An interesting piece of information came my way today. Following the results of the local elections in Gateshead, the Labour Leader of Gateshead Council, Mick Henry, appears to have been able to hold back the tide of those on his own side who wish to see their own promotion and the retirement of Mick and his mates. And the instrument of his success? Well, for most of us the secret ballot is something of a traditional part of the democratic process. In UK elections, it's been around since 1872. The Labour group, in an attempt to catch up with the modern world, decided to run their internal elections on the revolutionary basis of letting people cast their votes in secret. I understand from a reliable source that Mick Henry himself was the one who pushed for this great democratic innovation.
I had already heard the murmurings of discontent about the botched Labour campaigns in Ryton and Whickham North wards, both of which were being defended by Lib Dems. Ryton had been won by Labour in 2011 and 2012 with substantial majorities. The last Lib Dem seat in the ward was the prize on offer. Labour's campaign flopped and the Lib Dems held on. Topping Labour's target list however was the Lib Dem held seat of Whickham North where we were defending a majority of only 90. Labour poured in everything including the kitchen sink (though interestingly, we understand that those who were more interested in keeping things as they are in the Labour group made no appearances in the ward.) We held the seat last month - our majority went up to 300 and Labour's vote fell through the floor.
Labour agent and organiser for wards in Blaydon constituency was Paul Foy, "head" of office for Dave Anderson MP, a point he regularly makes at council meetings. Mr Foy therefore appears to be an influential and powerful figure in Labour ranks in Gateshead. He chairs the Labour group, his wife is a cabinet member, he runs Labour election campaigns, he's the boss in Mr Anderson's office. We are reliably informed that many on his own side do not wish to cross swords with him.
Cllr Foy's sidekick is Gary Haley, councillor for Dunston and Teams and a man with an unenviable record for running disastrous local election campaigns. I still look back with amusement on his three attempts to win my ward. He eventually moved on to Dunston Hill and Whickham East where the good citizens of the ward were equally unimpressed. Two failed attempts to get himself elected resulted in his jumping ship, this time to the strongly Labour ward of Dunston and Teams where a string of by-elections meant Labour were approaching the bottom of the barrel of candidates and were polishing up the scraper.
Cllr Haley was one of the key Labour campaigners in Whickham North in last month's election. Indeed, Lib Dem Cllr, Peter Craig, who was defending the seat, bumped into him on the day before polling day and said to him that he was spending a great deal of time in the ward. "Yes," Cllr Haley replied, "more time than I am in my own ward." (Cllr Haley may not wish to take his ward for granted in such a way in future - Dunston and Teams saw one of the biggest falls in the Labour vote in Gateshead, down 26%.)
Anyway, back to the Labour group meeting last week. It seems, according to our source, that the revolutionary principle of the secret ballot may have helped defeat the promotion prospects of Councillors Haley and Foy. We have not been informed of the positions to which either aspired (if anyone on the inside can tell me, please feel free to do so), but we are reliably informed that Cllr Haley in particular went down to a spectacular defeat.
So the Council Leader, Mick Henry, has survived for another year, thanks in part to the successful Lib Dem victories in all the wards we were defending which prevented the election of new Labour members who could have swung the balance within the Labour group. That, and the secret ballot. Nevertheless, he is by no means safe. He got a battering from some members of his group just before the budget. He could fall prey to another. The Labour group could provide us therefore with some interesting blood sports over the year ahead.