THE thinning down of the Conservative group in Camden at May’s council elections was illustrated in physical terms at Monday’s all member meeting. The loss of seats in Belsize and Swiss Cottage, plus two apologies for absence, meant new leader Oliver Cooper’s group no longer needed the back row.
With three new faces only just at the start of their council lives, Cllr Cooper may have forgiven team-mates for boobing the convention of applauding your leader’s speech. He had put so much gusto into his statement that it could only be described as Philpesque, but when he sat down nobody clapped. It was accidental, not malicious.
The only Tory survivor from the time before the elections was Gio Spinella however, and wags on the other side of the room were making their own lines up about why the ousted former leader, if that’s not too strong a word, was staring into the long distance when Cllr Cooper finished up. The marble etchers still do not seem to have decided whether his three month stint as leader should be carved into the wall of fame on the civic floor. That roll is still stuck on Claire-Louise Leyland, who stepped down from the council in May and seems like a woman relieved to have escaped full council meetings every time you bump into her now.
Some Tories, when there were more, used to grumble that Ms Leyland was too soft on the Labour administration, often offering to work with rather than against the council’s leaders, and wrapping criticism in considered speeches alien to the easily-quotable style of Cllr Cooper. And yet here Cllr Cooper was at his first real full council meeting as leader and immediately full of similarly open, collegiate sentiments. It was time to work together on some issues, he suggested, after celebrating how everybody had, as far as we know, been unified in repulsion for the visiting US Presidents Donald Trump last week.
Perhaps fatigued by being characterised as more of a bulldog leader before his turn has even begun, or by Labour’s favourite nickname, ‘one of the Brexit boys’, or maybe realistic about what a group of seven members can now do, Cllr Cooper had a comradely invitation to the hulk of Labour councillors overcrowding the other side of the chamber.
“We on the Conservative benches love our borough but we also want to stretch out a hand to those on the opposite benches, whether on the cabinet or otherwise, whether they are working with us or accusing us of having had Botox [in-joke with Awale Olad], for the next four years,” he said. “For the next four years, the Conservatives will stand tall offering a vibrant alternative, working with everyone, whatever party they are from or no party at all, to make sure we work for the betterment of our borough.”