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Bore v Clancy, the big fight for power in Birmingham is on tonight

Bore v Clancy, the big fight for power in Birmingham is on tonight

🕔11.May 2015

Sir Albert Bore will face a city council leadership challenge from John Clancy tonight, even though Labour’s performance in Birmingham at the local elections was one of the best in recent years, writes Paul Dale.

Clancy, a backbench councillor representing Quinton, has decided to press ahead with his fourth attempt to oust Sir Albert, and his supporters insist the result could be very close this time.

The contest will be fought on one central question: “Who is the right person to lead Birmingham through savage public spending cuts and the reforms demanded by a Tory Government following the highly critical Kerslake Review of city council governance?”

Clancy’s backers will suggest that 69-year-old Sir Albert, who has been Labour group leader since 1999, is part of the problem rather than the solution and must go.

With a Government-imposed improvement board now overseeing the council’s performance and two commissioners attempting to sort out education and children’s social services, they believe a fresh leadership team with new ideas is essential.

Any faint hope that a Labour government would tone down the Kerslake reforms and ease up on spending cuts ended with the General Election result.

Cllr Clancy’s supporters say that Birmingham city council is at the crossroads and believe the authority will be “taken over” by Government commissioners before the end of the year if radical reforms are not carried out quickly.

Significantly, this year the Clancy team will not challenge deputy council leader Ian Ward.

It’s believed Ward will remain in place, probably as one of two deputy leaders, if Clancy beats Sir Albert and becomes council leader following the election at tonight’s annual Labour group meeting.

Although Clancy has doggedly attempted to over-turn his rival, previous contests suggest he still has a mountain to climb.

Last year, Sir Albert emerged victorious by 47 votes to 27. In 2013, Sir Albert’s margin of victory was 51-23. In 2011, Sir Albert thrashed Clancy by 43 votes to nine.

Cllr Clancy’s share of the vote has climbed year on year but there are few Council House insiders who think he has much of a chance of winning this time, or ever. Victory tonight would make last Thursday’s General election result pale into insignificance.

He has not issued a fresh policy pledge to Labour councillors, relying instead on the manifesto he published last year which set out plans to build 16,000 new houses by 2018 and to give a free daily hot meal to all infant and primary school children.

He would also rip up the council’s current spending plans and draw up a new budget from scratch “paying only for what is really needed and eliminating wasteful spending”.

The leadership challenge comes four days after an impressive performance in Birmingham by Labour at the city council elections. Three cabinet members whose seats were thought to be at risk all won easily and Labour gained a seat each from the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, putting the party in an impregnable position with 79 of the 120 council seats.

Birmingham bucked the Tory trend quite spectacularly. Not only did Labour easily hold eight out of the 10 parliamentary seats, and took Yardley from the Liberal Democrats, but support for the party’s candidates rocketed particularly in predominantly Muslim-populated inner city areas.

In Hall Green constituency Roger Godsiff saw his share of the vote rise by an astonishing 27 per cent, a 12 per cent swing from Conservative to Labour.

Khalid Mahmood in Perry Barr enjoyed a modest seven per cent rise, but in Ladywood Shabanah Mahmood’s vote was up by 18 per cent. Steve McCabe in Selly Oak benefited from a nine per cent increase in his vote and Liam Byrne in Hodge Hill saw his share of the vote rise by 16 per cent.

In Northfield, a supposedly marginal constituency targeted by the Tories, Labour’s Richard Burden increased his share of the vote by 1.35 per cent, while in Edgbaston Labour’s Gisela Stuart enjoyed a 4.2 per cent increase in votes.

The Conservatives will want to look more closely at Birmingham in an attempt to work out what is happening on the ground. Some of Labour’s success can be explained by Tory votes leaking to UKIP, particularly in constituencies like Erdington, Northfield, Selly Oak and Hodge Hill where support for Nigel Farage’s party rose by between eight and 15 per cent compared to 2010, but that alone cannot account for an explosion of backing for Labour in the poorest parts of Birmingham.

Labour performed just as spectacularly in the city council elections, where support for inner city candidates reached record levels.

In Aston Muhammed Afzal polled 8,388 votes. His closest opponent, Tory Joel Buckett, was on a paltry 693. The Liberal Democrats, who not so long ago won this seat, were on 479. Labour’s Shafique Shah managed 8,357 in Bordesley Green against 1,569 for the Liberal Democrats.

Majid Mahmood polled 6,065 for Labour in Hodge Hill against 1,635 for the Conservative candidate.

In Lozells and East Handsworth, Labour’s Waseem Zaffar polled 8,535 votes against 977 for Conservative Ravi Chumber. Sybil Spence in Soho was on 7,321, her Conservative opponent managed 1,091. Tony Kennedy in Sparkbrook recorded the best ever Labour performance in the ward with 8,559 votes and a 7,314 majority.

And the largest single vote of all was in Washwood Heath, where Ansar Ali Khan polled 9,200 votes against 1,395 for the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservative General Election success was driven by victories across the Midlands, and none were more unexpected than in the neighbouring constituencies of Nuneaton and North Warwickshire.

Marcus Jones was returned for a second term in Nuneaton while newcomer Craig Tracey succeeded against all the odds in winning North Warwickshire, one of the most marginal constituencies in the country, by seeing off former Labour minister Mike O’Brien.

The ‘Nuneaton moment’ early on Friday morning sent shock waves across the country and turned out to be the moment Ed Miliband knew for sure that the game was up. The question asked then lingers on today and demands an urgent answer: If Labour can’t win in the gritty working class ex-mining communities across the north of Warwickshire, where can it win?

There were swings against the national trend in places like Manchester, Liverpool, Sunderland, Derby and Bristol where Labour picked up support at the expense of the Tories. But Labour votes also leaked alarmingly to UKIP in a number of northern cities including Sheffield, Newcastle and Leeds.

One obvious answer is that Labour can still count on support in its big city heartlands where the votes pile up with impressive regularity. Unfortunately, with boundary changes before the next General Election gifting the Conservatives at least 30 more seats in England, Labour’s dominance of a smaller number of city constituencies won’t count for so much.

*Watch out for Bore v Clancy tonight @ChamberlainFile with the result expected at about 8pm.

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