LABOUR councillors met for their regular group meeting last night and found themselves disagreeing about when and how their crunch AGM will be run; all of them, of course, knowing that Sally Gimson will soon make an official declaration that she will challenge Sarah Hayward’s leadership. If the result of the contest to come was a foregone conclusion, then maybe there would not have been such a messy pre-match discussion. But the numbers are apparently tight, and it has been said that somebody being off skiing or sipping Pina Coladas on a beach or whatever councillors do on their hols at the wrong moment could affect the final outcome.
The meeting will take place on Tuesday May 2, just two days before the mayoral and London elections. It was, however, argued last night that everybody would – or at least, should – be out campaigning for Sadiq Khan that week and it was suggested Camden’s group meeting should instead be pushed back to the following Saturday. This met with dislike from members who said they had booked holidays and weekend breaks to coincide with the end of the City Hall campaign, and the original date was retained. The only concession was that the AGM will begin at 8.30pm, instead of 7pm, so the members who want to go on the knocker for Sadiq can do that beforehand.
There is a bit of game-playing to all of this. Sally supporters are wary of getting the blame for staging an internal fight night two days before wider elections, an accusation of wilful disunity which was already being floated by a couple of Sarah’s loyalists last night. Sarah’s backers are in turn refusing to be blamed for not allowing the meeting be re-scheduled until after London goes to the polls. The truth is both sides want the meeting to be held when most of their own supporters will be able to attend.
If last night was shadow-boxing, or a test of the water before Sally declares and the contest goes ahead, Sarah’s camp will be happy that a move to change the way cabinet positions are selected was efficiently doused. But her team are surely now aware of the danger and the possibilities ahead; some councillors apparently stayed behind for a private chat in a committee room after the meeting, while a request for ballot papers to be put into an actual box on the night of the vote, rather than simply into the hands of tellers, revealed some more of the underlying suspicion and tension behind it all.