Just when you thought Brum’s politics had settled down, along comes a new leadership team.
For anybody not following the twists and turns of town hall intrigue might be surprised to learn that the politician who championed then delivered a successful Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games has been deposed just months later.
Casual observers might also be shocked by the fact a Labour Party committed to devolution – including a ‘Take Back Control’ Bill – took the decision to remove Ian Ward, not local councillors or members.
The aftermath of the Kerslake Review of Birmingham city council’s governance in 2014 has seen numerous leaders and chief executives overwhelmed by the scale of challenge. Ian Ward was twice deputy leader before assuming the top job as councillors Bore and Clancy bowed to pressure.
Cllr Ward had grown into the role, with more assured performances, improvements to some council services and, only last week, the unveiling of the council’s long-trailed masterplan for Central Birmingham.
But a report by Labour’s Campaign Improvement Board found the local party to be “dysfunctional” and dominated by “personality-driven factionalism.” According to reports, Labour found evidence of misogyny and racism and very poor relations with trade unions. Last year’s leadership contest, where Ian Ward beat a surprise challenge from Waseem Zaffar, was seen as having had a detrimental effect.
Interviews for Labour Group officers, including leader and deputy, were held last weekend with the full council then confirming their local authority roles earlier this week.
John Cotton, previously Cabinet Member for Social Justice, Community Safety and Inequalities, is Birmingham’s new leader.
A long-time Labour activist, he is well regarded in many circles and has campaigned on several issues including equality and housing. He previously worked for former Edgbaston MP Gisela Stuart, the politician who signaled the start of Tony Blair’s landslide in 1997 before helping Boris Johnson win the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Along with Cllr Ward, Brigid Jones was also removed as the Labour Group deputy. She has been re-appointed to Cabinet covering Finance. Cllr Jones is replaced as Deputy Leader by Sharon Thompson, formerly the portfolio holder for housing and homelessness. Herself homeless at 16, Cllr Thompson took up her first job in a housing project, served as a magistrate and was originally elected in 2014.
Cllr Cotton’s new Cabinet is 80% female. From fixing IT systems to a housing crisis, the new team has its work cut out.