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Dale’s Diary: WMCA hits ‘a bump in the road’, and is Clancy a Corbynista?

Dale’s Diary: WMCA hits ‘a bump in the road’, and is Clancy a Corbynista?

🕔01.Jul 2016

It didn’t take long for the West Midlands Combined Authority, that gathering of 16 councils and three local enterprise partnerships, to suffer its first public political row – and it’s a real belter.

The inaugural meeting of WMCA was held on Wednesday (29 June) and an observer might have wondered why leaders of the seven metropolitan authorities were present, but no one from the adjoining shire districts and counties was there when so much has been made of the chumminess between the urban and rural councils.

The Mets – Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Dudley – are full voting members, while the others – Telford and Wrekin, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Cannock Chase, Redditch and Tamworth – are non-constituent members and don’t get a vote.

The reason the non-constituent members didn’t turn up, it emerged, was because they were told not to bother since the meeting was largely a tick-box exercise and the only item of interest would be to distribute cabinet portfolio roles to the seven Met council leaders. Nothing much for you Shire chaps to do here, etc.

Imagine, then, the reaction when the leaders of the shire district councils discovered that the meeting handed out a portfolio to Warwickshire county council leader Izzi Seccombe, who was appointed lead member for the non-constituent councils.

Cllr Seccombe is a Tory, while most of WMCA’s constituent and non-constituent members are Labour. To top that, Cllr Seccombe has been handed the important finance and investments portfolio putting her in charge of the combined authority budget.

This was just too much for Cllr Dennis Harvey, the Labour leader of Nuneaton and Bedworth council who was straight on the phone to complain to WMCA chair Bob Sleigh, the leader of Solihull council, who is of course a Conservative.

Harvey, fuming over the audacity of it all, fired off an angry email to Cllr Sleigh, copying it to about 70 people and needless to say the missive found its way into the hands of Chamberlain Files.

Cllr Harvey set about his task with some relish and with a Sarah Vine-type liking for capital letters:

ALL of the Non-Constituent Authorities were advised that attendance was not necessary yesterday as the meeting was largely to confirm the notes from the previous gathering and to see the distribution of portfolio roles amongst the Constituent members.

As I understand it, NO non-constituent authority was therefore present.

Secondly, NONE of the paperwork issued beforehand or distributed at the meeting referred to names on portfolio roles, merely details of the role.

Thirdly, a meeting of the Constituent Authorities was apparently held before the morning meeting to distribute roles amongst authorities. As I understand it, at that meeting no mention was made of the possible person to fill the non-constituent portfolio post, as it was assumed the non-constituents themselves would consider their nominee to the position.

When the FULL meeting was subsequently held, the name of Cllr I Seccombe, of Warwickshire, was apparently read out and agreed as the person to fill the portfolio role from the non-constituent authorities.

NO involvement of any non-constituent authority had been sought. I believe that to include Warwickshire itself.

Harvey continued:

This is very disappointing to us in Nuneaton and Bedworth, and I am sure to many of the other non-constituents who have been steadfastly supporting the setting up of the WMCA from the very beginning. It is not an insignificant matter as this is a major role which has been handed to one authority with no agreement from other non-constituent members.

This is not a matter of individuals, it is a matter of principle, and a very important one. We have now had a major decision made affecting all non-constituent members at a meeting with none of us present and which we had been advised was not essential to attend.

And in a final, vaguely threatening, parting shot:

We do not accept the validity of the nomination, nor the decision apparently made. Nor do we accept that this is now irreversible. Any such nomination should only be agreed AFTER a properly convened meeting of non-constituent members has taken place. The AGM was not entitled to make such a decision and therefore it cannot be valid.

Cllr Sleigh told Chamberlain Files that “with hindsight” the matter could have been better handled.

He added “I have arranged a meeting with the non-constituent members and this is something we will have to discuss. The combined authority is a partnership, it’s an evolving picture, and it is very important everyone plays a role.

This is a bump in the road, but I will deal with it.

Is he or isn’t he, that is the question.

Could John Clancy, the Labour leader of Birmingham city council, be a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn?

People are beginning to wonder because Clancy has pointedly shied away from criticising the under-fire Labour leader. He refused to have anything to do with a letter signed by 500 prominent Labour councillors urging Corbyn to do the decent thing and stand down and has kept Birmingham at a distance from the whole leadership shenanigans.

It was noticeable that when Clancy became the Birmingham leader last December, several newspapers suggested he was a Corbynista. They weren’t contradicted.

If he is a backer of Corbyn, the policies he pursues here in Birmingham are somewhat alien to the hard-left, in particular an enthusiasm for courting the private sector and a liking for ‘co-operative councils’ working in partnership with the voluntary and private sector, rather than centralised state control.

There is a very good reason why it suits Clancy to keep on the right side of Jeremy Corbyn. Some of his prominent supporters, whose votes he relies upon to remain leader, are Corbynistas, none more so than cabinet member Majid Mahmood, he of the ‘Majid Circle’ who did so much to help Clancy defeat Sir Albert Bore last November and become leader.

Mahmood has been using his Twitter account to lobby support for the beleaguered Corbyn, hitting out at “a shameful orchestrated campaign against our Labour leader”.

Similarly, the Birmingham Labour group secretary Sharon Thompson is very keen on Jeremy. Thompson’s name unaccountably appeared on a list of councillors calling for Corbyn to stand down. She wasn’t happy and Tweeted #keepcorbyn and #jezwecan.

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