5 July  2018 

"Known Unknowns" -  Proposed changes to Labour Councils' leadership contests

By Mark Walker

To borrow from Donald Rumsfeld, one of the “known knowns” post the local elections in May was that London politics was about to become an amplified battleground for Labour politics, regardless of how the results had gone on May 3rd.

It’s the announcement last week, with little fanfare in the press but much discussed this week at the Local Government Association conference in Birmingham, that will cause unease in the planning and development world. The idea that Labour Council Leaders would be elected by local Labour members, instead of the current elected Labour groups on the council as it is now. It’s uncharted territory for local democracy and has raised concerns both in and out of Labour circles.  

Nick Forbes, the leader of the Labour group on the Local Government Association told the Guardian “It risks turning every council decision into a local membership referendum.” It’s this risk that will strike most concern with those who already know the challenges faced in gaining support for regeneration schemes in cities, especially London. For the first time since the 1970s the Party has fully exchanged pragmatism for ideology, the members who will make the decision will always have the ideological luxury that those Councillors who spend late nights in Planning Committee meetings simply don’t have.

It also asks questions about the authority of a Labour Mayor of London and the ability for the GLA to call in schemes. Unless Council Leaders were guaranteed a length of term like the Mayor, you simply wouldn’t be able to balance the requirements of City Hall with the wishes of the local Labour membership. There is no suggestion of a fixed term length in the current draft proposal, submissions close on Friday.

The roots of this proposal are to be found in the Haringey Development Vehicle. The left, having seen off Councillor Kober as Leader decided to have an “advisory ballot” of Haringey Labour members over who the new Council Leader should be. The Councillors then decided to ignore this result and elect the current Council Leader, Joseph Ejiofo, who in his short time as leader has faced mounting criticism from local members. This is without a hint of a controversial decision, let alone any plans to tackle the regeneration the borough needs.

The former U.S defence secretary also said “In politics, every day is filled with numerous opportunities for serious error”. There will be plenty hoping that this proposal is one such error but there is plenty of horse trading to take place between now and when the Labour Party meet in Liverpool in September. Cascade will be there and will keep you informed between now and then.

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