Southwark Council leadership race: five hopefuls throw hats into the ring

Katherine Johnston (11 March, 2020)

Vote will be decided by councillors and not members despite Momentum campaign

8116The council's offices on Tooley Street

The new leader of Southwark Council will be chosen by councillors and not an all-members vote, despite some support among backbenchers for open selection to be trialled in the borough.

As the News has reported, after a decade at the helm Peter John is stepping down as Southwark Council leader, announcing the decision at last month’s full council assembly (February 26).

His last day will be Wednesday, March 25, at the next full assembly, when his successor is elected by councillors.

How council leaders are chosen has become one of Labour’s internal battle grounds. The Momentum wing of the party is pushing for an all-member vote as part of its wider ‘democracy review’. Some councils already have member-selected leaders in the form of directly elected mayors.

It’s an idea Cllr John has previously dismissed as ‘no doubt the brainchild activist on work experience’, arguing that council and its cabinet would fail to function properly without having a leader elected with their full confidence.

“An example of the kind of problems that situation produces are evident from the Parliamentary Labour Party since 2015,” he wrote on a politics blog online in early February this year.

“It’s surely not something that anyone rational would want to extend to local government.”

In Southwark’s three constituency Labour parties a motion for debate, seen by the News, argues that “empowering party members to decide the new leader makes for a richer discussion about the future direction of Southwark Council.”

An open letter has also been sent to the party’s National Executive Committee calling for the 5000 plus local members to have their say in an ‘invigorating, radical grassroots system’ – signed by five of Labour’s backbenchers.

They have also argued that regardless of how the vote is decided contenders should take part in local hustings. The News understands Southwark Labour Group intends to hold these within the coming week.

According to our sources, three current cabinet members have thrown their hat into the ring, and two backbenchers.  Kieron Williams (housing) and Johnson Situ (planning and development) are said to be frontrunners.

Former housing boss Stephanie Cryan (who currently holds the jobs, business and innovation portfolio) is another contender and the only woman to put herself forward.

Backbenchers Martin Seaton and Sunny Lambe have also launched bids. Seaton represents North Walworth ward and is chair of the council’s planning committee. Lambe is a South Bermondsey councillor and chair of the north-east multi-ward forum.

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