Comment By Tony Walley.
It’s now May, the city is five weeks away from one of the biggest changes in our city’s history. Our elected representatives will get to choose the new Council Leader from one of their own.
Whoever the new leader turns out to be, he/she will require the votes of 31 other councillors. The vote will be a ringing endorsement for that particular person, a vote of real confidence you could say.
Over recent times I have spoken to many people from all sides of the chamber and believe it or not, with just a few weeks to go to the big day, no one clear favourite has emerged.
Over the past three months, when you would expect candidates and their parties to shine like a beacon of best practice we have seen the main coalition parties implode.
So, is it now time for the city to seek a new direction and encourage our elected representatives to return an Independent council leader?
If you take my party the Libdems, just what do they stand for locally? I joined the party as they best represent my political views nationally. Here in Stoke I have yet to see a single Libdem policy in print, I have yet to be invited to any meeting, yet I have had a letter asking me if I am willing to stand as a candidate in 2010/2011.
Kieran Clarke is, from what I am told, an excellent councillor and portfolio holder. But anyone listening to the audio interview I did with him this week would struggle to gleam what the Libdems stand for in this city despite my probing and giving him several opportunities to tell us what the party could do for the city.
Jean Bowers has stepped down as leader in anticipation of being the next Lord Mayor. It has been suggested to me that there maybe a call for Terry Follows to be the next Lord Mayor in recognition of his efforts and support in helping to save Trentham High School. I don’t think many of the city’s electorate would argue against Terry Follows as he typifies everything you could ask for in a ward councillor. Mrs Bowers on the other hand has ruffled the electorates feathers on more than one occasion. She also has angered some of the other councillors in the chamber.
Dr Ali has succeeded Paul Billington as deputy leader. This is a strange decision in many ways. Dr Ali has only been in the party and the council for just over a year where as Paul Billington has a wealth of experience and has demonstrated that he has great understanding of council procedures and is well known for his scrutiny of the officers. This change in the Libdem Party has highlighted a division equal to that in the Labour Party and has denied their party the front bench services of a fierce spokesperson.
Well, we have just seen the end to the popular TV programme ‘Hells Kitchen’ and it seems the heat of the EMB kitchen was too hot for a certain Tory EMB member Ross Irving. Apparently the heat of the grilling that councillors gave the EMB got poor Ross so hot under the collar that he fled the furnace of the Windsor room to the relative coolness of the council corridor.
Ross is tipped by many to be the next Leader of the council especially if the present coalition holds firm. But when you
really analyse the Conservative and Independent Alliance you discover that as well as having not one single policy they also have no natural leader now that Roger Ibbs has stepped down. I know Ibbsy is as popular in Trentham as a Jehovah’s Witness at an atheists convention, but come on, could you ever see Ibss walking out of any meeting because the argument got too fierce for him? There is no way he would have stormed out. He would have argued to the end and stood firm in the face of adversity with the usual stubbornness or is it arrogance?.
Lee Wanger would never be able to lead that group for reasons well known. Clive Rigby and Hazel Lyth are far too quiet.Ã‚ So where is the real leader of that group. More importantly the only possible candidate for Council Leader from that group has proved that he can’t stand the heat of the battle.
So in my opinion two out of the three coalition parties have no single policy of their own to pursue. They are happy to cling on to the coat tails of the Elected mayor and my understanding is that, most of the EMB expect to be in any new cabinet of the soon to be Council Leader.
The Labour party seem to be getting their acts together at the grass roots level but their are major cracks appearing within the council group. Labour councillors not speaking or even communicating with each other. Question marks over who will be the next leader of the group. Differences of opinion on whether the party should or should not be in a coalition. There is a strong possibility that the labour party may become the main opposition party united behind a new Leader that is not tainted by the EMB brush. The national executive come to Stoke next week to interview group councillors and to establish whether there will be any disciplinary action taken against the group leader and fellow Labour EMB members for voting against the group whip. The National Exec will also consider counter allegations made by the EMB members. More worryingly they will decide whether to hold an AGM where any new leader would be voted in. They need to consider their actions very carefully as the wrong move could turn more of the electorate against the traditional party of the working class and encourage them to vote for the far right BNP.
The city expect, no demand a ‘new’ City Labour Party either heading the coalition or leading the opposition.
That leaves the City Independents. Maybe our city would benefit from an Independent leader and who better than the ‘silver fox’Ã‚ Brian Ward. He is a great speaker and a thoroughly nice guy. He is experienced (unlike Mr Rigby) and he is sure to give the Council management a hard ride on behalf of the electorate. He is outside the tainted discredited EMB and has often been seen to lead the vocal oppostion against the EMB/coalition. If the new council leader is to signal a new era for our city isn’t it better to have a politician with no visable baggage?
I ask for one thing from the new leader whoever it may be. Pick the best candidates for the cabinet. Make sure the peoples champions Peter Kent-Baguley and Mick Salih are there to give the sort of scrutiny we have come to expect from them. Recognise that the city is crying out for change.
Maybe an Independent Leader is just the thing that is needed in this city, that and the fierce opposition of a committed, revitalised and rejuvinated Labour Party united behind a new effective leader ready to oppose any decision that they think is taking our city in the wrong direction.
Maybe then the Tories and the Libdems in this city will be forced to seek their own direction and their own policies. This in turn will give us the electorate real choices to make at the next local elections.
Our council chamber should then be a vibrant, exciting, diverse room with heated but reasoned debate that may well make our city the inclusive society that we all crave for.