Dale’s Diary: Ali v Ward and cabinet reshuffle, all the gossip you need to know
Speculation surrounding John Clancy’s cabinet reshuffle and the deputy leadership battle between Ian Ward and Tahir Ali is so intense that even Birmingham Council House’s greatest gossips are finding it difficult to keep up to pace with events, and that’s saying something.
One of my regular sources has been providing ever more outlandish tips about who is in and who is out, and ugly vendettas behind the scenes. When tackled about the accuracy of his predictions, he simply said: “I’m just passing on what Labour councillors tell me. They may have their own agenda.”
Quite so. There are a lot of known unknowns swirling around the corridors of power, but one thing is certain: the leader of the council is playing his cards very close to his chest.
We don’t even know for certain that Cllr Clancy will reshuffle his cabinet, and if he does whether the shake-up will be minor or a spectacular night of the long knives in the manner of Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who sacked a third his cabinet in one go.
One aspect that is intriguing is the Ali v Ward contest.
Cllr Clancy has gone out of his way to give his backing to Ian Ward because he has been impressed by his deputy’s commitment to the cause and his sheer hard work. By deciding to challenge Cllr Ward, Cllr Ali will have annoyed John Clancy who right up until the nomination papers were delivered had believed Cllr Ali would not go forward with his challenge.
Sources close to Cllr Clancy have attempted to dismiss Cllr Ali’s behaviour as the result of a longstanding personal feud between him and Cllr Ward. The truth is there is a wide cross-section of people in the Labour group who may feel Ian Ward has been deputy for too long, and consequently Tahir Ali does have a chance of succeeding.
Supporters of former council leader Sir Albert Bore will be seeking revenge for what they see as an act of treachery when Cllr Ward pointedly refused to give Sir Albert his backing in an interview with Chamberlain Files, helping to speed Sir Albert’s resignation.
Others who wanted Sir Albert to stand down will recall Cllr Ward’s prevarication during the first half of 2015 when he could have challenged for the Labour leadership, and may well have won, but decided not to do so.
Should Cllr Ali become deputy leader there will no doubt be some difficult conversations to be had between him and Cllr Clancy.
As for the shape of the cabinet after this weekend’s Labour AGM, the decision is entirely in Cllr Clancy’s hands although he is acutely aware of the need to maintain an appropriate gender and BME balance.
In a strange way, Cllr Ali’s challenge may work to the Leader’s advantage by creating a vacancy. If Cllr Ali loses to Cllr Ward, he will be out of the cabinet, you would think.
Clancy is on record stating that he wants to scrap the incomprehensible ‘cross-cutting’ cabinet roles created by Sir Albert, which is convenient since four of the cabinet members tipped for the sack represent just such roles – Stewart Stacey (commissioning, contracting and improvement), Lisa Trickett (sustainability), John Cotton (neighbourhood management and homes) and Shafique Shah (inclusion and community safety).
The council leader will look closely at the performance of health and social care cabinet member Paulette Hamilton, and must ask himself whether Cllr Hamilton is really a big enough political beast to deal with the treacherous waters of merging council and NHS spending.
Any political leader must make sure to reward his friends, and two names stand out in the Clancy camp – Waseem Zaffar and Majid Mahmood. Both could be in line for promotion to the cabinet, or at the very least to become one of four new assistant council leaders, although it is also possible Cllr Zaffar may be appointed one of the new West Midlands Assistant Police and Crime Commissioners.
Both of these councillors, however, have a touch of the Marmite about them. They are either liked or disliked. Cllr Zaffar has to contend with a vicious campaign conducted against him on Twitter, while Cllr Mahmood will forever be associated with the deselection of Anita Ward in Hodge Hill.
Cabinet reshuffles require the judgement of Solomon, and a fair slice of luck. Whatever Cllr Clancy does, he will make new enemies. And he knows that.
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