LITTLE more than three months after putting together her first cabinet as Camden Council leader Georgia Gould has the job of patching up a new one after one executive member took a job which restricted him from some of his duties, while two big hitters, Theo Blackwell and Phil Jones, have decided their futures lie elsewhere. Cllr Hai does not see anything wrong – and let’s be clear, he has broken no rules – about working both for Market Tech, the company behind the huge redevelopment site near Camden Lock, and on the cabinet. Cllr Blackwell has gone for the £107,000-a-year job as Sadiq Khan’s ‘chief digital officer‘. Cllr Jones wants to concentrate on his new life as a planner.
The situation means that backbenchers who have felt the possibilities for promotion have been limited due to more experienced councillors (unintentionally) bedblocking the cabinet positions can come out of the shadows without feeling like they are outwardly challenging members who have served dutifully for several years. It is also, however, a pretty swift test of Cllr Gould’s publicly-shared view that the cabinet should be drawn together from people allied to different wings of the ruling Labour Party, a coalition which would aid her attempts to shed the catch-all personal label, perpetuated by national press profiles during the Chalcots crisis, of her being a centrist, moderniser, Blairite, or so on.
Backstage there have already been gruff claims that this pledge would essentially prove to be a false dawn when the first names to be circulated as potential candidates over the bank holiday weekend were councillors Danny Beales (pictured) and Adam Harrison, two councillors loyal to former leader Sarah Hayward who have previously (pre-GE2017) called on Jeremy Corbyn to step down as the party’s national leader. Meanwhile, several Labour councillors were predicting yesterday that Richard Olszewski, another Corbyn sceptic already serving in the cabinet, is the most likely pick for Cllr Gould when she decides who should replace Cllr Blackwell as Camden’s finance chief, perhaps the second most powerful political position at the Town Hall. She will shuffle the pack in terms of portfolios a little when she knows who she actually has alongside her on the front bench.
While the interest of Cllr Beales and Cllr Harrison was described in some quarters as a possible ‘coronation to the cabinet’, this view was contradicted by more persuasive briefings which said the field would widen before new cabinet elections on September 11 – and that there will be a need for a vote. It’s moving quite fast, and by the time you read this more names may have been confirmed. Oliver Lewis, seen by some as an underused talent, could presumably be tempted to throw his hat into ring while Awale Olad and Lady Alison Kelly’s long sentences on the scrutiny committees provide them with a strong case to take to colleagues, if their interest has been piqued.
There are others too who feel a bit more responsibility is overdue after the near-static cabinets of the last five years and remember a lot of the loyalty and division inside Camden’s Labour group in recent years has been based on personality rather than national politics. There is a rump of councillors, as funny as it may sound, who do not define themselves as either Blairites or Corbynistas. As such, it’s not such a riddle to find a a couple of councillors who clearly saw the leadership contest between Cllr Hayward and Sally Gimson last May in totally different terms to Cllr Beales but would support him due to his work on scrutiny.
Members more enthusiastic to Corbyn’s leadership, however, will surely feel the pressure to test Cllr Gould’s invitation to create a broad church cabinet by actually having riders in the race, which brings into play the Kilburn councillors Thomas Gardiner, Douglas Beattie and Maryam Eslamdoust. There has been a fear factor about standing and losing among some left-wingers in the past, but with two spots available it might look worse if nobody showed an interest now.
“I want to encourage an open competition,” said Cllr Gould in an email explainer to the group over the weekend. “I want to encourage an open competition. If anyone in group has ideas to contribute to cabinet then please put yourself forward. It’s always hard to have elections among friends and colleagues but we are a better cabinet because we are democratically elected by our group members. I want us to be able to have an open election and then move forward together.”