It’s business as usual for the Birmingham Labour group, where it seems councillors will once again be asked to choose between Sir Albert Bore and his perennial rival John Clancy for the leadership next month.
Assuming there are no seismic shocks in the local election, it will be the fourth time in five years that the pair have faced off for the leadership.
So far Sir Albert, who has been Labour leader since 1999, has won quite comfortably.
Despite widespread disaffection with Sir Albert’s handling of the Kerslake review, the cuts, the Trojan Horse scandal and the ongoing difficulties with child protection, it seems attempts to bring others into the fray have been unsuccessful.
In previous contests Coun Clancy has secured the support of about a third of the group, not yet enough to give Sir Albert a sleepless night. But his cause may be helped with three of Coun Bore's cabinet members at risk of losing their seats on May 7 and the potential arrival of some new faces to the group.
But the anti-Albert lobby had hoped a second challenger, perhaps an existing cabinet member, might come forward and provide a stronger challenge. But none has been persuaded to step up.
Sir Albert has also attempted to deal with some of his critics, more recently replacing his doom and gloom rhetoric with a more hopeful outlook based on economic growth.
He has sought to challenge accusations he is remote by holding several meetings with backbenchers, including this week when he even offered them sandwiches for their time ahead of the lengthy full council meeting.
The leader was dubbed the ‘Great Survivor’ during his early tenure for his ability to stave off challenges by a handful of votes. And challengers were often dealt with very harshly, their political careers cut short.
He has also outflanked potential opponents by giving them as little time as possible to organise against him.
The deadline to apply for leadership is just a few hours after the local election votes are counted, at noon on Monday, May 11 and the selection meeting later that same day.
There is also the not inconsiderable problem of future cuts. The outcome of the general election is anyone’s guess at this stage and, if coalition negotiations drag on, may still be as the Labour group votes.
Already Sir Albert has delivered some £300 million cuts, on top of a similar amount delivered by his Tory-Lib Dem predecessors.
Only savings through a combined authority, or some further devolution of funds from Government offer any respite. Although Coun Clancy has some more optimistic ideas around using the local government pension fund and the sweating of council assets to raise extra cash.
With the low hanging fruit well and truly plucked, back offices trimmed, and leisure centres, roads and parks all contracted out there are few obvious places left to look without hitting services. The backlash over cuts at the Library of Birmingham is a sign of what will greet the leader next year.
As one discontented councillor said: “Who, as a new leader, would want to come in and take that lot on?”
Labour cabinet member Lisa Trickett, not one of the most popular politicians with her opposition rivals, can be congratulated for her role in relegating garden waste charges and fly tipping down the list of residents’ concerns during the 2015 election campaign.
The introduction of a £35 per year charge last year saw council candidates fill their election leaflets with pictures of bags of grass cuttings dumped by roadsides and lengthy bank holiday queues at the council’s tips. She was ushered into the Cabinet and told to sort this out, and so delivered improvement in communication between call centres, depots and dust carts – in part through some new IT – and a crack down on illegal fly tipping. The result is that, with some notable exceptions, there are fewer complaints.
By contrast, councillors are now finding themselves inundated with complaints over the condition of the roads and pavements.
All is not rosy in the relationship between the council and its highways contractor Amey. There are two lots of legal action for starters.
The replacement of slabs with Tarmac and heritage lampposts with standard modern lampposts are a result, we were told, of a contract which did not specify like-for-like replacement.
While councillors are growing increasingly frustrated at their inability to get obviously cracked and pot holed roads fixed in a timely fashion.
The ambush which forced seasoned Labour leader Sir Albert Bore into a condemnation of the ‘abhorrent’ language used in a Labour leaflet on immigration was hardly the most cleverly executed trap in history.
In fact it is a well-used tactic during council questions to quote something controversial sounding out of context, get a senior councillor to comment on this and then, like a magician pulling a rabbit from the proverbial hat, reveal the true nature of the comment in the supplementary question.
The trap was quickly recognised by several councillors that Tory Peter Douglas Osborn was quoting from Labour policy, but Sir Albert was caught, hook, line and sinker.
It has come as some relief to many that Sir Albert is not infallible.