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The secret diary of a Birmingham council leadership election

The secret diary of a Birmingham council leadership election

🕔15.Oct 2015

You may have heard, there’s going to be an election to choose the next leader of Birmingham city council. But don’t get too excited, not just anyone can join in. This is going to be an exclusive affair, writes Paul Dale.

Sometime towards the end of November, on a date yet to be determined, an electorate of 78 Labour councillors will assemble behind closed doors to take part in a secret ballot to decide who gets to lead a city of 1.1 million people.

There are no runners and riders as yet because the Labour party has asked candidates not to declare themselves until after October 20, presumably to leave the stage clear for Sir Albert Bore, who is standing down as leader, to chair his final cabinet meeting unimpeded by grubby electioneering.

And when candidates do eventually confirm that they are standing, do not expect widespread public engagement, media interviews, even hustings, because Labour views this type of election as internal party business and discourages participants from going around Birmingham whipping up a campaign.

Any exchange of views between those in the running to be council leader, or questioning that does take place, is likely to occur behind closed doors, well away from the prying media.

Technically, pedantically, Labour is right. This is an election to choose the leader of the Labour group of city councillors, not the leader of the council. The leader of the council will be elected at the December meeting of the city council, where the electorate will jump to 120.

It is, of course, far from an internal party matter. Electing the leader of Birmingham is a big deal and if we had a city mayor then everyone on the electoral register would get a vote – about 750,000 people would have an opportunity to participate, if they chose to do so.

Our friends over at Paradise Circus are exercised about the lack of democracy behind the election of what they describe as potentially the “third most important figurehead in the country after the PM and London Mayor.” They have set up a petition calling on candidates to:

  • produce and publish a plain English manifesto with your vision for Birmingham and how you’d get there
  • commit to open hustings
  • talk to the public directly, your national party’s leadership understands the power of social media — use it.

In reality, given Labour’s huge majority in the council chamber, the leader of the Labour group and the leader of the council are one and the same person.

But we are where we are, and the fact is that the next Birmingham city council leader has to gain votes from 40 Labour colleagues to cross the winning post. Victory may even prove to be a short term triumph for the Labour group’s AGM is looming next May where whoever does become leader could be challenged, and if history is anything to go by very likely will be challenged for the job.

Based on information from impeccable sources, a few Chinese whispers, and good old fashioned guess work, Chamberlain Files has put together an early running list of who we think the candidates will be. The list has been approved by a panel of experts and odds given to each candidate by a senior Labour figure in Birmingham with many years of experience who, unsurprisingly, wishes to remain anonymous.

We will update the list regularly, but here’s the first version straight from the horse’s mouth:

Ian Ward                2/1

John Clancy          4/1

Penny Holbrook  8/1

Lisa Trickett          10/1

Majid Mahmood  20/1

Seems a little unfair on poor old Mahmood, but there we go.

Some breaking news suggests that Cllr Trickett has told colleagues her big idea for solving the council’s financial problems is to raise money through a congestion charge on motorists driving into the city centre. If this is true, and we will willingly publish Cllr Trickett’s denial if she wishes to issue one, then the odds on her winning the leadership contest will have to be lengthened considerably, pushing her to rank outsider along with Majid Mahmood.

Meanwhile, another senior Labour figure in Birmingham, who wishes to remain anonymous (anonymity is a running theme here) has contacted Chamberlain Files to insist the election will be a two horse race between Clancy and veteran councillor Mike Leddy.

The source goes on to state that there is “no market for Ward”, who is seen to have “bottled out” of challenging Sir Albert earlier in the year. The “Boreites will coalesce around Leddy”, the source confidently predicts.

This theory is based on the assumption that there remains a group of highly organised and determined supporters of Sir Albert Bore prepared to form a resistance group to fight on and will never surrender while their leader remains a member of the city council.

Personally, I think there’s more chance of Shergar being spotted trotting down Colmore Row than there is of Mike Leddy becoming the leader of Birmingham city council, but what do I know? (not a lot apparently. Ed.)

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