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The leader of Camden Council will quit the top job after being challenged for the post by his regeneration chief.

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Cllr Nash Ali emailed fellow Labour councillors on Tuesday night (March 13) to tell them of his early exit after Cllr Sarah Hayward confirmed she would stand against him at Labour’s annual meeting in May.

Cllr Ali, who has led the party for three years, told colleagues he had wanted to stay in the job for another 12 months but that Cllr Hayward had “forced the issue”.

He told the Ham&High: “It was a difficult decision to say I am going to step down from the biggest job in Camden, but I am doing what is best for the Labour Party.

“We are running the council and we want to make sure we do that to the best of our ability.

“If I was going to be standing for Labour leader beyond the next council elections in 2014, I would have considered standing against Sarah. I have no doubt I would have won.

“But if I went through that election contest for the sake of one year, that wouldn’t be fair.”

Since becoming leader three years ago, Cllr Ali has faced one of the toughest political and economic climates of any Camden leader.

He led the party to victory in the 2010 local elections, toppling the town hall’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat Camden coalition.

But once in office he was faced with steering through £100million of cuts over four years, schools losing millions of pounds of government funding for much-needed repairs, and the outbreak of rioting in Camden Town last August.

He showed a flair for talking to the community and launched the Camden Education Commission in an ambitious bid to help the borough’s schools capitalise on the area’s links to the creative industries.

But the father-of-three made no secret of his plans to step down as leader ahead of the 2014 council elections, and disquiet among Labour colleagues at his leadership style continued unabated.

A Labour insider said: “Camden is one of the leading boroughs in the country, and there was a feeling that we weren’t pulling our weight in London or in the country. That is not Camden’s style. That is something that rested on people’s minds.

“I’m not sure there was enough of wanting to set the agenda. Sarah would lead from the front.”

While Cllr Hayward, who represents King’s Cross, is the only person so far to have announced her leadership bid, the outgoing leader encouraged others to enter the race.

In his resignation email he said: “Colleagues have indicated that they would be minded to stand, but would not stand against me. I am grateful for their loyalty.

“However, it is more important for the Labour Group to have the widest choice of candidates for the next phase of Labour’s leadership in Camden.”

Cllr Hayward confirmed that she had told Cllr Ali last Friday (March 9) she would stand against him.

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