What news of the ward of Evelyn, covered previously on Lewisham Lately for its bizarre history of absenteeism, in-fighting and neglect? Surely, as D:Ream might have put it, things can only get better?
A note earlier this year from one care-worn local suggested otherwise. “Evelyn… sigh,” went the subject line, followed by a world-weary account of fleeing councillors and internal Labour Party politics.
“Lewisham’s most neglected ward just got more neglected,” my unnamed contact began. “Evelyn’s Jamie Milne has moved to East Sussex while David Michael has moved to Luton (no longer has a residence in Lewisham). Quite how long this has been the case has not been communicated to the locals.”
And, it went on, the one locally based representative, Joyce Jacca, “got deselected by the CLP [Constituency Labour Party].”
The bleak tone continues in a follow-up email with news of the other Labour candidates (the ward historically has been a dyed-in-the-wool Labour stronghold).
“Two of the Candidates don’t live in the ward. Caroline Kalu lives four miles away and Alex Feis-Bryce in New Cross. Neither any history in the area but keen to stand in Labour’s safest seat.”
“The third Labour candidate Silvana Kelleher is cause for concern. Facebook posts (defended by the candidate) have upset residents both inside and outside the party.”
Another local makes the same complaint, citing “disturbing opinions on violence towards children and women.”
Lewisham Lately has seen the posts allegedly put on Facebook and, to put it diplomatically, they don’t seem like the product of someone with a balanced and measured approach to local politics. And a blocked Twitter feed is rarely a sign of a healthy attitude to accountability and transparency (a new one is in motion for campaign purposes).
Both Kelleher and the Lewisham Labour Party have been approached for comment but no reply has been received.
And what of Joyce Jacca, the local community leader who was elected as a Labour councillor in a by-election in October 2016 then rejected unceremoniously by her own party less than a year later?
Officially, her deselection was put down to her “lack of understanding about the role of a Labour Councillor” and for failing to take up training opportunities.
But there is one particularly telling passage in her rejection email, sent by Ian McKenzie, the Secretary of Lewisham Labour Party:
“The panel recognised that you had skills of engaging with your community, but felt that you failed to understand your position as an elected Labour Councillor working under a political regime with specific requirement to fulfil, something that is expected of all elected Labour Councillors.”
In other words, one of the reasons Jacca was turfed out was for representing her constituents over and above her political party.
One senior, long-standing Labour councillor Roy Kennedy (Lord Kennedy of Southwark) was so concerned by her treatment that he wrote to Iain McNicol, the then Labour Party General Secretary, expressing shock and dismay at Jacca’s deselection and the subsequent rejection of her appeal.
The letter praised Jacca’s hard work, loyalty to the Labour Group and good attendance. “Joyce is respected by the community she represents on the council and has been an articulate voice for them,” he wrote.
There was “no justification whatsoever” to her treatment – which he described as “just wrong” before requesting a new NEC (the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee) panel to review her candidacy.
All this to no avail as three entirely new but by no means universally appreciated candidates were confirmed in her place.
Jacca was so dismayed by the proceedings – which she described as discriminatory – that she decided to stand for the local elections in Evelyn ward as an independent.
“I became a councillor for Evelyn because we had councillors who were not really active in our ward,” she told Lewisham Lately.
“I was very low [after the deselection]… but I have worked with local communities and residents for 17 years.
“My community development colleagues kept me empowered. Labour, who were my family, left me to die.”
“I’m standing because I believe that I’m the right person to represent my ward.”
And a final word to my anonymous source:
“A 5% rise in child poverty to 43% (almost double the borough average) was reported [in Evelyn recently].
“If anywhere could use some high calibre representation it’s Evelyn.”