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Is Sir Albert Bore planning a ‘Birmingham night of the short knives’ cabinet reshuffle?

Is Sir Albert Bore planning a ‘Birmingham night of the short knives’ cabinet reshuffle?

🕔03.Apr 2014

Labour councillors in Birmingham are gripped by re-shuffle fever, a seasonal condition created by unsubstantiated rumours that city leader Sir Albert Bore is going to take a scalpel to his cabinet.

Chamberlain Files has heard how, in a flurry of emails, backbench councillors are openly speculating over who might be the victim of what would surely amount to a ‘night of the short knives’.

The possibility of Sir Albert re-arranging his top team is driven by several factors.

There is the impending Labour leadership election on May 31 when Sir Albert will be challenged by Quinton councillor John Clancy. Last year Clancy secured 23 votes, amounting to almost a third of the group, and the smart money for 2014 is on that figure rising to the high twenties, or possibly even 30.

Against this backdrop, it is supposed, Sir Albert might benefit from a dynamic cabinet re-shuffle which could be announced shortly before the leadership election. This would give the impression of the leader ‘taking control’.

Other factors causing uncertainty include the February Kingstanding by-election, which Labour managed to lose to Tory candidate Gary Sambrook. This has triggered a certain amount of panic among the comrades, with various councillors fearing that if this sort of thing can happen in Kingstanding, it can happen anywhere.

There is also the ongoing drama over the appalling state of Birmingham children’s social services, with the department now being overseen by a Government-appointed Commissioner. This arrangement may be the precursor to something even more radical – removing entirely the council’s right to run children’s social services directly. Such an outcome would be a humiliating blow for Labour politicians who are hard-wired to believe that local government should be administering social services.

Finally, and most amusingly, councillors were gripped this week by a claim that Sir Albert has been ordered by the Labour Party to make sure his cabinet has a 50-50 split between men and women. If this was actually true it would involve sacking three men and appointing three women.

Unfortunately, I have to report that the 50-50 claim arose from an April Fool Tweet by the blogger Politics in Brum. It was a rather good joke since this is exactly the sort of thing you might suppose Labour would do if it was serious about equality. But there are no such plans, sadly.

One aspect of this not generally understood is that Sir Albert is the first council leader since the committee system was abolished in 2001 to have unfettered power to hire and fire the cabinet. During his first period of council leadership, 1999-2004, Sir Albert was denied the ability to appoint his team by the Labour group which insisted cabinet members must be elected.

This led to an annual bun fight and all manner of shenanigans with cabinet election results proving manna from heaven for Kremlinoligists intent on interpreting whether the results were favourable or unfavourable for Sir Albert. They were generally unfavourable, as it happens.

During the years of the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition, from 2004 to 2012, Conservative council leader Mike Whitby had the power to choose his half of the cabinet. But Liberal Democrat cabinet members were elected annually by the Liberal Democrat group of councillors.

In practice, Birmingham doesn’t really do cabinet reshuffles. Changes during the coalition years were few and far between, and Sir Albert has kept his cabinet intact since May 2012.

But if Sir Albert was inclined to shuffle the pack, who might be at risk?

Ian Ward  Deputy Leader. Absolutely safe. Joined to Albert at the hip, for richer or poorer. He will sink or swim with the council leader.

Brigid Jones  Children and Family Services. An entirely unexpected appointment by Sir Albert in 2012. Jones had little council experience and had not held high office before.  Could be a candidate for the chop given the state of children’s social services.

Stewart Stacey  Commissioning, Contracting and Improvement. Veteran councillor and one of the few ‘big beasts’ in Labour’s ranks. Has got to grips with a difficult portfolio after a stumbling start. Unlikely that Sir Albert would have reasons, or the inclination, to sack Stacey.

Tahir Ali  Development, Jobs and Skills. Ali’s made himself unpopular over stubborn resistance and refusal to admit he was wrong over the CCTV cameras and bus lanes farrago, which resulted in the council having to pay back fines to angry motorists. However, as the sole BME cabinet representative, surely Ali is fireproof.

James McKay  Green, Safe and Smart City. Another surprise appointment in 2012, given his inexperience. McKay has, so far, succeeded in pushing through the wheelie bin revolution without too many glitches. For that achievement alone, he’s probably safe.

Steve Bedser  Health and Wellbeing. Bedser has in some respects exceeded his portfolio, having been entrusted by Sir Albert to draw up a framework for implementing the ‘end of local government as we know it’ cuts. But some Labour councillors say Bedser is lining himself up for a crack at the council leadership. There’s a wicked rumour that he may have been one of two cabinet members supposed not to have voted for Sir Albert in last year’s leadership election, although there is no evidence to suggest this is based on anything more than tittle-tattle. Could be at risk of an early exit from the cabinet if Sir Albert wants to make a point.

John Cotton  Social Cohesion and Equalities. Cotton has not looked at ease in the cabinet since 2012. This may be partly explained by the fact that he has no department to run and little in the way of power despite being expected to play wide-ranging role chivvying along colleagues in the fight against deprivation and poverty. Cotton is the other councillor at the centre of claims that he may not have supported Sir Albert last year, although there is no evidence to suggest this is the case. Could be at risk.

And who might be knocking on the cabinet door?

Penny Holbrook Chairman of the Erdington District Committee. Passionate, outspoken defender of core Labour values. Could help Sir Albert redress the inequitable male-female cabinet split.

Lisa Trickett Chairman of the Districts and Public Engagement Scrutiny Committee. Intelligent, good speaker, fierce debater and long-time acquaintance of Sir Albert. Must be at the top of any list for new cabinet appointments. Would also give the cabinet a more balanced male-female split.

Anita Ward Chairman of the Education and Vulnerable Children Scrutiny Committee. Has been scathing behind the scenes in her criticism of the council’s failure to address problems in children’s social care, but in public remains a loyalist.

Waseem Zaffar Chairman of the Social Cohesion and Community Safety Committee. Another impressive scrutiny chairman. Hard working, clever and ambitious. But might be too closely aligned to Cllr Clancy for Sir Albert’s liking.

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