The starting gun has been fired on a leadership contest for the Birmingham Labour Group.
After a few years of relative calm, albeit with the COVID pandemic front and centre, differences in the ruling group re-surfaced just 80 days before the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
It came just hours after Labour retained control of the country’s largest council, maintaining 65 seats with the Lib Dems and Greens gaining and the ‘Local Conservatives’ dropping 5 overall.
Waseem Zaffar MBE challenging Ian Ward for the leadership. Cllr Zaffar claims the Labour administration has lost its way and left Birmingham “a divided city.” He is currently the Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment where he has championed the council’s controversial Clean Air Zone policy. Villa fan Zaffar was re-elected for the Lozells Ward last week with a ward turnout of 38%.
Ian Ward was re-elected for Shard End last week with a turnout of less than 17%. Sports enthusiast Ward has been at the heart of efforts to secure the Games for Birmingham and prepare for their delivery. He was previously deputy leader to both Sir Albert Bore and John Clancy.
There were indications this week that Cllr Zaffar was amassing enough votes from fellow councillors to topple Cllr Ward. However, as expected of any incumbent Cllr Ward is exerting pressure on members of the Labour Group and drawing on his experience and network built up over many years at the top of the local party.
Cllr Liz Clements (Bournville & Cotteridge) is also in the leadership race whilst current deputy Brigid Jones is the only candidate for that post. 65 Labour councillors will vote in the contest on Saturday with the winning leader set to become the the political chief of an authority that covers over 1 million citizens and runs a £3billion budget.
It is understood the leadership challenge emerged last weekend as newly elected Labour councillors prepared to take office on Monday. Cllr Zaffar had already indicated to Cllr Ward that he would not continue to serve in the Cabinet after the election. He is promising to involve more councillors in decision-making.
Cllr Zaffar hit the headlines previously over a social media harassment claim, which he dropped and settled legal costs, and a row over a school hijab headscarf ban which saw the councillor step down from the Cabinet. He was brought back to the top table by Cllr Ward when he was elected leader.
If elected, Cllr Zaffar would be the first British Asian leader of this super-diverse city.