THE bonhomie of the mayor-making ceremony – champers with raspberry in the flutes, a chicken and apricot tagine, and lemon merinques, since you ask – is beginning to fade after the penny dropped that a former Labour candidate has been gifted a new role in the council set-up.
Sorin Floti, who missed out on being elected to the council when Flick Rea held her ground in Fortune Green earlier this month, has been co-opted as Camden Council’s ‘EU Citizens’ Champion. The role is not paid, but the most suspicious backbenchers note that it can provide some helpful profile for a budding politicians who may be seeking election to office in the coming years – say, if a by-election comes up.
How could anybody think such a thing about the role, the leadership line goes, when Roger Freeman – the former Conservative councillor who stepped down at the election – has been similarly brought in to be the council’s ‘Heritage Champion’. Mr Freeman, of course, was always seen as an unconfrontational Tory with a fair play approach and special interest in planning, and so is greeted as an easy choice for Labour’s champion-makers aiming to signal even-handedness to the play by also appointing a Tory.
There is a little bit of mock-surprise that any of this has caused any controversy. Any form of patronage always causes some ripples from the opposition and internal critics. In the case of Mr Floti, this is magnified because of the differences of opinion in Labour’s broad church; Baftas for anybody in the local party who can say they don’t recognise any personal and political divisions with a straight face.
The fact the appointments were only delivered in paper form at Wednesday’s annual meeting, rather than being officially announced has only played into the scepticism the appointment. The Lib Dems – this being their self-declared specialist subject after all – want to know more about the leader-picks process. For those not following the paperwork, the decision got more of a reaction when Labour whip Councillor Lazzaro Pietragnoli started tweeting about it, and an online to-and-fro has been pickling.
The left-wing of the Labour Party, meanwhile, say they have a familiar feeling that they have been ignored, as Nayra Bello O’Shanahan, a new councillor in Swiss Cottage, would have generally been its first choice. Not that she’s making a fuss about it, but like Mr Floti had done, she had campaigned to be a voice for EU nationals during the election campaign.
Instead she has been posted as Camden’s mental health champion; a position which we are told required councillor-level representation.
The view that leader Georgia Gould has her favourites nevertheless was being pushed behind the scenes yesterday with the reminder that Fortune Green had been chosen above all other wards for the eve-of-election grandstand visit of London Mayor Sadiq Khan. This is all flatly refuted, and the leadership talk of Camden’s recent history of appointing its champions in similar ways.
The idea of leader-appointed czars, however, may sit uneasily with Cllr Gould’s attempts at progressive and inclusive reforms to the way the Town Hall operates, and as such the ‘it’s always been done like this’ response is not completely calming the waters this time.
Cllr Gould has been more willing to change things than some past leaders; look at the way she is tackling the ineffective full council meetings which lay broken for so many years with nobody seemingly willing to do anything about them, for example. As I understand it, she is telling anybody who raises the way Camden’s champions are appointed, that she would be happy for the Labour group to discuss and decide together whether if should be altered for next year.
Full list of champions
Community Engagement Champion – Councillor Nasim Ali
Living Wage Champion – Councillor Ranjit Singh
Armed Forces Champion – Councillor Heather Johnson
Cycling Champion – Councillor Julian Fulbrook
Children’s Champion – Councillor Nazma Rahman
Heritage Champion – (co-opted) Roger Freeman
Older people’s Champion – Councillor Alison Kelly
Gender Equality Champion – (co-opted) Helene Reardon Bond
EU Citizens Champion – (co-opted) Sorin Floti
Homeless People Champion – Councillor Richard Cotton
Disability Oversight Panel:
Disability Champion (Chair) – Councillor Roger Robinson
Carers Champion -& Learning Disability Champion (Vice-Chair) – Councillor Larraine Revah
Mental Health Champion – Councillor Nayra Bello O’Shanahan
Deaf and hard of hearing Champion – Councillor Simon Pearson
Visually Impaired Champion – tbc