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Battle to replace Sir Albert begins as councillor ‘takes soundings’ over succession

Battle to replace Sir Albert begins as councillor ‘takes soundings’ over succession

🕔09.Oct 2015

One of Sir Albert Bore’s senior Labour colleagues is openly canvassing friends about the possibility of replacing him as leader of Birmingham city council should he be forced out soon, Chamberlain Files can reveal.

The person has begun telephoning fellow councillors asking whether they would be supportive should a vacancy arise. The same person has also let it be known that a new deputy leader of the Labour group and the council will be required, to replace Ian Ward.

The would-be challenger has not returned Chamberlain Files’ telephone calls or responded to a request for a comment.

A Labour councillor, who declined to be named, said: “A number of people have received phone calls asking for their support. This person seems to be putting in quite a bit of effort and is getting a campaign off the ground, even though there isn’t a vacancy as yet. It seems to be a matter of taking soundings, assessing opinion”.

The open canvassing of Labour councillors comes at the end of a turbulent week for Sir Albert.

On Tuesday, the cabinet member for community safety and inclusion, James McKay, resigned stating that he no longer believed Sir Albert was the right person to lead the council.

He questioned the council leader’s ability to deliver governance reforms demanded by the Kerslake Review and added:

Partners want to work with us, but they need to know we want to work with them, too.

Cllr McKay accused Sir Albert of failing to develop “a simple, convincing political vision, one that can inspire citizens, get partners around the table, and be a clear map for how the council itself needs to move forward”.

Three days after his resignation, Cllr McKay still has not been replaced.

Deputy council leader Ian Ward is abroad on holiday, believed to be in Crete, and has not commented or intervened to back up Sir Albert.

Only two of the remaining cabinet members have spoken out publicly in support of Sir Albert – Brigid Jones and Tahir Ali.

It is understood that the regional Labour Party encouraged Cabinet members to write a joint letter of support for the leader, but have so far refused. Party officials accompanied Sir Albert for his interview with the Birmingham Post in a sign of support and solidarity.

The resignation of Cllr McKay is not thought to be part of a co-ordinated effort, but simply the sign of someone who does not believe further progress is possible with the current leadership. Monday’s Labour group meeting and the leader’s insistence on Cabinet members  holding surgeries for backbench colleagues on the Future Council programme which attracted little interest.

Sir Albert attempted to shore up his position by giving an “I’m not going anywhere” interview to the Birmingham Post and was accompanied by regional Labour party officials in what was claimed to be a display of support for the council leader.

Doubts about his future position are likely to come to a head next week when the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel reports to Local Government Secretary Greg Clark on the council’s progress in delivering the Kerslake reforms.

A poor report following on from the panel’s letter to Mr Clark in the summer, which raised doubts about the commitment of the council leadership to delivering culture change, would put even more pressure on to Sir Albert.

However, unless Sir Albert resigns it is difficult to see how he could be overthrown since the next Labour leadership election is not scheduled until May 2016.

It has been suggested that a vote of no confidence in Sir Albert may be tabled at a Labour group meeting, but it is by no means certain that such an approach would sit within the party’s rule book.

Sir Albert has been leader of the Labour group since 1999 and challenged for the position on many occasions, but has always emerged victorious. He led the council from 1999 to 2004 and from 2012 to the present day.

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