The real elections

As this article is published, elections deciding control of major councils are in full swing.

That may surprise readers who thought elections happened on 3 May.

However, when councils have firm majorities, the decisive round of elections are in the AGMs of the majority group of councillors, just after the electorate have spoken. Sitting leaders, sometimes with massive endorsement from voters, can be challenged and deposed by their councillors seeking a change of approach.

If this sounds somewhat undemocratic, that was always one argument for directly-elected Mayors – voters’ choice of leader couldn’t be overturned by councillors. But it was never adopted by more than a handful of councils.

Particular attention has been on Labour groups: Conservative leaflets tried to undermine Labour election campaigns by claiming far left and Momentum candidates would seize control. But Momentum did not have much success and the changes have been about other issues.

For instance, in Harrow the local Conservatives describe the leadership change as “Momentum flexing its muscles”, but the new leader Graham Henson is not a Momentum member: he won because he promised a more consensual leadership.

After eight years leading Enfield, Doug Taylor has been deposed (narrowly, 24-22) by Nesil Caliskan, who will be London’s youngest council leader at only 29. Change seems to have been driven by a younger leader more in touch with the borough’s ethnic diversity – but note that Caliskan is allied with Labour’s moderate wing and Taylor is on the left.

Mohammed Butt in Brent has beaten a challenge from Roxanne Mashari.

Hounslow’s Steve Curran narrowly survived a challenge in a somewhat divided Labour group.

In Greenwich, Denise Hyland chose to stand down voluntarily, and the Labour group has picked deputy leader Dan Thorpe.

In the high profile contest of Haringey, local activists had endorsed Zena Brabazon, who is on the far left. But councillors decide leaders, not activists, and a five way leadership ballot was won by Joe Ejiofor – although a member of Momentum’s ruling ‘National Constitutional Group’, he is not so hardline.

Outside London, the longest serving council leader in the country – Peter Smith of Wigan – has stood down after 27 years. His deputy for the past decade, Dave Molyneux, takes over. Barrie Grunewald of St Helens was forced out over a data security issue just before the election, and Derek Long is now confirmed as leader.

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