SO Camden’s Labour group meets tomorrow night to sort out the sale of the Town Hall annexe and the building of new offices next to St Pancras International? It’s a bit of a see-saw. There were members who were for the project, then put off it by recent discussions and now as recently this week have decided to offer their support again. A handful are said to be still dithering over who to side with. For some of the group’s leaders, meanwhile, there is still some surprise that it has blown up as an issue after months of meetings and briefings.
Council officers working on the move gave another briefing to Labour councillors this week with an emphasis, I’m told, on the ‘there is no alternative’ line. Some members may just dodge the vote on what to do next by not showing up tomorrow night, don’t expect the full 30 in attendance. Apologies have already been advanced. The leadership may just have enough numbers in what remains to quell the rebellion.
If it does, however, it will do so with the warning that building new headquarters in King’s Cross against a backdrop of cuts will amount to ‘electoral suicide’. That’s is still not the view at the top. In an email to members sent last week, slipped into the Camleaks dropbox, finance chief Councillor Theo Blackwell sets out the potential risk for the party – but advises them to press ahead with the work:
This is a tough political call, no one is saying it is not. I have been clear from the start and that’s why I thought group made a wise, yet difficult, decision to proceed based on full information. However, critics of the scheme do make it more of a political issue by taking internal discussions outside of the Group so the issue becomes self-fulfilling. I can’t see the good politics in that. Moreover, there is political liability in not making efficiencies. The council would have to rework its captial programme (as more money would have to be spend on offices under alternative proposals, draining cash from schools) and efficiency savings from modernisation would be diminished or be nil, meaning further cuts to frontline services would be inevitable.
Residents would question the ability of the Labour Group and cabinet to make difficult decisions and meet the financial challenge. Poltiical priorities for the Group would be questioned internally, as the ability of group members to see through decisions – Community Investment Programme, Estate Regeneration- would also be open to question. The question would then be whether the Labour Group wants to make big decisions for Camden’s future, or wants to remain in power. It is totally possible to do both but by dodging big decisions because they are too big will leave us exposed that all we stand for is remaining in power.
He later adds:
In my view the issue has been remarkably uncontroversial in the community compared to other decisions made.