The announcement that Tom Copley is to be London’s deputy mayor for housing will stir up Labour’s selection and election battles for the London Assembly, with the city going to the polling stations in May.
Copley, who has been an Assembly Member since 2012, takes up the deputy mayor post left vacant by James Murray, who was elected as MP for Ealing North at last month’s general election.
Copley had been expected to be at the top of, or very close to the top, of Labour’s list candidates – those who do not stand for specific constituencies, but who are elected to the Assembly based on the overall proportion of votes across the capital. His appointment as deputy mayor will see him stand down as an Assembly Member, and as a local councillor in Lewisham.
Labour’s selection process for the London elections has been drawn out and not without some rancour over the short-listing process. Short-lists were published for the list candidates (now reduced to seven with Copley’s withdrawal) and the eight super constituencies in October, but the process was stalled, in part because of the general election.
Renewed shortlists have also had to be produced last month for Lambeth and Southwark after those boroughs’ AM, Florence Eshalomi – a Brixton Town Hall protegée of Steve Reed OBE – was elected as MP for Vauxhall in the general election.
Labour members will begin selecting their candidates for the London elections this week – barely two months before election day on May 7. For Croydon and Sutton, the choice is between South Norwood councillor Patsy Cummings and Blue Labour activist Rowenna Davis.
The delays and indecision over selection by the party’s regional leadership has undoubtedly minimised Cummings or Davis’ prospects of winning the seat for Labour. Steve O’Connell, the Tory who has held the seat since 2008, is standing down. The Conservatives chose their candidate to succeed him – Neil “Father Jack” Garratt – almost a year ago, and he has been campaigning across both boroughs ever since.
Khan’s choice of one of the Assembly’s most able and highest-profile Labour representatives – Copley had been chair of the housing committee at City Hall – may have other consequences, too.
Copley has been a champion of the rights of tenants in the private rented sector and has led the Assembly’s work around increasing the building of council homes and advocating for resident ballots on estate regeneration schemes.
On the latter matter, Copley failed conspicuously in delivering estate ballots in Labour-controlled Lambeth and Southwark, where the councils have been assiduously clearing their social housing, to the advantage of major developers.
And waiting for him in his in-tray when he takes over as deputy mayor will undoubtedly be some pointed questions about Croydon Council’s use of millions of pounds of Mayor of London funding to subsidise the purchase of flats from Brick by Brick, after the controversial, loss-making in-house house-builder failed to register itself as a recognised provider of shared-ownership homes.
After his appointment was announced on Friday, Copley said, “I’m delighted to have been asked by Sadiq Khan to take up the role of Deputy Mayor for Housing.
Since the Mayor was elected in 2016, City Hall has taken a much more ambitious approach to tackling the housing crisis, including directly funding council housing for the first time. I look forward to building on that work in order to deliver the genuinely affordable homes that Londoners need.