We take a look at the candidates who might be running Manchester City Council by next year
Two weeks is a long time in politics. It’s hard to believe it was only a fortnight ago (7 September) that Sir Richard Leese took everyone by surprise, announcing his resignation as Leader of Manchester City Council.
While political figures lined up to pay tribute to Sir Richard – including Andy Burnham, Lucy Powell and our own writers Jonathan Schofield and John Blundell – others were more enthusiastic about what will come next. “This is an opportunity to transform Manchester City Council into a council that puts people before profit and residents before financiers”, tweeted Manchester Momentum.
Labour councillors were asked to nominate a potential replacement for the man who has lead the city for 25 years.
Indeed, his leadership style was often termed “abrasive”. In our recent interview, Manchester’s only Green councillor Rob Nunney said “The general response was very hostile... There are just two members of the council who are not Labour. What's Councillor Leese afraid of - that we're going to take over the council? Why can't he take suggestions in a more welcoming and open manner?"
And what comes next is of course determined by who comes next. The next leader will set the tone and the focus as Manchester climbs out of the pandemic. While Sir Richard has concentrated on development and investment, the next leader might be focused on social care or the environment. So who becomes the next leader really matters to every Mancunian.
When asked about a potential successor, Sir Richard told Confidentials: “We can’t do a succession plan because at some point I’ll either go voluntarily or I’ll be taken out; I know which I’d prefer. Whichever way I go, the Labour Group will elect someone else, there’s no prior anointing. What is clear is when there is a new leader, the leadership of the city will be different.”
Sir Richard also told Jennifer Williams: “The agenda we’ve set out for the council now is a three-to-five-year agenda and it really needs somebody else going to drive that over a period of time.”
“There are a number of really good potential candidates to take my place and I think the strategic management of the council is in a pretty good place at the moment.”
The Strategic Management Team is a group of ten non-elected employees of the Council, all under the direct control of the chief exec Joanne Roney. Each member is in charge of a directorate such as Children’s Services or Growth and Neighbourhoods. Sir Richard’s avowed confidence in this structure suggests that anyone who wants to do anything radically different may come up against some resistance.
There is a growing number of left-leaning members within the party (what Sir Richard might term “the sectarian left”). While the whip system has kept them in line, up until now, it may be that this is due for reform and transparency. Marcia Hutchinson, the member for Ancoats and Beswick, wrote about the party whip system recently in a move that was widely seen as breaking rank from party authority.
Yesterday (September 21) the 94 Labour councillors of Manchester City Council were asked to nominate a potential replacement for the man who has lead the city for 25 years.
So who will Richard Leese's successor be?
Cllrs Bev Craig and Luthfur Rahman, both deputy leaders already, are the obvious choices for a continuation of Sir Richard’s legacy. Cllr Ekua Bayunu, who challenged Sir Richard for leadership earlier this year at the Labour AGM is an outside contender who offers a radically different approach to those dissatisfied with the status quo. Cllr Garry Bridges, as a member of the executive perhaps offers a third way – years of experience without being seen as a carbon copy of the old guard.
One element of the leadership race that stands out is the diversity of the candidates, with Cllr Rahman looking set to be the first leader of a Muslim and Bangladeshi background if elected. Cllr Craig would the first female and openly gay leader, Cllr Bayunu would be the first female leader and first Black leader and Cllr Bridges would again be the first openly gay leader, if elected. That's an impressive list of potential firsts.
We should state that none of the councillors spoke to us for this piece as there are rules against it while the elections are taking place. It is said that the new leader will be elected on the 5 October and be confirmed to the wider public soon after.
Bev Craig has been the councillor for Burnage since 2011 and played a key role in Manchester’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic as executive member for adult health and wellbeing. Since May she has been the Statutory Deputy Leader and has responsibility for communications, finance, digital strategy, procurement and social value, legal and corporate property.
