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Birmingham's most patient politicians in leadership battle

Two front-runners first battled it out for opposition deputy leadership in 2005 and a decade on they face each other again as they go for the top job

Ian Ward, John Clancy and Barry Henley

It seems two of the most patient politicians in Birmingham will be the front runners in the battle to step into the formidable shoes of Sir Albert Bore.

Ian Ward has been the deputy leader of the Labour group for ten years and while in opposition was widely regarded as ‘Albert junior’ and seemed to be regarded as being groomed for succession.

Ten years on he was still waiting for a sign that the great man was going to step aside and was rumoured to be involved in an aborted coup in May.

But the pressure of potential government intervention and the resignations of two senior colleagues with the prospect of more to follow prompted the sudden resignation of Sir Albert Bore and the opening up of the vacancy at the top.

Mocked for his lack of a manifesto, his pitch to fellow councillors is more about involving them in decision making and policy formation, rather than a list of policies – whether this approach works remains to be seen.

When Ian won the deputy leadership in 2005 his main rival was John Clancy – who is now his main rival for the top job.

Coun Clancy was first part of a bid to topple Sir Albert in Christmas 2004 when he and former councillor Mike Olley stormed into the leader’s office and demanded he step aside or face a vote of no confidence. They were sent packing.

Labour had just lost control of the council for the first time in 20 years and a leadership challenge was in order but ultimately failed.

After a period away from the council John Clancy returned in 2011 with an immediate leadership challenge, securing nine votes to Albert’s 43. Since then there have been three further attempts. And as the council and leader’s fortunes have waned he has made dramatic progress closing the gap to a 46-30 defeat in May this year.

Read: The leadership battle should be about more than internal feuds in the Labour group

Now with Sir Albert stepping aside many consider Clancy as the clear front runner, having positive momentum and friends in high places in the regional Labour Party - such as MEP Sion Simon and MP Khalid Mahmood - applying pressure on the rank and file councillors to back their man.

The Quinton councillor can also claim a decent policy track record backing ideas which have been picked up elsewhere – both free school meals for primary school children and using council pension funds for investment in local infrastructure have been taken up at a government level.

And he has a ready made campaign, having spruced up manifesto pledges made during previous leadership bids - including scrapping the Capita Service Birmingham contract, free school meals for primary age children and using the council’s vast land and property assets to lever investment into housing and the local economy.

There is now an added edge to the battle with the arrival of Barry Henley on the candidate list. He chose an exotic location for his campaign launch – Malta – taking time out from his honeymoon to issue his statement via mobile phone.

Couns Clancy and Henley shared a joint platform in leadership bids against Couns Bore and Ward in 2014 and came back for another go last May. Clancy has seemingly lost at least one vote he had last time out.

Sadly Clancy and Henley are far too nice to consider trash talking each other now they are rivals.

The sums are that Clancy needs to build on the 30 votes he had in May to guarantee victory. He has lost Henley, but has gained Majid Mahmood - who it is claimed brings a number of councillors with him and must be touching the 39 needed for victory. There is also talk that many are not impressed with Ward’s failure to stand up to Sir Albert in May.

But in the Ward camp word is that Clancy has failed to take account of the ‘ABA’ brigade – a number of backbenchers who would vote for ‘anyone but Albert’ and may not be as committed to Clancy now Albert is out of the picture.

The Anyone But Albert group could hold the key to the election.

From the outside, it is difficult to get a clear picture, especially as we are sure councillors are pledging support to both sides and in a secret ballot they can get away with it.

But whoever wins will have been waiting a long time get there.

An appropriate way to bow out

Sir Albert Bore

If Sir Albert Bore, during his final days as city leader, wanted to cement his reputation for scrupulously observing process and doing things by the book, even in the face of common sense, then he has achieved it at one of his last meetings of the Council Business Management committee.

Though held in public, this procedural grouping is not routinely screened on the council website and therefore is little known but one of its duties is to set the agenda for the full council meeting.

With a thin agenda for November 3, Conservative leader Robert Alden suggested a full discussion of the Future Council Programme - the root and branch overhaul of the local authority’s structure and culture demanded by Kerslake.

“But” replied Sir Albert “we have a future council working group meeting later and we should raise it there”.

“We’ll have set the agenda by then, so we need to decide now,” argued Coun Alden. “I just don’t think this is the place we should be discussing this,” answered Sir Albert.

As the argument looked set to carry on in an eternal loop, Four Oaks councillor Anne Underwood stepped in. “Can’t we delegate the authority to slip it onto the agenda later,” she suggested and, to relief all round, it was agreed.

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