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Luck comes in threes for Labour in Birmingham

Luck comes in threes for Labour in Birmingham

🕔21.Sep 2017

A day that started with news the Improvement Panel would remain in place after a “serious setback” at Birmingham city council was followed by a failure at the High Court to overturn an injunction from Unite the union and ended with three councillors submitting their nominations to succeed John Clancy as Labour’s leader in the city, writes Kevin Johnson

Wednesday 20th September will go down as, if being charitable, an unlucky one for Birmingham city council and Birmingham Labour group.

Interim leader Ian Ward will face Barry Henley and Changese Khan in a contest for the leadership of the Birmingham Labour group.

The ballot will take place next Thursday evening, 28th September, at a meeting of the Birmingham Labour group.

On paper, it looks an easy win for the councillor who has served as deputy to the last two leaders.

But, these are not times of political certainty.

In the last leadership election, Cllr Henley secured one vote. Chamberlain Files is not absolutely certain if that single vote was cast by Mr Henley himself.

Changese Khan’s nomination is a surprise, but Chamberlain Files sources indicate he claims he has the backing of Unite’s General Secretary Len McCluskey as well as the party nationally and regionally.

His nomination may serve as a signal that more Asian councillors will come forward in future leadership elections.

Whilst there had been speculation the party would maintain an interim leader for a period to inject some calm, it seems the view has been taken the council needs a leader with a mandate from his group and the authority to get on with the job – not least in resolving the waste management dispute.

A council with both an interim leader and an interim chief executive would not demonstrate – to coin a phrase – a strong and stable organisation able to work through multiple challenges.

Labour sources indicated to Chamberlain Files they want a quick contest with a leader needed in place as soon as possible. Next week’s Labour Party Conference will, however, slow down the election meaning the election will take a week today.

A fast-tracked process also means that the wider public will effectively be shut out of the debate about who would make the best leader of Birmingham city council as it emerges from yet another crisis.

Last time around, RJF Public Affairs – publisher of the Chamberlain Filesorganised a high profile hustings event in partnership with the Birmingham Post and Mail. We also featured Secret Election Diary snippets of manifestos and campaign emails.

The price of having a leader with a mandate in place quickly looks to be public engagement and transparency.

Whoever is appointed in a week’s time may have a short-lived tenure. Another contest is likely to follow next May, when the Labour group could look quite different – and smaller – following the first all-out council election.

The u-turn by the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel, appointed by the Government followed the withering Kerslake Review, was the first of two hammer blows to John Clancy’s legacy as leader yesterday.

Cllr Clancy’s predecessor Sir Albert Bore had effectively lost his role due to a lack of progress in implementing the Kerslake reforms.

John Clancy had overseen the exit of the widely-liked Mark Rogers, the former chief executive, not least as there was deemed to be a lack of confidence in him delivering reforms and a budget.

Cllr Clancy’s main priority had been to demonstrate progress on Kerslake such that the Improvement Panel, backed by Government, would write their own redundancy notices.

The Improvement Panel remains. John Clancy is out of his job.

Cllr Clancy’s reputation was further tarnished at the High Court in London.

Mr Justice Fraser, delivering his verdict, said of Cllr Clancy and his officers:

Neither party comes out of this sorry saga with any credit at all – I could use the words remarkable, extraordinary and more.

The judge said Cllr Clancy’s “motivation was difficult to fathom.”

The court was read some email correspondence between John Clancy and both his officers and cabinet, first revealed by the Chamberlain Files.

Unite won the right for a full hearing of its case that the council acted unlawfully in issuing redundancy notices.

A trial will take place before the end of November.

In the meantime, the unions are stopping their industrial action.

Birmingham city council had tried to overturn the injunction on the basis a trial was not in the public interest. The judge did not accept that argument; the council has accepted the ruling.

In his interim ruling, pending the full case, Mr Justice Fraser dismissed the argument that Cllr Clancy had no authority to make a deal at Acas with Unite.

Cllr Clancy’s position that “there was no deal” and that it was simply an agreement to return to the negotiating table looks to have been shot to pieces.

The judge appeared to criticise officers as well as the ex-leader in their handling of the dispute. Unite has repeated its call for interim chief executive Stella Manzie to stand down. That request has been loudly rejected by interim leader Ian Ward and councillors across the party divide.

The judge has urged all sides to try and resolve the dispute ahead of an “expensive trial.”

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