MERIC Apak will join the Labour cabinet Town Hall. As suggested on these pages before, he is the only Labour councillor to have put himself forward for a promotion at next week’s annual general meeting.
By all accounts, he wants the housing portfolio and seems like an obvious choice to replace Julian Fulbrook, who departs the top table on his free will. It’s one in, one out, but in terms of who gets what jobs that’s not how the jigsaw is put together these days at the Town Hall. The unopposed council leader Sarah Hayward will decide how to deploy her senior colleagues across the cabinet, so Meric must wait and see whether his wish comes true. The rest will also be waiting nervously for that vacancy to be clarified because, despite Meric’s apparent enthusiasm for the role and the obvious importance of the job, a lot of councillors see being chosen to be Executive Member of Housing as a bit of hospital pass.
After all, whoever Sarah picks for housing must prepare themselves for late night phone calls about rubbish repair jobs from angry tenants and face the fire that can breathe through the district management committee meetings. The council’s housing chief also has to front rent rises and extra demands through service charges. For this reason, some at the top are desperate for Meric to be plugged straight in, rather than being handed this fate themselves.
While the lack of stampede for cabinet places will no doubt be sold as some form of recognition for those who already sit on it, there is no rush for the role of group chairman either. In fact nobody at all has put them forward for that job and councillors were told on Saturday will have to elect one on the night at the AGM.
In the same circular, Labour members learned that, while there will be no blood on the carpet in terms of cabinet places, there will be two internal jousts for key chairmanships of committee meetings. Oliver Lewis will take on Jenny Headlam-Wells to run the children, school and family scrutiny committee, while Maeve McCormack is challenging Abdul Quadir to be boss of the Audit Committee, the panel which looked into the issue of staff pay-offs which has become more sensitive as the year has gone on. The latter contest has caused the greater stir and a fair bit of anger among the old Tulipista wing of the party, who often cast Maeve as being loyally Haywardite. It should be said here that there’s two sides to that story, and many of the councillors would ask what’s wrong with being loyal to the leader of the group when you are trying to move the council forward. Old tensions, old scores, die hard.
It’s contests like this which make some old Labour hands think that the party almost has too many councillors, if that could ever be possible for a political council group. Certainly, it makes it harder for the leadership to keep everybody happy. The question has arisen before as to whether there are enough jobs and roles to satisfy the pack of 40 who broke records with their success at last year’s council elections. It’s a nice headache to have, I guess, but the nature of it all means nobody can seek further responsibility without somebody else losing out and, at the very least, feelings being hurt. The most ambitious councillors without a cabinet portfolio sometimes talk about executive members bed-blocking the top jobs on the grounds of their unmatched experience.
Abdul, a retired accountant and former mayor, took up the audit role after the sad death of Peter Brayshaw just before Christmas and his supporters say his work has not been fully appreciated and that he warrants at least another year in the role. For her part, Maeve insists in her application for the role: “I’m a team player who is not seeking to take on this role for personal glory but rather to work with fellow councillors to ensure Camden Council promotes fairness in everything it does.”