THEY’VE got reet flashy up at the Camden Town Hall and begun calling what was the executive – the table of ten most senior councillors – by the new name of: The Cabinet. That’s The Cabinet, yeah? Like grown up politicians. Important.
And last night The Cabinet met for the first meeting of The Cabinet at Camden Town Hall. Pfff, clearly thought Conservative councillor Andrew Mennear, back in opposition after a taste of power in a coaliton administration that managed just one term. Big grin, he claimed it to be a historic night as The Cabinet had never met before, his comments loaded high with patronising mickey-take.
As he watched and intersped with a mix of mockery and menace, you got the impression that Cllr Mennear almost prefers the freedom of opposition, unshackled from the fatiguing post of education supremo. His routine peaked for the gigglers when he said the “eco-champion – I won’t mention his name” had left ‘a large hat size to fill rather than big shoes’. Watching on the webcast, Alexis Rowell would have sighed, he’s heard all of the ‘eco champion’ jokes before. His know how and know all has gone elsewhere.
Mennear was joined by Lib Dems Flick Rea and Chris Naylor in the outer ring. Maya De Souza was there too. As a lone Green, she will quickly become exhausted if she tries to tackle every meeting. Worthy commitment though – she reminded me it was the Greens who had started all this Living Wage talk at Camden Town Hall a few years back when it was discovered cleaners were on a pittance. Meanwhile, up in the public gallery – who was that? New Conservative councillor for Belsize, Claire-Louise Leyland was scribbling away. You don’t have to sit in the Luby seats. “It’s a different view of it all up there,” she explained later. She wants to explore every corner of this Town Hall. It’ll be interesting to see what she finds.
But what of the main players in The Cabinet. Newbies Tulip Siddiq and Sarah Hayward barely whispered a word – the latter might have been exhausted by reading out her job title, Cabinet Member for Community, Regeneration and Equalities – but the rest all chipped in, probably all keen to trumpet and protect the departments they represent in the knowledge that tough times are ahead. Nobody wants their share to be hit worst and each will have to keep shouting for weeks, maybe months. The missing man from The Cabinet was Theo Blackwell, him again. The finance man was down with the flu on the first day of discussions about the wave after wave of cuts expected to bash the Town Hall. He is playing in the John Mills role, a key inside forward for leader Nash Ali to call upon. But in his absence, Angela Mason, the deputy leader, looked like Nash’s closest lieutenant. ‘She’s inspirational’, he told the chamber. Twas true, she genuinely looked like she had been on that front bench for 20 years – not three weeks.
All in all, Nash will happy with his first outing. He looked confident in the chair. That job will get far, far tougher when deputations, most likely made up of people who have seen a service important to them lose council funding in the coming months, begin knocking on the chamber’s double doors Like a football manager, he kept the team locked in a meeting afterwards to talk tactics in private, half an hour of more briefings and discussion. They will need this kind of unity – not always the first thing you associate with Labour’s past executives – if they are to dodge the volleys from Mennear and Co over the next four years. They won’t always be so jovially put.