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Leadership race could become a coronation

Deputy leader is tipped for sweep to power at the Town Hall

05 March, 2021 — By Calum Fraser

Kaya Comer-Schwartz, the deputy leader of Islington Council

BACKBENCH councillors have said their phones have been “deadly quiet” over the weekend – a clue which they think means the race to become the next leader of the council may become more of a coronation than an election.

Council sources are now tipping current deputy leader Councillor Kaya Comer-Schwartz to sweep to power.

The speculation follows the announcement last week that Islington leader Cllr Richard Watts will be stepping down after eight years in charge at the Town Hall.

His successor is due to be named on March 24. Nominations opened yesterday (Thursday) and will close on Wednesday.

While there was a rush of “heavy-weight” contenders who came forward for a leadership battle the last time the top job was up for grabs – in 2013 –with phones buzzing incessantly as candidates tried to win votes from their colleagues, this time members said there’s been a “weird silence”.

Housing chief Councillor Diarmaid Ward, who many thought would be a front-runner for the role, is believed to have decided not to mount a campaign.

“Diarmaid was testing the water and did well but his supporters are also keen on Kaya,” one Labour back­bencher said. And of the prospect of a challenger coming forward to take on Cllr Comer-Schwartz, they added: “Standing against a very strong candidate risks making you look bad.”

Richard Watts

Cllr Richard Watts is stepping down after eight years in charge at the Town Hall

Cllr Comer-Schwartz is currently on maternity leave. It is understood that she would be ready to return by the time the new leader is announced at a meeting of the full council in May.

Another backbencher told the Tribune that many were realising that the high-profile position could turn out to be a “poisoned chalice”.

The pandemic has left the council’s finances in a precarious position.

There has also been a furious backlash to the Town Hall’s “People Friendly Streets” programme which has seen roads across the borough closed and, with local elections just over a year away, the possible political impact of this is unknown.

One executive member told the Tribune: “I don’t think anyone wants a coronation. It would be much better for democracy if we had a contest.”

Another Labour councillor added: “I thought there would be a flurry of phone calls over the weekend but I have been sorely disappointed. It’s been deadly quiet.

“I think people are reflecting on the level of the challenge, but the last thing we want is a coronation though.”

There are whispers that the council’s crime chief Councillor Sue Lukes could throw her hat into the ring but it is uncertain whether she would achieve enough support to mount a serious challenge.

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