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Labour councillors reluctant to go for Camden leadership as challenge leaves ‘sour taste’

PUBLISHED: 10:01 23 March 2012

Council leader Cllr Nash Ali leads Labour to victory at the last local elections. Picture: Polly Hancock

Council leader Cllr Nash Ali leads Labour to victory at the last local elections. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Fears have been raised that the Camden Labour leadership contest could turn into a coronation as all but two cabinet members have ruled themselves out of the race.

Three challenges facing the new leader

* Local government cuts – undoubtedly the defining issue for the council, the leader will be tasked with creating a smooth transition from directly run services to ones commissioned by the voluntary sector in key areas including libraries and play services. They may also have to steer through new cuts if the government’s grants change.

* Improving schools – Camden faces the twin challenges of investing in schools when little government money is available, and improving standards. Labour opposes the government’s academies policy and has promised to invest in repairs and improve. skills-sharing for schools that stay under local authority control. But the question remains – will they have the money to deliver?

* Unifying the party – while most councillors will deny the party is divided, most councillors canvassed said they wanted a unifying figure.

Council leader Cllr Nash Ali last week declared he is standing down from the borough’s top job following a challenge by his regeneration chief Sarah Hayward.

But despite Cllr Ali issuing a rallying cry for councillors to put their names forward for the influential post in his resignation email, party insiders say his ousting has left a “sour taste” in the mouth of Labour councillors.

One Labour source said: “I think this whole business has left a sour taste in people’s mouths. People are feeling the shock of it. Nash just went. It was under his leadership that we won the election.

“Maybe out of loyalty people aren’t standing. There is a reluctance and quite and quite a lot of bad blood.”

King’s Cross Cllr Sarah Hayward remains the only person to have officially declared her intention to stand, although finance boss Cllr Theo Blackwell has confirmed he is “considering a bid”.

In a statement, Cllr Blackwell said: “I’m committed to Camden and providing solutions for our challenges, so of course I’m considering a bid.

“However, the actual election is over six weeks away, council work needs to be done, and any decision will be taken first with my colleagues.”

As cabinet member for finance Cllr Blackwell has taken the lead on many of the largest and most controversial town hall decisions since Labour regained control of the council in 2010.

His experience shaping the budget and vocal presence in chamber debates marks him out as a ‘big beast’ in Camden politics, although his provocative style could prove divisive.

Another possible candidate touted by some is Cllr Julian Fulbrook, the current housing chief.

A commanding orator with a formidable intellect, a number of fellow Labour members said they would have backed him for the post.

But Cllr Fulbrook, who is dean of graduate studies at the London School of Economics, told the Ham&High he had ruled himself out of the race.

He said: “It is very kind of people to put my name forward, but I have got a lot of personal work commitments and being leader of Camden is a full time job.”

He added: “I was surprised that Nash stepped down, he would have got my vote.”

The new Labour leader will be elected at the Party’s Annual General Meeting on May 9 - less than week after the London Mayoral election.

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