Saturday, January 15, 2011

Leicester Labour falling out over Aylestone Meadows

The internal politics of the Labour group that runs Leicester City Council are bloody and obscure. I once commissioned a Liberator article on the subject, but still wouldn't claim to be an expert.

But I know enough to have realised that when the council voted to have an elected mayor for Leicester - without allowing the people of the city a referendum on the matter - the contest to be Labour's candidate would provide good entertainment.

That battle will be concluded later this month. The best candidate, at least in terms of appealing to people who are not habitual Labour voters, would be Sir Peter Soulsby. Given Leicester Labour politics, however, that is no guarantee that he will be chosen.

This choice matters the national stage because Soulsby is currently MP for Leicester South and it is widely expected that he would resign his seat - either to fight the mayoral election or if he won that election.

Meanwhile, the election has ignited the controversy over the Labour-run Leicester City Council's plans to build build all-weather sports pitches and an accompanying car park and pavilion right in the middle of the Aylestone Meadows nature reserve.

Friday's Leicester Mercury had a report beginning:
A Labour councillor in Leicester has accused a party colleague of joining in a row about a football pitch to further his bid to become elected mayor.

Councillor Robert Wann has criticised former city council leader Ross Willmott for saying plans to build a floodlit sports pitch on popular Leicester nature reserve Aylestone Meadows should be ditched.

He says Mr Willmott is only using the issue to try to boost his campaign to become the city's first elected mayor.
I don't know the rights and wrongs of that, but I would be fascinated to know how Wann squares his claim that:
"Ross Willmott calling for us to rethink the plan is silly – the plan is still under consideration and a decision has not yet been made."
with his earlier attack on those seeking to protect the nature reserve:
"I think they are very selfish in their approach. The football facilities are part of an £11m city-wide improvement to sporting facilities which will benefit hundreds of local people."
One other point from Leicester...

The city council has generally been run by Labour, but in 2003 the Liberal Democrats became the largest party and took control as part of a coalition with the Conservatives.

It soon became apparent, however, that the Lib Dem group consisted of strong local campaigners who did not have much else in common. There was not enough shared ideology or a strong enough vision of how the city should be run. The result was that the group split and Labour surged back to power in 2007.

Let this serve as a warning to Liberal Democrat MPs and a reminder to us all that, as a party, we need to think and talk as well as campaign.

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