UPDATE on 2nd March: Dave Sparks has been elected. Original post below
Talk of a Labour leadership contest, with all the backbiting, plots, and attempted coups, centres on a position that is not, at present, vacant. But while Gordon Brown stands firm, a vacancy has arisen for the position of Labour’s leader in local government. Jeremy Beecham is stepping down after leading the LGA Labour Group, and being LGA Chair or Vice Chair, since 1997. Whilst all Labour councillors will get to vote, the system is weighted, like the wider LGA proportionality system. The effect of this, and given Labour’s current low point in councillor numbers, puts the Northern metropolitan authorities in the driving seat. But with the three candidates hailing from the West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West, the votes of Labour councillors in London and elsewhere in the South will be the swing constituency. Dudley Labour Leader, Cllr David Sparks, a long time senior Labour figure at the LGA, had been expected to stand, and is known to be close to Sir Jeremy. John Merry, Leader in Salford, has been involved in the LGA in recent years and has a strong reputation in the North West. Peter Box, Leader of Wakefield, is the outside candidate, positioning himself with a ‘change’ message. Cllr Box has challenged Jeremy Beecham in LGA Labour Group and Labour National Executive Elections in that past without success. If the next Labour leader at the LGA is half as long serving and nationally important as Jeremy Beecham, who became a key figure in Labour’s ruling National Executive, then this election is one to watch. While on the subject of national leadership in local government, it was good to see Cllr Margaret Eaton, the Conservative Chairman of the LGA, becoming a Dame in the New Years Honours list.