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End of the phony mayoral war? Gloves come off as Gisela questions Sion’s tactics

End of the phony mayoral war? Gloves come off as Gisela questions Sion’s tactics

🕔05.Mar 2012

English: Gisela Stuart at the House of Commons...

The battle to become Birmingham’s first elected mayor has until now been fought in an unusually comradely fashion among the three declared Labour hopefuls, Sion Simon, Gisela Stuart and Sir Albert Bore.

However, the Chamberlain Files learns of growing tensions between the camps of Mrs Stuart and Mr Simon, so much so that the city’s left-wing chattering classes are openly speculating that an official complaint to the regional Labour Party is only a matter of time.

The row centres on Mr Simon’s extraordinary ability to contact party members across Birmingham. The former Erdington MP has made quite a virtue of the fact that he has spoken personally to hundreds, possibly more than a thousand, Labour members since he began campaigning for the mayoral office in June 2010.

And since there are fewer than 4,000 Labour members in Birmingham, it could be very rewarding indeed to organise one-to-one meetings with getting on for half of the membership in the run-up to the May referendum which will decide whether the city is to be governed by a mayor.

The question is, how has Mr Simon been able to identify and reach so many individual members?

It is said that Edgbaston MP Mrs Stuart and her supporters suspect foul play in the shape of a Labour party membership list that has somehow found its way into the hands of Mr Simon’s backers – something that supporters of Mr Simon vehemently deny.

One veteran Labour member in Birmingham told us that Mrs Stuart has compiled a 13-point report condemning Mr Simon’s campaigning methods.

It is impossible to say whether some or indeed any of this is true given the refusal of Mr Simon and Mrs Stuart to comment publicly on the issue.

Asked whether she had already filed a complaint, or intended to do so, Mrs Stuart issued the following Delphic message by text to the Chamberlain Files: “I will answer for my campaign. Other candidates have to answer for theirs.”

Who can say whether the use of candidates plural was deliberate, or accidental?

I asked the West Midlands Reigonal Labour Party for a comment, but none was forthcoming as this post was published.

Meanwhile, friends of Mr Simon are keen to explain privately just how the former MP has been able to gain access to so many party members. Hard work and dogged determination is the answer rather than anything underhand, they insist.

One colleague said it would be relatively easy to compile a list in the low hundreds simply by starting with the 56 Labour city councillors and their families. And since Mr Simon has been on the campaign trail for more than 18 months, he will have spoken at many Labour branch and ward meetings across Birmingham, where he will have been able to talk to scores of party members and build up an impressive contacts list.

One of Mr Simon’s closest supporters admitted that the former MP was aware of a “hint” that Mrs Stuart was unhappy, but he did not know whether the two had discussed the matter.

The word coming from Mr Simon’s camp is that Mrs Stuart’s supporters are beginning to panic because her campaign has failed to break out of her Edgbaston heartlands. Accusing your opponent of foul play is the oldest trick in the book and usually backfires, they claim.

Sir Albert Bore, the third Labour mayoral contender and leader of the city council opposition group, will undoubtedly be looking on with interest.

He might also be asking some questions about communication issues as the May council elections and mayoral referendum draw ever closer. Or, should that be a lack of communication?

The Chamberlain Files has discovered that a major policy pledge campaign launch by Mr Simon clashed with a planned localisation and devolution press briefing by Sir Albert, with neither side being aware of what the other side was doing until very late in the day. Sir Albert’s launch has been postponed by a week because of the “difficulty of getting everyone together”.

On its own, this is not a major incident. But the mix-up will add strength to concerns about an apparent lack of joined up thinking between Mr Simon’s campaign and Sir Albert’s joint bid to become city council leader in May and elected mayor in November.

You might imagine that the two would at least try to work together, since Mr Simon stands to inherit six months’ worth of Sir Albert’s policies if he does succeed in becoming mayor.

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