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Dale’s Diary: Clancy’s first mini-crisis, and ‘Ballotgate’ rumbles on

Dale’s Diary: Clancy’s first mini-crisis, and ‘Ballotgate’ rumbles on

🕔30.Nov 2015

He hasn’t even begun the job officially yet, but new Birmingham city council leader John Clancy is already facing his first mini-crisis.

There’s plenty of serious stuff crowding his in-tray when he takes over formally tomorrow afternoon – scrapping the Capita-Service Birmingham contract, not to mention delivering on a free school meals pledge – but the news this week could be dominated by an altogether more parochial issue, the potential deselection of Hodge Hill Labour councillor Anita Ward.

Cllr Ward, generally regarded as one of the best Lord Mayors in recent years, a stalwart of armed forces charity the Royal British Legion, is a much loved Birmingham institution. It is unthinkable, given her 20 years of sterling service on the council, that she should be sacked by her local ward party and prevented from standing for re-election next May.

Yet, Cllr Ward’s position is perilous. She lost out on automatic reselection by 18 votes to three last week at a thinly attended ward meeting. This means there will now be a formal procedure to choose the 2016 Hodge Hill candidate, and while Cllr Ward can put her name forward it is far from clear whether she will win.

Clancy’s opponents in the Labour group –and remember he only won the race to succeed Sir Albert Bore as leader by one vote, with two spoilt votes – claim that Ward is the victim of a sinister plot to remove councillors suspected of not voting for Clancy and to replace them with Clancyites, thereby ensuring that the new leader can build his support base and see off any leadership challenge after the May elections.

Matters are complicated by the presence of Hodge Hill ward councillor Majid Mahmood, who very publicly declared his support for Clancy at the start of the leadership campaign. It is safe to say Mahmood and Anita Ward, who is a long-time supporter of Sir Albert, do not see eye to eye over the matter of who is best suited to be leader of the Labour group and the council.

Certainly, deselections do seem to crop up with some regularity in Hodge Hill. Former councillor Tim Evans was voted out two years ago.

It remains to be seen whether Anita Ward can rally sufficient support to save her skin. There’s a bit of a Twitter-storm going on, with a #StandwithAnita campaign underway, which has attracted support from some prominent politicians including Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, shadow deputy leader of the House of Lords.

The fact of the matter is that Hodge Hill ward Labour party has more than 100 members. The first part of the selection process for 2016, the call for a trigger ballot, saw Ward go down by 18 votes to three. For some unfathomable reason, she didn’t manage to get her supporters out on the night.

If she is as popular as most people believe, she should be able to muster support for the second part of the selection in two weeks’ time, and be reselected as the Hodge Hill candidate.

Clancy, sensibly, is attempting to rise above all this nastiness and is adopting the ‘nothing to do with me, guv’ line. He’d rather concentrate on his busy diary which has already included meetings with the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel chair and vice-chair, Communities Secretary Greg Clark, Lord Heseltine and GBSLEP chair Andy Street.

He won’t say anything publicly, but friends insist the possible de-selection of Anita Ward is purely a Hodge Hill matter and is not connected with a purge of the Boreites.

That’s as may be, but you can be sure the season of Labour reselections for next year’s council elections will be watched more closely over the next few weeks than at any time in recent years.

The dust has far from settled on last week’s marathon Birmingham city council Labour group leadership election, which saw John Clancy emerge victorious with a majority of one vote after a bruising four hour session.

Clancy’s supporters are demanding to know why a last minute decision was taken by Labour’s West Midlands regional office to change the voting system from single transferable vote to exhaustive ballot. Labour councillors had been informed by letter weeks before that STV was the preferred choice, only to be confounded on the night when officials insisted it had to be an exhaustive ballot.

If STV had been used, allowing those taking part in the election to list their preferences in descending order from one to four, only one voting session would have been necessary and the whole thing would have taken no more than an hour.

Under the exhaustive ballot the elector simply casts a single vote for a candidate. If no candidate secures a majority then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and a further round of voting occurs. This process is repeated for as many rounds as necessary until one candidate has a majority.

As it was, three separate ballots were necessary over almost four hours, leaving plenty of time for the ABC councillors – Anyone but Clancy – to press their case with colleagues, rather passionately in some cases.

Talk of ‘ballotgate’ may all seem a bit nerdish, but the change completely threw Clancy’s tactics off course. He and his team spent hours poring over second and third preference voting tactics, only to be told on arrival that there wouldn’t be any second or third preference votes.

Why was a decision to change the voting system taken?

A spokesperson for the West Midlands Labour Party refused to answer the question, only stating:

The Labour party doesn’t comment on internal processes.

Well, isn’t that convenient.

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