I hear on the grapevine that Labour in Gateshead had a very unhappy group meeting before the last full council meeting. Discontent was bubbling to the surface from some of those with a less than average span of time on the authority. My source only gave me a short burst of light so I am forced to speculate on the causes though, whatever the reasons, we know it caused the Labour group to drag on for far longer than normal. One of the hints I was given though was that the Labour leadership are having to deal with backbenchers elected in recent years who are not content to wait much longer for opportunities to move up the political ladder. Given that the Labour leadership has been largely unchanged for years and years (one springs to mind who has been in the leadership grouping for 30 years), and that one person outside the cabinet is named regularly by Labour insiders as ambitious and interested in promotional opportunities, we are forced to speculate on the grip of Labour group leader Mick Henry.
We did not have to wait long to see the Labour group's disunity in action. Three days later at full council, the divisions broke out into the open. I counted 7 Labour members, including the mayor, vote against the Labour group on the key issue of the Local Plan. My colleagues think there may even have been 8 but we will find out the exact number when we get the minutes of the meeting. In a sense, I feel sorry for Mick Henry as he was absent from part of the meeting feeling unwell - the part of the meeting which saw the rebellion. His deputy, Martin Gannon, temporarily led the Labour group. Alas, poor Martin, his 40 minutes of leadership was marked by the biggest Labour rebellion I have seen in all my years on the Council.
The question now has to be asked - is Mick Henry strong enough to take action against his rebels. And by action, I don't just mean a slap on the wrist and a polite request that they aren't naughty again. Any sanctions need to be public. If we hear nothing, we have to assume Mick's position is too weak for him to take action. If sanctions are taken and are announced publicly, we can assume Mick's position is secure.
So far we have heard nothing......
Meanwhile, my sources tell me that in Ryton ward, where unfortunately Labour have won 2 of our 3 seats in recent years, (we are defending our 3rd seat there in May) there was a bit of a panic when the "socialist" brothers and sisters found Christmas cards from Lib Dem Councillor Christine McHatton were being delivered to every house. I am told that Labour rushed to do their own in response and that an email was sent out to Labour members asking for help to deliver them 2 days before Christmas. Alas, I was not told what response the email got but I understand that not many residents got any "socialist" seasonal greetings. We expect the local paper and card recycling industry to be taking delivery of a large sack of undelivered envelopes any time soon!