CAMDEN Labour should get their cuts budget through the full council meeting tonight, although councillors will have to do so by avoiding opposition traps set in advance and to a din of protest outside the Town Hall.
But what will happen to the Labour group afterwards? The gossip mill is becoming too loud to ignore.
On March 7, councillors will meet privately and discuss whether they should carry on with the same personnel in the ‘cabinet’ of senior councillors. Notably, there will be a vote beforehand on how this top table should be chosen and there could be a return to the old internal vote for positions. Those private ballots used to be pretty bloody affairs and this will immediately make a few of the faces vulnerable to a challenge.
And as affable and admired as he is, Camden leader Nasim Ali would not be immune. A strong performance in the budget debate (he didn’t too badly at cabinet last week) tonight is needed to quieten the doubters on the back seats.
One of the advantages he has is that Baroness Warsi’s comments about his leadership recently has brought colleagues out to defend him. They enjoyed the way he popped at Samantha Cameron over the future of the Surma Centre. Another is there is no obvious challenger to him within the group, constructed by last May’s council elections triumph.
There are competent politicians in the pack, but there is a big jump from that to taking on the leadership. To come through, you have to combine ruthlessness with friendly support. Angela Mason is said to have lost points in some quarters for not supporting the idea of a Free School in Wren Street – many Labour councillors think they should stick to the principle of opposing Michael Gove’s policy even if it means families in the south of the borough have to wait longer for a new secondary school. Theo Blackwell puts the hours in but has always been a divisive, Marmitey character among his colleagues. Tulip Siddiq is considered too green. Julian Fulbrook apparently ‘too busy’. Sue Vincent too focused on the south of the borough. Sarah Hayward too [nobody has explained this one to me].
Those dithering like David Miliband over whether to throw their hats into the ring must also think of the consequences of challenging Nash. He is genuinely admired beyond the front door of the Town Hall for the way he has thrown himself into council life, first as Mayor and then as leader. He is a role model and commands huge respect in his ward, Regent’s Park. There would be a PR battle for Camden’s Labour Party in certain neighbourhoods if it was to switch leaders.
That said, three separate Labour party sources however have told me that the idea is up for discussion. It isn’t a new thing, in fact these kind of challenges come with the territory of being leader. Keith Moffitt and Andrew Marshall both had to see off mini-rebellions when in charge of the Lib Dem and Conservative coalition that ran Camden between 2006-2010. It is also recognised coming through this turbulence can actually make a leader stronger. Nevertheless, make your mind up time draws closer.