Tony Newman, Croydon’s £55,546 council leader, can breathe easy again. Radical proposals to allow Labour Party members – yes, the members – to decide who is a fit and proper person to be their party leader on the local council have been “kicked into the long grass” after a marathon meeting of the national party’s rule-setting executive.
Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee spent nine hours considering a range of proposals yesterday, with much interest focused on moves to make sitting MPs face re-selection ballots.
But also on the table was a move to have the selection of local authority leaders taken out of hands of councillors – the people who owe their loyalty to the leader who decides who receives the tens of thousands of pounds of allowances.
In Croydon, rank-and-file party members, who do not benefit from Newman-determined council largesse, are regularly highly critical of the Woodside councillor and his cabal of close mates who exercise iron control over the Town Hall Labour group.
The council leader selection proposal was among a raft of potential rule changes to emerge from a review of the party’s democratic structures by former MP and Jeremy Corbyn ally, Katy Clark.
Under the plans, local government committees made up of party members would be given the power to draw up the party’s manifesto for Town Hall elections. And party members would also be balloted to decide who is the Labour leader on the local council.
The proposal is not without its critics, mostly among, surprise, surprise, the leaders of local councils, who describe it as a “zombie policy” (“zombie” appears to be the word of the week in Labour circles, and Halloween’s still weeks away).
They claim that under the Local Government Act, only councillors can choose a council leader.
Other proposals from Clark’s review as they affect local government included replacing Local Campaign Forums (LCFs) with the aforementioned local government committees (LGCs). Whether that would affect any material difference or democratise the process at all is a moot point: in Croydon, Newman and his cronies control the LCF, and therefore local selections and campaigning. Croydon Labour’s LCF has not met since December 2017. Three LCF meetings scheduled to be held this year have all been cancelled, often at short notice.
But, with the Labour Party Conference to take place in Liverpool next week, where any changes would be discussed and ratified, these proposals appear to have been abandoned. “I’m deeply disappointed with how little remains of the exciting – but perfectly reasonable and practicable – set of proposals drawn up by Katy Clark and her team,” wrote one NEC member, Darren Williams, as he travelled home after the meeting.
Leadership nomination rules, Williams says, are to be discussed at an eve-of-conference NEC meeting on Saturday.
He also listed a range of reforms which were agreed by yesterday’s meeting, before adding, “But everything else from the review was either kicked into the long grass or killed off altogether… I’m sorry to say that the majority of the NEC – including much of the so-called left – has proven itself too cautious and conservative to grasp the opportunity that the Democracy Review presented.”
And for that, Tony Newman, for one, will be delighted.
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