Labour councillors sidelined in 2022 selection battles

Fresh controversy over Labour selection process in Enfield ahead of May 2022 poll, reports James Cracknell

Enfield Civic Centre and Labour councillors Achilleas Georgiou (left), Tolga Aramaz (centre) and Doug Taylor (right)
Enfield Civic Centre and Labour councillors Achilleas Georgiou (left), Tolga Aramaz (centre) and Doug Taylor (right)

Two Labour councillors have been denied a chance to stand for re-election in 2022 after falling out of favour with the council leadership, the Dispatch understands.

Tolga Aramaz and Achilleas Georgiou failed their selection interviews and were not given an opportunity to put their candidacy to a vote of Labour members. Both have taken up political positions in the last few years that have put them at odds with the Labour-run administration at Enfield Civic Centre.

In addition, ex-council leader Doug Taylor has been forced to vacate the safe Labour ward he has represented since 2002, Ponders End, and has been selected to stand in the marginal ward of Palmers Green instead.

Cllr Aramaz is a left-winger who has twice been suspended for defying the Labour whip, on one occasion abstaining on a budget vote because he was opposed to any council cuts to public services. He is also the founder of campaign group Meridian For Council Homes, which demands that all new homes being built at the authority’s flagship regeneration scheme Meridian Water are made available for social rent.

Cllr Georgiou is a former deputy leader of the council, during Cllr Taylor’s reign, but has been a frequent critic of several council projects in recent years, including Meridian Water, low-traffic neighbourhoods, and the closure of Whitewebbs Park Golf Course.

Cllr Taylor was deposed as council leader in May 2018, just two weeks after leading Labour to victory with an increased majority, and Cllr Georgiou was one of the five councillors who stood down from their cabinet positions in May 2019 after signing a letter to Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) asking for alleged “irregularities” in the 2018 selection process to be investigated.

The Labour NEC later issued a rebuke to the Enfield Labour group, forbidding any serving councillors or candidates from being “involved in the arrangements” for the 2022 selection process, which is now ongoing – a full list of candidates is expected to be announced shortly.

Several Labour members with knowledge of the 2022 selection process have spoken to the Dispatch of their concerns about the way it is being conducted. Although some have said that the process has been smoother than in previous years, one source said: “Selections are not being done on merit. It is disrespectful that someone [Cllr Taylor] who gave us our biggest majority for some time [in 2018] has not been selected for his own ward.

“It is to do with who you know, not what you know.”

Since mid-2020, seven Labours councillors have quit the party and joined a new opposition group, Community First, now made up of four independents, two Green Party councillors, and one Liberal Democrat. All have publicly denounced the current Labour leadership. Two other councillors quit the council altogether.

Partly because of the ward boundary changes that are coming into effect for the local election this year, many Labour councillors will be standing in new wards, including current cabinet members who had previously stood in Labour strongholds but are now standing in areas where the Labour vote is expected to fall significantly – such as Bowes, Palmers Green and Winchmore Hill.

Many other Labour councillors have decided not to seek re-election, including some existing cabinet members. Yasemin Brett, a long-standing councillor for Bowes ward, told the Dispatch she was standing down after what she described as a “difficult” four years on the council.

“Some of us have been here a long while, and I do feel we should give other people a chance,” she said. “[But] there is no doubt that the last four years have been difficult for some of us.

“We have had very challenging times with Covid-19, and the fact people haven’t got financial security, with all of this going on you need to feel like you are a united group, working together to serve the people who elected us.”

Regarding Cllr Taylor’s failure to be selected to stand in Ponders End, Cllr Brett said: “He is an excellent councillor and he is somebody I have a lot of faith in.

“He has brought us success after success, and increased the profile of Labour locally, with several impressive infrastructure projects, but unfortunately it doesn’t just depend on being a good councillor – there are other factors at play.”

Another source, who wished to remain anonymous, said they were “shocked” that Cllr Taylor would not be standing in Ponders End but that his move to Palmers Green “shows his popularity goes beyond his own ward”.

Alan Sitkin, a former Labour cabinet member who stood down in 2018, told the Dispatch: “It is tradition for a sitting councillor to be given the choice to stand for reselection, unless they have been found deficient in their performance. That is not the case here – there are a number of respected, experienced councillors who have never put a foot wrong and haven’t brought the party into disrepute, but are being denied the opportunity.

“The current power faction that is running Enfield Labour is excluding people who are not currently part of it, for no other reason. One thing is whether they toe the line and whether they are part of the clique.”

Siddo Dwyer, procedure secretary for Enfield Labour’s local campaign forum, said: “Enfield Labour has a robust candidate interview and selection process, with an independent interview panel arranged by Labour Party HQ. Candidates are then democratically selected by a vote of Labour Party members in each ward.

“This process allows for an excellent range of candidates reflecting the borough’s diversity and expertise for the May 2022 election. Enfield Labour’s candidate selections are ongoing and not yet complete.

“Enfield Labour looks forward to setting out our positive vision ahead of the local elections, continuing to support residents during this pandemic and investing in our borough’s future.”