Leadership changes take place in Labour-run councils

Elliot Chappell

Several Labour-run councils have seen leadership changes as challengers ousted incumbents in Ealing and Haringey, the leader of Lambeth Council stepped down and Oldham Council chose a replacement after its leader lost his seat last week.

Arooj Shah has been elected as the new leader of Oldham Council, in Greater Manchester, after the former leader Sean Fielding lost his seat in the local elections on Thursday. Shah has served as the deputy leader since 2018.

The local authority was the first in the country to create a ‘Covid recovery’ cabinet position to lead on the response to the pandemic in Oldham, which has experienced some of the highest case numbers. Shah currently has held the role.

Following the elections last week, Labour currently holds 40 of the 60 seats on the council. Shah will be confirmed as the leader of the authority at the annual meeting of the council later this month.

“My priorities are simple: Oldham should be a place that we’re proud to call home, where we support one another, and where everyone can get on and live a good life,” Shah said after being elected to succeed Fielding.

She pledged to bring forward a Covid recovery strategy and a strategy for equalities, stressing that “Covid hasn’t affected all places equally, and Oldham has particularly suffered because of our high levels of deprivation”.

Ahead of local elections taking place in London in May 2022, Haringey Council leader Joseph Ejiofor was defeated by former cabinet member Peray Ahmet for the top job in the north-east London borough on Monday evening.

LabourList understands that the contest was close, with Ahmet winning by just one vote after a third challenger withdrew from the process. Ahmet was backed by 20 of her council colleagues, while 19 supported Ejiofor.

“Congratulations to Cllr Ahmet in winning the vote in the Labour Group AGM and I wish her and the whole council every success in tackling growing inequality in Haringey,” local MP Catherine West tweeted following the vote.

“Post pandemic we desperately need to see more job opportunities, building more social homes, and promoting greener, safer neighbourhoods.”

Ahmet, representing Noel Park ward, was one of two sacked from Ejiofor’s cabinet in January 2019. She also served in previous leader Claire Kober’s cabinet before resigning in 2018, criticising the controversial Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV).

Peter Mason was also elected by his colleagues in Ealing Council last night to run the west London local authority, after he successfully challenged Julian Bell for the position at the group’s annual general meeting.

In a statement issued after the vote, Mason said: “I am determined to demonstrate to the residents of our borough that Labour is on their side. Under my leadership, Ealing will be an open, inclusive and transparent council that engages and involves residents in tackling the big challenges we face.

“As we navigate the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, our efforts will be focused on supporting an economic recovery grounded in bringing well paid, good jobs back to our borough, re-greening our neighbourhoods and relentlessly tackling poverty and inequality.

“As someone who grew up in a single parent family on a council estate in the dying days of the Thatcher government, I’m proud to have been elected to lead our borough and to make change happen for those who most need it, just as the last Labour government did for me.”

His colleague Deirdre Costigan, councillor for Northolt Mandeville ward, was elected as deputy leader by the Labour group and will become the first openly lesbian deputy leader at the council annual general meeting later this month.

Bell led the Labour group from 2010, when the council was under Tory control. He has been a strong advocate of active travel policies and faced a no-confidence vote in September amid criticism over the introduction of ‘low-traffic neighbourhoods’.

Mason had been in Bell’s cabinet, as the lead member for housing, planning and transformation, until he stepped down from the position following the vote, which Bell had won by a majority of just one.

Jack Hopkins announced on Monday that he was standing down as leader of Lambeth Council, having been elected to the role in February 2019. Hopkins had survived a leadership challenge from cabinet member Matthew Bennett in February.

A successor to Hopkins is yet to be elected. “Leading our amazing borough has been an immense privilege and I am thankful for having had the opportunity to serve,” he tweeted on Monday afternoon.

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