Monday, 28 May 2012

Strange Bedfellows - Kirklees Councils Annual Meeting

Ming the Merciless - a 'Strong Leader'
Given the outcome of the Annual Meeting ' Strange Bedfellows' was my immediate thought as a title for this blogpost. The outcome of the May Election left Labour without a majority, though with more seats, and so the opportunity to get some leverage on them in the run up to the Annual Meeting and election of a 'Strong Leader' was a limited one. The term 'Strong Leader' is one dreamt up by the last Labour Government as part of their alternatives to an elected Mayor (an even stronger leader!)

A common thread among non Labour Parties in the run up to the election was around retaining staffed provision in village libraries. The direction of travel indicated, in the consultation, is for more volunteer run and assisted libraries. So this was the main area where we could get some joint action if we could agree a common approach to the Labour Party. I talked to all the other Party Leaders in the run up to the Annual Meeting but to get the Conservatives to sit down for 3 Group talks with ourselves and the Lib Dems proved very difficult and I didn't detect a lot of enthusiasm from them in any case. Labour were quite keen to talk to all the groups seperately to get the best deal they could or 'divide and rule' if you prefer. Given we weren't getting anywhere with the Conservatives both ourselves and the Lib Dems declared publicly on Monday that we would vote against Labour on the Libraries issue to try to get the Tories to declare their intentions. On Sunday Eveening Mehboob Khan indicated that if we were to vote against them leading the Council they would remove us from Chairing the Resources Scrutiny Panel this along with the fact that they had told the Lib Dems we had already made a deal with us convinced me, if it were necessary, of the character of the Labour leadership.

On Wednesday I went into the Annual Council Meeting not knowing which way the Conservatives were going to vote on the Leadership of the Council. In the end they abstained. If they had voted against Mehboob Khan he wouldn't have been Leader and we may then have been able to exercise some leverage on the libraries issue at the very least. So I guess the big question is why the Tories did what they did? There is the 'foaming mouth' wing of the Tories who won't talk to the Greens in a civilised way at the best of times so I can imagine Robert Light had his work cut out with those characters in any case. Then of course if Labour weren't  going to vote for the Green Party and Valley Independent Group to have any Committee Chairs who were they going to support? The Tories of course. Instead of our Cllr Terry Lyons chairing the Planning and Highways Committee you have the delightful Conservative Cllr Christine Smith instead of Green Cllr Julie Stewart-Turner chairing the Resources Scrutiny Panel you have Tory Cllr Donald Firth. Loyalty to the 'strong leader' obviously brings its rewards (and punishments to those who defy him).

 So where does this leave the new 'Strong Leader' of Kirklees, 'Mehboob the Merciless'. A bit embarrassed I think. It doesn't do his dubious 'left credentials' much good having to do a deal with the Tories who are as we know the 'bad guys'. We had quite an amusing exchange of tweets where he rather illogically accused me of wanting the Tories to run Kirklees instead of him. The only question put to us was "do you want Mehboob Khan to be leader of the Council?" there wasn't a mutiple choice question. If there was "None of the above" would probably have been my answer.

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