Monday, March 13, 2023

Three Leicester Labour councillors to be disciplined for opposing mayoral system

Last week Leicester City Council debated a motion to abolish its current elected mayoral and return to a traditional committee system. It was defeated by 32 votes to 20 - an alternative replacement model (a leader and a cabinet) was rejected by a larger majority.

This week, as sure as night follows day, comes news that three Labour councillors are to be disciplined for voting against the mayoral system.

The Leicester Mercury reports:

Three Leicester councillors have been suspended by the Labour Party for rebelling against the city mayor’s office at a meeting last week. The meeting was held so elected members of all parties represented on the council could vote on whether to scrap the post, currently held by Labour’s Sir Peter Soulsby.

Patrick Kitterick, who represents Castle ward, Rita Patel and Ross Willmott, both Rushey Mead, have all had the whip withdrawn.

Kitterick has talked to the Mercury:

"For 20 years, I’ve abided by the group whip, but that’s always been on the basis we’ve had a democratic discussion within the group and we’ve come to a collective decision. There was no such discussion on this occasion.

"There wasn’t any meeting of the Labour group over this. There was no internal discussion and there was no democratic debate.

"There was just an order that went out, and that’s not the basis on which we take decisions within the Labour group. I’m not taking orders from people who haven’t consulted any of my colleagues."

So has Soulsby, but he didn't have much to say beyond "Nothing to do with me, guv":

He refused to offer an opinion, saying: "That’s very much a matter for the Labour Group whip, and the party more generally, rather than me. They take the decision on those things and whether they feel someone has stepped beyond what is acceptable."

Leicester Labour's internal politics are pretty impenetrable, so I don't know if Soulsby's truth train is stopping at every station here. But even if he does not ultimately wield the party whip, he has significant powers of patronage - notably his power to make councillors assistant and deputy mayors.

If you're a Labour councillor who wants a flourishing career in the city, you have to stay on the right side of him.

I'm not a fan of elected mayors, but if you are going to have one then you must have a body of robustly independent councillors to scrutinise their decisions.

And where you have a council that is dominated by the same party that the mayor comes from, as is the case in Leicester, you are unlikely to get one. Liverpool's experience has been the same.

The conclusion is that if you want an elected mayor, then the council that oversees them must be elected by proportional representation.

Meanwhile, the size of the vote for change last week suggests the feeling that Sir Peter Soulsby is in danger of outstaying his welcome is growing in the Labour Party as well as the city.

Later. The Leicester Mercury is now reporting that a fourth Labour councillor, Jacky Nangreave, has been deprived of the whip and that none of the four will be able to stand for the party in May's city council elections.

1 comment:

Phil Beesley said...

If we go back a few years to 2011, Liberal England commented on Peter Soulsby hanging out with Lutfur Rahman, then Mayor of Tower Hamlets campaigning against the Labour Party. Soulsby's behaviour was not in itself a breach of party rules, but it didn't look good.

I think Peter Soulsby has to consider how strongly he guides colleagues "whether they feel someone has stepped beyond what is acceptable."