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Going, going…. gone as Farooq paves the way for Labour to take the helm at Peterborough City Council

Labour to form a minority administration at Peterborough City Council

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Cllr Mohammed Farooq has resigned as leader of Peterborough City Council, paving the way for Labour to garner support from the Lib Dems, Greens, and independents to take control. Labour’s success at this month’s local elections means that with 19 seats on the 60-strong city council they are the largest party.

City council Labour leader Dennis Jones who was said to be at best ambivalent about the prospect and at worst reluctant to do so, looks odds-on to be voted in as leader.

It follows the intervention of Labour head office who have put pressure on the Peterborough party to seize the moment to press for the leadership of the city council.

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Peterborough First leader Cllr Farooq, whose independent group added to their tally of councillors to take their number to 14, had hoped to work with Labour and other parties and independents to remain in the job he ‘acquired’ last November after Tory leader Wayne Fitzgerald was ousted.

But today, the former Conservative councillor, accepted his fate.

“In light of recent elections, where every party is a minority, I am resigning from my position as the leader of Peterborough City Council and I would like members in the chamber tonight to choose a leader who commands a majority of 31 or more,” he said.

Clearly Peterborough First were not in a position to do that.

He took over as leader last November after Tory leader Wayne Fitzgerald was ousted in a muddy confidence vote.

Cllr Mohammed Farooq who has resigned as leader of Peterborough City Council. PHOTO: Terry Harris

Cllr Mohammed Farooq who has resigned as leader of Peterborough City Council. PHOTO: Terry Harris

The momentum of that coup led to surprise stability in the council chamber in the months that followed and most, including Cllr Farooq, felt a formula of minority control but with involvement of other opposition groups – excluding of course the Conservatives – was bringing about positive changes to how the city council is run.

Whilst the Conservatives were by no means annihilated and lost one seat by 2 votes and another by 6 votes, their days in control, or anywhere near approaching control, are over for now.

They start the new ‘term’ with just 11 councillors compared to 30 after the May 2023 elections, though of course that number was later reduced by resignations and defections to Peterborough First.

Cllr Fitzgerald will no doubt enjoy leading his group into the chamber for tonight’s meeting, but they will have little impact in the leadership debate.

That influence will be shared among the 8 Liberal Democrats, 4 Green, and 4 independents and Cllr Jones has only to tempt 12 of those to support him and for a new Labour led administration to be formed.

Cllr Farooq has said little about the behind the scenes talks since the local elections, but it is likely he would have been asked to step aside and support Cllr Dennis Jones, but my understanding is that he had refused to do so.

Many in the Labour group will understandably are less than enamoured of Cllr Farooq’s credentials, despite the widely acknowledged success of his first months as leader.

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It was after all only a year he was a pillar of the Conservative establishment in the city, and it wasn’t until June of last year he stepped down as president of North West Cambridgeshire Conservative Association citing an ‘unfolding situation’ within Peterborough City Council.

Association chairman Graham Bull remarked they were “grieved and deeply disappointed to lose Farooq as our president. He has been a valuable member of our association for some years and his experience and wise counsel will be much missed”.

The technicalities surrounding tonight’s meeting have inevitably causing a challenge to city council officers trying to formulate working arrangements going forward.

Adesuwa Omoregie, the interim director of legal and governance (monitoring officer) is recommending that the council “notes the members who have been appointed to the Cabinet by the leader and the leader’s scheme of delegation to Cabinet members and officers”.

Unfortunately, those details remain in outline only as do the appointments to the shareholder Cabinet committee and many other appointments that would normally have been resolved ahead of the first meeting following an election.

Tory MP Paul Bristow claims to be “hearing via the grapevine, Labour will form a minority administration at Peterborough City Council”.

Despite not having any ‘skin in the game’ he remains upbeat over his party’s chances at the general election and has found solace in his interpretation of votes cast in May that he says claims more people voted Conservative in city wards covered by his constituency than any other party.

“I am not complaining. It’s the system we have – and I will remain our MP if this result is repeated at a general election,” he says.

On his Facebook page, Mr Bristow was keen to emphasise that “most of the losses were not in my constituency; we lost three seats in my area by 2, 6 and 8 votes and gained one by 5.

“But overall, more people voted Conservative than Labour.”

MP Paul Bristow displaying his own version of the 2023 local elections

Outgoing mayor Nick Sandford, a former Lib Dem councillor who lost his seat this month, had little expectation of a partnership between Labour and Peterborough First.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting service: “Peterborough First don’t have any policies so it’s hard to see, unless Labour see them like a blank sheet of paper they can impose their policies”.

Cllr Jones has kept his own counsel about tonight’s meeting but that hasn’t deflected him from taking a swipe at MP Paul Bristow.

“I now hear that the current MP and his acolytes are trying to undermine my position as group leader, anything to disrupt,” he wrote in a local blog.

“What a terrible shame they didn’t run positive campaigns to give their voters something to believe in instead of behaving like Muppets but without the educational or entertainment value we associate with the originals.”

Cllr Faooq added: “Peterborough First will continue to work hard in the best interests of our residents and will support policies which deliver value to our residents and in opposition, will hold the new administration to account.”

 

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