Thursday, 6 June 2013

Brent Lib Dem disarray after thwarted leadership bid

Following the Brent and Kilburn Times report that many of the current Liberal Democrat councillors will not be standing again in 2014 I can reveal that there was an attempt to unseat Paul Lorber, the current group leader, recently.

Lorber was the Council  leader at the time of the Liberal Democrat-Conservative Coalition administration that preceded the present Labour Council.

A leadership bid was due to me made at the party's Annual General Meeting by a seasoned councillor generally seen as on the left of the local party, and often to the left of many Labour councillors.

However the issue was never put to the test because of the eleventh hour withdrawal of a maverick councillor's nomination of the challenger. This has poisoned the personal relationships involved in particular wards in the south of the borough.

Leadership challenges are healthy for democracy and the fact that Lorber wasn't put to the test on a technicality may weaken his position. His colleagues recognise the energy and commitment he has put into the Barham Library Campaign but some question his approach to opposition.  He often seems to be in a state of languor. When he does stir himself to mount a case in committee he is often strong on rhetoric but weak on detail, ending up with a mumbling partial withdrawal of his opposition.

Although Lorber is seen as having been successful at disguising his parliamentary colleagues' role in making the cuts that have impacted so badly on the borough, especially in terms of the libraries campaign, he is seen as having exposed the party to criticism in not grasping the nettle of issues such as the Rev David Clues' absence in Brighton. The decision to not stand a candidate in the Barnhill by-election and to not call a by-election in Clues' or Sneddons' seats is seen as an indication of a lack of confidence in the party's prospects.

However the malaise goes deeper with some of those who are not standing again finding it hard to adapt their former campaigning approach as community activists to the discipline and sometimes bureaucratic procedures of the Lib Dem Group.  They are further frustrated by the current Council structure where decisions are made by the Labour Executive on the basis of pre-meetings which opposition councillors are not allowed to attend.

Full Council meetings become a ritualistic bun fight which often reflect badly on all concerned. Some Lib Dem councillors have attempted to use their position on the different Scrutiny Committees to rigorously examine officers' proposals but then see any referrals crushed when they get to the Executive. Councillors

This dispiriting experience has led some Lib Dem councillors to conclude that they were more effective in bringing about change and standing up for their community when they were independent or semi-independent community activists. It is only fair to mention that this a feeling shared by some back-bench Labour councillors who are equally frustrated although this has been mitigated recently by more debate within the Labour Group and of course exercising their votes at the AGM.

Some argue that the new generation of Labour councillors currently being selected will change things but others argue that after the initial euphoria following their election they will also be ground down and frustrated  by the current decision making structures.

Is there a case for a cross-party review of the current structure with the aim of enhancing the role of debate and democratic accountability?

1 comment:

  1. In answer to the question at the end of this item, YES!
    Although an Executive, or Cabinet, has some advantages in terms of "getting things done", the current system means that meetings of the Full Council have very little real power. Local government has become a copy of the Westminster model, and that is not in the best interests of local democracy.
    Rather than everything during a four year period being decided "in camera" by a small number of councillors from one party, often simply backing the wishes of unelected senior officers (as was disastrously seen over the library closures), we do need to return to a system which gives the opportunity for the whole Council to discuss key issues together.
    We elect sixty-three intelligent people, who hopefully will keep in touch with the people of the wards they represent, so that they will have a good feel for the views of local people on those issues. They are "our" Councillors and should be allowed, without party "whips", to make informed decisions on what is best for the people of our borough.
    Philip Grant.