A tale of Sefton Labour Party
Roy Jenkins-the best home Secretary in my lifetime-wrote a book called 'Mr Balfour's Poodle'. The poodle was a Tory in fact it was 500 of them. As Lloyd George remarked they were; '"Five hundred men, accidently chosen from among the ranks of the unemployed". They were the House of Lords. They abused their power at the behest of Mr Balfour -the Tory leader- to cling on to unwarranted privileges in the teeth of the will of the elected government. Well they were Tories and as Vince reminded us they are "ruthless, calculating and tribal" and the gullible and naive amongst them honestly believed that they were behaving properly and everyone else was just playing politics
Anyway I was thinking about this during the cabinet meeting the other morning. In Sefton we have a set of 'protocols or conventions' which govern the arrangements that we operate under in the hung council. The document is signed by all three leaders-Councillors Parry, Robertson, Dowd. We have all stuck to these agreements and they have ensured that for the passed 30 years we have been able to operate. The conventions clearly deals with the allocation of places on Joint Boards-Merseyside Transport (ITA), Waste disposal , Fire etc. This is done under section 17 of the Local government and Housing Act which confirms the power on Local Authorities to come up with a local arrangement. Ours are proportional.
After the elections the Labour Leader Dowd (minor) at the leaders meeting confirmed that he saw no reason to change the conventions and they were endorsed for another 12 months
Elsewhere on Merseyside the knives have been out for Cllr Dowd's older brother the chair of the Integrated Transport Authority . I should be clear it is our understanding that these are Labour knives . A while back the City Region Cabinet appointed the Leader of Halton Council to the transport portfolio an action that it is said Dowd (major) interpreted as a hostile act. Concerns have been publically raised about the Mersey Tram fiasco and about governance arrangements. I have also been extremely frustrated by the way the ITA delay publication of the expenses and allowances of Councillors until after everyone else meaning that the press interest has waned and Dowd (major) does not suffer the level of scrutiny appropriate to the highest claimer on Merseyside-first class travel entitlement et al. No super injunction apply but it is widely held that other Labour groups would happily see Dowd (major) removed. More details on this will be coming into the public domain shortly.
Now there are those who would tell you that Dowd (major) acts as if a thunderous glare is an acceptable substitute for reasoned argument. He is the sort of Labour politician who would be described by some commentators as tribal, a dinosaur -in fact on some issues he would make the likes of Blunkett, Reid, Straw etc look progressive (surely those are amongst the worst three Home Secretaries of my lifetime-certainly Hurd, Whitelaw and Clarke were better)
Let us return to Section 17 of the Local Government and Housing Act. Our local arrangement is allowed because it has all party support. The act is written so that if one party withdraws the arrangement falls and reverts to a default position. Some time after the Leaders met (post election) and the annual meeting of the council someone may have whispered in Dowd (minor) ear that if he pulled the rug from under the conventions then the default position would advantage Labour by gaining a seat on the ITA. Such a vote may be essential in the Labour caucus when they vote on their candidate for Chair.
And so it came to pass that the other morning Labour ripped up the convention and got themselves an extra seat on the ITA.
And what of the poodle? Some wag remarked that it was cocking its leg against an iron man somewhere in another place...................