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Ali v Ward: the grudge match throws a rocket into Birmingham Labour’s AGM

Ali v Ward: the grudge match throws a rocket into Birmingham Labour’s AGM

🕔09.May 2016

With less than a week to go until the Birmingham city council Labour group holds its annual meeting, speculation about cabinet reshuffles and a shake-up of scrutiny committee chairs is reaching fever point, with the added spice of a deputy leadership challenge reports Paul Dale.

A few days ago, a cabinet member was surprised to receive a phone call on behalf of a fellow cabinet member seeking support for an attempt to oust deputy council leader, Ian Ward.

The prospective challenger to Ward, Tahir Ali, was quickly named on Twitter, further proof should it be required that plotting a secret leadership coup in the age of social media is very difficult indeed.

Political experts were somewhat baffled by Cllr Ali’s bid. After all, Cllr Ali was one of the first Asian councillors to back John Clancy’s successful attempt to oust Sir Albert Bore as council leader last December along with Cllr Shafique Shah. John Clancy has made it very clear recently that he wants Ian Ward to stay as his deputy and that a challenge would be most unhelpful.

Cllr Ali’s intervention set tongues wagging. Had he fallen out with Clancy? Was this the start of a ‘Muslim revolution’ designed to force yet another change in council leadership?

The answer to the conspiracy theories was nowhere near as interesting as a palace revolution would have been. Cllr Ali’s wish to get rid of Cllr Ward appears to be based rather more on ‘bad blood’ over the past couple of years which has seen the pair pitched against each other at several messy scrutiny inquiries, in particular a verbal showdown over arrangements for the Christmas Market.

There is also a lingering feeling of unsettled business over Cllr Ward’s long-term political partnership with Sir Albert Bore, and the way in which he finally turned on the former council leader by refusing to back him in October last year – a move that helped to force Sir Albert out.

Against all of the advice he has been given by the leader’s close friends, Cllr Ali has decided to challenge Cllr Ward for the deputy leadership at Labour’s AGM this Saturday (14th May).  He will press ahead even though the challenge will almost certainly be unsuccessful, since Ian Ward has Cllr Clancy’s firm backing, and will not do much for Cllr Ali’s long-term career prospects.

At the conclusion of the AGM, Cllr Clancy will announce any changes he proposes to make to the cabinet. It seems inevitable that some of the existing cabinet members will be thanked for their services but told they are no longer wanted. The question is, how many will go?

There are 10 cabinet members. Two, John Clancy and Ian Ward, are obviously safe.

That leaves eight for Cllr Clancy to choose from – Brigid Jones (children’s services), Stewart Stacey (commissioning, contracting and improvement), Tahir Ali (development, transport and economy), Lisa Trickett (sustainability), Paulette Hamilton (health and social care), Penny Holbrook (skills, learning and culture), Shafique Shah (inclusion and community safety).

The only way Tahir Ali will stay in the cabinet is if he beats Cllr Ward and becomes deputy leader, you might imagine.

This may be an opportunity for a radical repositioning of posts, moving back to more easily understandable portfolios, such as transportation and economic development, and ditching the largely incomprehensible cross-cutting posts introduced by Sir Albert Bore that left cabinet members and officers uncertain over who had responsibility for what.

The rumour mill, and it is important to stress that these are no more than unsubstantiated rumours, suggests that Cllr Clancy will wish to reward two key supporters with cabinet posts – Waseem Zaffar and Majid Mahmood. As to who might be out of the cabinet, the names of John Cotton and Stewart Stacey crop up most often, although some think Penny Holbrook and Paulette Hamilton are not safe.

Cllr Clancy will be minded to retain a balance of BME and female cabinet members, although the BME part of the equation won’t be a problem if councillors Zaffar and Mahmood are promoted.

The weekend Labour AGM will also elect scrutiny and other committee chairs in a process that is likely to result in a number of changes, as supporters of Cllr Clancy replace supporters of Sir Albert Bore. Officially under Labour rules ‘slates’ or lists of candidates supportive of anyone contesting elections should not exist. But they always have done, and this will be no exception.

When the dust has settled a measure of Cllr Clancy’s power base following last week’s city council elections will be gauged quite simply by who gets remunerated posts of scrutiny and regulatory committee chairs.

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