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Field day for Kremlinologists as annual Labour bun fight to decide who runs Birmingham gets underway

Field day for Kremlinologists as annual Labour bun fight to decide who runs Birmingham gets underway

🕔02.Jun 2014

Cover Image: Midland Heart Youtube

The annual bun fight for positions of power and influence, not to mention substantial financial rewards, takes place tonight as Labour councillors meet to appoint and elect a leadership team to run Birmingham.

As many as 26 paid positions, ranging from cabinet and scrutiny committee appointments to membership of transport and police boards, are up for grabs in a contest that will be watched even more eagerly than usual for patterns of the eternal struggle for control among the top ranks of Birmingham Labour Party.

The biggest surprise of all could be the appointment of a relatively low profile councillor to the cabinet following the re-election of Sir Albert Bore as Birmingham city council leader.

Peter Griffiths, a former social worker, who has chaired the Northfield District Committee since Labour regained control of the council in 2012, is being tipped for promotion.

Cllr Griffiths, once assistant to former Yardley MP Estelle Morris and a former international athlete, has put himself forward for selection and, perhaps significantly, says he does not wish to continue chairing the Northfield committee.

The choice of cabinet positions lies entirely in the hands of Sir Albert, while district committee and scrutiny committee chairs have to be voted for by Labour councillors. Sir Albert can also appoint regulatory committee chairs as well as members of the various West Midlands joint boards, giving him substantial powers of patronage.

Should Cllr Griffiths not be appointed to the cabinet, he would revert to the backbenches and lose a £10,574 special responsibility allowance.

If he does get the job, with an £18,000 pay rise, his appointment would raise fresh criticism of the Birmingham cabinet as largely populated by middle aged white males, with only one BME representative, Tahir Ali.

Erdington district committee chair Penny Holbrook is also a favourite for promotion, with speculation that Sir Albert will enlarge his cabinet from eight to nine or 10 members.

All existing cabinet members have re-applied for their jobs. There is one vacancy following the defeat of Steve Bedser at last month’s council elections.

As well as Cllr Griffiths, five other councillors have applied for a cabinet position. They are Ian Cruise (Longbridge), Penny Holbrook (Stockland Green) Tony Kennedy (Sparkbrook), Majid Mahmood (Hodge Hill) and Lisa Trickett (Moseley & Kings Heath).

The shape of Sir Albert’s new team will be decided at a Labour group meeting tonight.

Results are bound to be closely scanned by ‘Kremlinoligists’ for signs of shifting sands following Sir Albert’s bruising battle for the council leadership with backbencher John Clancy. Sir Albert retained the leadership by 57 votes to 27, giving Clancy 36 per cent of votes cast.

Special attention will be paid to positions that have to be voted for by the Labour group. A year ago, backers of Cllr Clancy picked up a surprising number of scrutiny committee chairs against candidates believed to be supporters of Sir Albert.

Applications by Labour councillors for cabinet, scrutiny, regulatory and district committee chairs were described by one insider as similar to a game of three-dimensional chess. The applications had to be submitted before the Bore-Clancy election run-off, leaving councillors to make a judgment on who the council leader might be.

Some councillors have applied for a range of the paid positions in the hope that they will get something, if not the post they really wanted.

Cabinet member Stewart Stacey has put his name forward for scrutiny committee chairs as well as his cabinet position, according to an insider.

Success, or failure, will have substantial financial repercussions. Cabinet posts attract a £28,000 salary on top of the £16,267 basic pay for a backbencher. Scrutiny committee chairs receive £12,689 on top of the basic compared to £10,574 for district committee chairs.

All eyes will be on what appears to be a tough struggle by Labour veteran Carl Rice to hang on to the chairmanship of the main scrutiny committee. He is being challenged by Washwood Heath councillor Ansar Ali Khan, who chairs the Hodge Hill District Committee.

Cllr Ali Khan’s name emerged as a possible cabinet member last week during behind the scenes horse-trading during the council leadership election. Reports suggested Sir Albert would offer Ali Khan a place at his top table in return for his support. However, the idea appears to have been dropped apparently following opposition from other Asian councillors.

It would be a major shock if Cllr Ali Khan succeeded in ousting Cllr Rice. However, if most of the councillors who backed Sir Albert for council leader vote for Ali Khan, he will easily beat Rice.

Rice has invested in an insurance policy, putting himself forward as chair of Ladywood district committee should he be ousted as chair of the main scrutiny committee. Cllr Ziaul Islam has also put himself forward as Ladywood district chair.

Should Cllr Ali Khan succeed in winning the chairmanship of the main scrutiny committee, his position as chair of Hodge Hill district committee could be the subject of a two-way fight between Cllr Anita Ward and Cllr Miriam Khan, who is Cllr Ali Khan’s niece.

However, if Cllr Ward is successfully returned as chair of the education scrutiny committee, she will withdraw her application to chair Hodge Hill district committee.

One of the younger Labour councillors, Josh Jones, a left-winger, will become chair of Erdington district committee if Penny Holbrook gets in the cabinet.

Chairmanship of the Northfield district committee will go to Cllr Brett O’Reilly.

Yvonne Mosquito, who is the West Midlands deputy police and crime commissioner, has decided against continuing as chair of the Ladywood district committee.

Quinton councillor Caroline Badley has been replaced as Labour campaigns officer by Sutton councillor Rob Pocock.

If you want to see a copy of RJF’s Briefing Paper on the future of Labour leadership in Birmingham or our series of Insights on who runs Greater Birmingham, including the next Birmingham City Council cabinet, please contact Benjamin.Mulvihill@rjfpa.com . 

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