‘They’ll be preening like pigeons’: Leader handed power to choose her own cabinet

I’D almost forgotten the login for these pages but, hey, it’s not long until your favourite time of year: Camden Labour’s AGM.

The breaking news this time around, however, is that cabinet members will be spared going through internal elections for their posts. Instead, the group last night voted to move to a ‘leader selects’ system, where all of the power will be handed to Georgia Gould.

The move, a late notice motion tabled by Pat Callaghan ands Peter Taheri and supported 22 to 13 with one abstention, was instantly branded an attempt to ‘crush the left’ of the party, which even during Jeremy Corbyn’s strongest period has struggled to break through into positions of prominence at the Town Hall. The divisions within the Labour group led to the hiring of outside mediators last year.

Some of Cllr Gould’s supporters say that the switch will actually benefit the left-wingers in the group because of her let’s all be friends story. She did once sign a letter calling for Corbyn to step down, but had not been as openly scathing (or in some cases, vitriolic) in her criticism of his leadership than some of her local colleagues. The line goes that if she really wants to be seen as a unity leader she will not be able to, in the same breath, ignore applications from the left.

It’s a view which doesn’t wash with rebels who are already planning a challenge, possibly by asking higher authorities within the Labour Party to get involved with the claim that the manner in which the new system has been hustled in was ‘unconstitutional’.

There was a suggestion yesterday that if this complaint is pursed then somehow the local group could find itself placed under ‘special measures’. Gouldites say such brawling talk is far-fetched, but here is a change which is being sold as a salve for the in-fighting, a way of avoiding the bloodbaths (and blogging gossip) of AGMs past, but which may just serve to open up a new slog of a battle…depending on how far dissenters are willing to push it.

”This is a power grab, pure and simple,” said one of those opposed last night. “Rather than have a democratic vote on who we think has a good, clear vision for Camden or people who might bring in some badly-needed new ideas, the AGM will be a beauty parade. You will see councillors preening like pigeons trying to catch her eye.”

In another sign that this is in fact bad news for those who had been enthusiastic about Corbyn’s leadership, some centrists, if that’s the right the word, on the Whatsapp mill were bursting to explain how Thomas Gardiner had lost last night. To some, extent Cllr Gardiner has become their local bogeyman; his more outspoken comments recently about the need for the Community Investment Programme to be scrutinised has niggled the hell out of them. In reality, if the make-up of the cabinet does not change, then critics of the CIP will have narrowing options in terms of reforming which course Camden’s flagship policy takes.

Supporters of the motion argue that Camden is just moving to a system used by ruling Labour groups in lots of other areas… and by national government with the use of PM-ordered reshuffles.

One of the ironies in Camden is that Cllr Gould’s predecessor, Sarah Hayward, who was often cast as a more controlling leader never managed to achieve such powers. Now, Cllr Gould can claim firm control, even if she has some tough refereeing calls to make given she is accused by the right of being too convivial to the left and by the left of being too happily cuffed to the right.

Five or six councillors are rumoured to be ready to apply for an upgrade from the backbenches when the AGM eventually comes around. And these are believed to include people who actually voted in favour of the change to a leader selects model.

You couldn’t blame some bemused, or let us use the word suspicious, backbenchers from wondering why councillors who are not currently in the cabinet but clearly want to win a place in the cabinet would actively support the switch.

To end the infighting?

Because they don’t think they can win an  internal election?

Or because discussions have already been held backstage about who will win Cllr Gould’s favour? If it’s taken to be the latter, righty or wrongly, that’s how messy systems of perceived patronage can look from the cold side of the door.

Just as an aside, but one which may become more important down the line: there can still be elections for scrutiny committee chair posts and roles such as head of planning, licensing, etc.

Cllr Gould is open to challenge herself too… in theory. Everybody knows she has more than enough support within the group to put a successful coup at Leicester winning the Premier League type odds. Maybe that should be Arsenal winning the Premier League odds. Or QPR.

And that’s perhaps why from the outside, for people who don’t want to get into the standing orders or nitty gritty of Labour voting systems, it may look like a lock-up for a councillor who, by majority terms, is already the most powerfully-placed leader Camden has had in recent times.

Labour has, of course, already crashed the political opposition in Camden to create a majority in the council chamber so big that you forget some of its backbenchers are even there. They face just seven Tories, three Lib Dems and one Green, so the democratic system hangs on, apart from the local press, some healthy debate inside the ruling group and its cabinet.

But with that ‘debate’ inside the Labour Party more often an exhausting battle of wills (see a million previous blogposts), we’ll have to watch and wait to see whether Cllr Gould will uses her new golden touch to dig in, or to open it up.

 

 

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