IT has been an open secret at the Town Hall for some time that Nash Ali was unlikely to see out four years as leader of Camden Council, but the people who helped elevate him to the number one position have always believed this should have been his decision rather than that of his colleagues.
In a resignation letter not too hard to decode, he makes it clear he has been edged out of the hotseat before he would have wanted. “Sarah has now forced the issue,” he told members.
He then writes how he wants the group to avoid divisions and lasting scars with important elections ahead. The smoothest way to do that would be to hand Sarah the reins – ‘here you go’ – but it’s not as simple as that: Nash asks others, the ‘loyal’ members who refused to stand against him, to come forward and make a fight of it. There are at least two more names that instantly come to mind if a contest was to develop ahead of May 14.
For those who weren’t altogether tuned in (maybe they were busy doing constituency work) there is some surprise tonight that Sarah has ‘forced the issue’. Twice it has been remarked, privately, that she was only one vote or two away from losing her place on the cabinet at last year’s AGM, yet that less than ringing vote of confidence from colleagues has transformed into a tilt at the top job this time around. True, the landscape has changed and there have been friendlier relations in recent months. Some wounds have healed. But there is discomfort at the way this latest development has been handled. Last week Labour was agreeing ways to make their AGM less bloody. Now members could be split for the next few weeks over the most important position of all. And as, under the new rules, the new leader picks who will get the best jobs in the new cabinet at the Town Hall, it may become important for many to be seen picking the winner.
In the recent past we have had coronations in Camden’s Labour Party rather than contests – people stepped aside for Raj Chada in 2006. Nash is appearing to advocate the opposite, and asking for more faces to state their case.
Sarah is nothing if not ambitious. One colleague told me that they “admire her bravery” for taking on Nash this year, when risking upsetting his supporters and others who were aware he would be leaving next May annyway. Nash had also come into his own with his work with the community after last summer’s riots. He always seems more comfortable out and about, rather than in the council chamber.
“You have to make up your mind whether you want a grassroots campaigner as your leader or a policy wonk,” said a well placed source. “When the riots kicked off, Nash was good with the community but there are other issues that need tackling. It’s a hard call.”
Sarah has led the fightback against HS2, one of the most importat issues facing Camden, in recent weeks and is a hands-on executive member. She also took on Eric Pickles over the crisis at The People’s Supermarket. But will anybody take on her?