She moved to Manchester from Northern Ireland in 2003 to study at Manchester University, where she gained a first-class degree in politics and modern history. She went on to do postgraduate study at the same university, studying Class and Diversity in the UK Parliament.
After university, Bev worked as an organiser for Unison, concentrating on social care and was a board member for Southway Housing Trust. She is currently deputy chair of Manchester Health and Care Commissioning - a partnership between Manchester City Council and NHS Manchester Clinical Commissioning Group.
With her experience in health and social care, Cllr Craig will be well-placed to tackle the aftermath of coronavirus, especially its long-term impact on hospitals. With social care taking up ever-increasing amounts council budget, her experience there will be invaluable too.
Cllr Luthfur Rahman, who has represented his home ward of Longsight since 2008, was recently awarded an OBE for services to local government. He was born in Bangladesh and raised in Longsight and is the first person of Bengali heritage to be elected to the role of deputy leader. His responsibilities include culture and events, equalities and community cohesion, homelessness and the voluntary sector. He left Stockport College at 17 and ran his own restaurant for several years. He is also a qualified financial advisor. Cllr Rahman was the first councillor to call for the introduction of the living wage in Manchester.
Cllr Rahman is a member of Unite, and serves on the board of Manchester International Festival, The National Football Museum and Manchester Active. He is well respected and well versed in the cultural life of the city. If he became leader, his tenure would coincide with the opening of Factory and the hope that Manchester would claim its place as a pre-eminent city of culture on a global scale. He also has responsibility for Our Manchester, Sir Richard's strategic vision for the city until 2025. The current leader may be hopeful that someone so well acquainted with his vision will be able to push it though.
Cllr Garry Bridges was the first to declare publicly that he was running, via an email to the Labour Group. Cllr Bridges is currently Executive Member for Children's Services and member for Old Moat in Withington. His responsibilities include children and families, schools and children and young people in care. He also has roles on the Art Galleries Committee and Health and Wellbeing board, is a member of the GMB Union and is a trustee of the Manchester Literature Festival.
As 2022 has been declared “Year of the Child” by Manchester City Council, acknowledging the harms caused to children by the pandemic, if Cllr Bridges were to be elected his experience in Children’s Services would be a boon to that priority.
In May, as the dust was still settling from the local elections, newly minted councillor for Hulme Ekua Bayunu made a direct challenge to Richard Leese’s leadership.
At the time, her challenge was framed as a gesture to centre the leadership of Black women of African heritage. Rumour has it that the Central Labour party were somewhat spooked that she garnered 15 votes to Sir Richard’s 75. A minority, but a not insignificant one.
Cllr Bayunu may be a newbie in council terms but has over 40 years working with and for disadvantaged communities as an arts activist. She is a member of Greater Manchester Tenants Union and improving social housing would no doubt be high on her agenda if she were elected leader.
She is a committed trade unionist, a local rep for Artists' Union England and a member of Unite Community, as well as working on a Stop Police Brutality campaign. Cllr Bayunu also initiated the Stop Windrush Deportations rally in St Peter's Square, collaborating with a number of anti-racist and anti-fascist organisations. She volunteered with the Greenheys Community Assistance Volunteers and the Ardwick and Longsight Mutual Aid groups to support local people during the pandemic.
Cllr Bayunu would probably not be Sir Richard's choice of successor but that might make her more attractive to the more left-leaning councillors.
How the votes fall will be just as important an indicator for the direction Manchester will take as the identity of the victor. A marginal victory will mean a leader hemmed in by competing factions, while a clear and decisive win will mean they can put their own mark on the future. While the whip system has been criticised recently, the discipline of Manchester’s Labour party has often been the envy of other councils. While more freedom for councillors is potentially a good thing, it might make the council less efficient in achieving its goals. Perhaps the legacy Sir Richard is hoping to leave behind him is not buildings and economic recovery but one of control. Or, if rumours are true that he still wants to be involved in politics, potentially in health matters, then maybe that is one asset he is not willing to leave to his successor.
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