Council Leader Chris Robbins: staying or going?

A local Labour Party mole writes in as follows:

‘When Labour was re-elected at the 2014 council elections, it was assumed by many insiders that this would be Chris Robbins’ last term as Leader. Speculation turned to the succession, with Clare Coghill and Mark Rusling generally believed to be the leading contenders.

However, those who knew Robbins well were always sceptical, because he previously had made a habit of hinting at his imminent retirement, using it as a tactic to keep members in line. Several aspiring successors were assured ‘keep your nose clean and you’ll be alright’, but each time absolutely nothing happened. One close associate asked: ‘What would he do if he retired, sit at home watching daytime TV? Would that give him the ego boosting buzz he clearly gets from the functions and ceremonies he is so assiduous at arranging?’.

As it turns out, the sceptics were right. For two years into the new term of office, the latest word from the Town Hall is that the Leader, far from retiring, is likely to ‘see the group through the next election’ – a not so subtle way of saying ‘I’m going nowhere’. What is he playing at?

Clearly, Robbins still enjoys the trappings of power. And he has successfully re-organised the responsibilities of office so that they do not impose too much on his lifestyle, with Cabinet meetings held during the day, and little public campaigning (not that he ever seemed too keen on the latter anyway).

But are there other factors involved, too?

Currently, Waltham Forest sits sandwiched between two boroughs where the elected mayors have both been honoured – Jules Pipe in Hackney has a CBE while Robin Wales in Newham is a Knight. Robbins believes he has led Waltham Forest heroically, and perhaps yearns for the same treatment – something more prestigious, in other words, than the commemorative stones and plaques now placed on every development in the borough, whether Council inspired or not.

However, all may not be plain sailing. One factor beyond Robbins’ control is the politics of the current leadership of the Labour Party – the polar opposite of his own. Indeed, his courting of David Miliband and Tessa Jowell will not have gone unnoticed. Perhaps he hopes that if he clings to office long enough, a less extreme national leader will emerge, one who will be more sympathetic to his cause. But there is still the little matter of his brush with the Labour party disciplinary process, and more generally the numerous council fiascos of the past few years, with their attendant coverage in the local press and the widely read Private Eye. Might this chequered history create a degree of hesitancy in those who compile the lists of names for recognition?

Robbins may have glimpsed this. Labour group members have recently been amused that he is insisting on appointing a Conservative Mayor at the next annual Council meeting in May. His claim that he needs to do this ‘to keep them quiet’ is laughable in a borough with such a clear Labour majority. Perhaps he believes that his Tory nominee – Councillor Peter Herrington – has some as yet unrevealed influence, for instance the ear of Ian Duncan-Smith, and that this may help him achieve his goal. Is Robbins obsession with putting the Union flag on every Council building (with the latest batch just being installed) another effort to prove his loyalty to Her Majesty?

Whatever the reasoning, Councillors Rusling and Coghill may have many more years to wait before a vacancy appears’.


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