the Guardian that she was being investigated by the Fraud Squad. Instead the NEC subcommittee – chaired by Roy Hattersley – proposed a list of five reliable moderates, Glenys Thornton, Kate Hoey, Pat Moberley, Wesley Kerr and Nick Raynsford. All were white apart from Kerr who was very unpopular locally. At the meeting where the local members were supposed to decide who to endure there was uproar and an outright rebellion when the meeting voted by 33 to 8 to abandon the procedure and write to the NEC in the strongest possible terms that the short list was unacceptable. Tired of dealing with recalcitrants in the local environs, the NEC subcommittee instead simply imposed Hoey on the local party.
“It was outrageous what happened” remembered Steve Nally. “Vauxhall was a well organised General Management Committee. There was no reason to impose a candidate. Having someone imposed was considered an insult and outraged local members.” This was even truer considering that Vauxhall was one of the safest Labour seats in the country and it was effectively giving a seat in the House of Commons to someone with no input from the local party. Bernie Grant MP gave an impassioned speech in Parliament when the writ for the by-election was moved on 22 May, pointing to the history of black immigration to Lambeth and Brixton in particular (a large part of which was in the Vauxhall constituency). He lambasted his own party leadership in the strongest terms “If President Gorbachev had imposed candidates during the recent elections in the Soviet Union, everybody would have been up in arms. In the United Kingdom however, political parties can impose candidates without qualms.”
Hoey caught some flak whilst out on the doorstep as black residents and local party members were furious about what happened to Osamor. Many locals believed that the party had prevented her from standing because she did not have wide enough appeal as a black, working class woman. That was no doubt part of it – but it was also the internal factional concerns in Labour that motivated the decision, not that many people on the doorstep on estates across Vauxhall cared too much about that. “They threw her out because she was black” remarked one local woman, before her teenage daughter – first time voter – added “it means they think if you are black you have no hope.” Bernie Grant had defended Osamor’s alleged ‘controversial’ nature; “If one is a black politician worth one’s salt, one has to be controversial, because this is a racist society. Any black person who attempts to represent black people and put forward black issues properly will be torn apart by the media.”
On the Studley Estate a black man named Michael – who was actually a member of the party in Brixton – denounced the ‘racist Labour party’ to her face. When Hoey dodged that bullet, on the estate she was accosted by a construction worker named Jonathan Tanburn who told her he was “disgusted with the Labour Party for throwing gay rights out of the boat as soon as you think the balloon is dropping. How can you possible pretend to be socialists?” Hoey replied rather meekly that “things move on – we haven’t abandoned any of our principles.”