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COMMENT - LABOUR DECLINE HERALDS NEW ERA

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The gradual decline of the Local Government Association's Labour dominance has crossed the Rubicon with Sir Jeremy ...
The gradual decline of the Local Government Association's Labour dominance has crossed the Rubicon with Sir Jeremy Beecham's loss of the chairmanship.

The Conservatives are now, by a whisker, the largest single group in the LGA. They have 35.8% compared to Labour's 34.9%.

After due process, it is expected Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, the Conservative LGA vice-chair, will take over.

So what will happen now? It is a new era. Sir Sandy has been clear there will be a more combative style of leadership.

Some commentators have painted an apocalyptic picture, with the association's Tories putting themselves in the service of their national party and seeking to score political points against the Labour government at every opportunity.

In tandem with this, it is suggested, Labour will row back from plans for new freedoms and the entire seven years' work of the association will be swept away.

These tensions undeniably exist, but there are good reasons why they will not cause major difficulties. First, there is the nature of the association. It is there to work for the good of all councils, and this is a strong inhibitor of any temptation to hijack it for political purposes.

Second, the Tories do not have majority control of the LGA. Collaboration and co-operation with the other parties will be the order of the day.

Third, there is the leadership of Sir Sandy.

As leader of Kent CC he has a track record of being critical of the government in public, when he has a case to make, while working with it constructively behind the scenes. Within the association, he already plays a leading role in negotiations and has won admirers over this.

And there is a great deal of mutual respect between Sir Sandy and Sir Jeremy.

Finally, LGA chief executive Sir Brian Briscoe has been working for many months to ensure a seamless handover of control.

Moreover, some of the incoming Tory chairs will vastly exceed their Labour predecessors in their ability to charm the government. One or two politicians of very modest ability will, at long last, be going.

It will not be entirely plain sailing, of course, and nobody knows precisely how the new dynamic

will manifest itself. Sir Sandy may know where to draw the line between combative and unconstructive, but will he be able to resist pressure from elements in his group who do not? Success depends on it.

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