Deputy leaders Cllr Bev Craig and Cllr Luthfur Rahman are the early favourites to succeed Sir Richard Leese, with a decision due in the first week of October.
Sir Richard Leese announced last night he would step down as leader of the city council, a role he has held for a quarter of a century. Attention now turns to who will replace him.
Burnage’s Cllr Craig and Longsight’s Cllr Rahman, who Labour appointed as deputy leaders following the elections in May, have emerged as the two frontrunners, according to sources.
In leading for 25 years, Leese brought stability to the city of Manchester and at 44 and 36 respectively, Cllrs Rahman and Craig are young enough, theoretically, to embark upon similarly lengthy terms.
If chosen, Cllr Craig would be the first female leader of the city council, while the selection of Cllr Rahman would see him become the first BAME leader of the authority.
Speaking to Place North West, Cllr Rahman kept his card close to his chest when asked if he would run for leadership.
“I am still absorbing the news [about Leese’s departure]. I don’t think anyone expected the announcement. I haven’t decided on anything but I haven’t ruled anything out.”
Place North West contacted Cllr Craig for comment.
While the deputy leaders are the favourites to replace Leese, this is unlikely to be a two-horse race.
Much depends on the route Manchester Labour decides to take when it votes on a successor early next month.
If the group decides it wants to install a long-term replacement immediately, then it is hard to look past Cllrs Craig and Rahman. But if it is decided that a cooling-off period is required to break up the end of the Leese era and the start of the next, Labour may go a different direction.
The safe bet
A source within the party told Place North West that 72-year-old Cllr Bernard Priest – Ardwick councillor and former deputy leader – would be a “safe pair of hands” while Labour plans for the future.
However, another former deputy leader under Leese thinks Labour is unlikely to opt for this route.
“I very much doubt that the Labour Group would go for an interim leader,” said Nigel Murphy, associate director at Cratus Communications and former Hulme councillor.
“[Labour] will be looking for stability rather than having to go through another leadership election in 12 to 18 months.”
Murphy is in little doubt that both Cllrs Craig and Rahman are the two to watch.
“While both have been fully supportive of Sir Richard Leese neither has hidden their ambition to succeed him,” he said.
Other names bandied about include Cllr Rabnawaz Akbar, the current executive member of neighbourhoods and Cllr John Flanagan, member for Miles Platting and Newton Heath.
However, they are considered outside bets.
Hulme councillor Ekua Bayanu may fancy a second bite of the leadership cherry having challenged Leese in May. Leese won that vote easily, notching up 75 votes to Cllr Bayanu’s 15.
Other senior councillors who make up the authority’s executive board include Gavin White, Garry Bridges, Joanna Midgley, and Tracy Rawlins. However, their names were not mentioned as potential successors by any of the sources contacted by Place.
A change of focus
Whoever takes the reins, the departure of Leese means the areas of focus within the council could change going forward, which could be bad news for the city’s development community.
The outgoing leader has long been seen as a friend to developers, overseeing the growth of Manchester since the IRA bomb destroyed part of the city in 1996, just a month after he was installed as leader.
However, the focus of the new leader is likely to be less on regeneration and more on addressing social inequality, according to a spokesperson at built environment communications consultancy BECG.
“The focus of the new leader may be dragged to the left,” the spokesperson said.
This will be driven by a growing number of left-leaning councillors that occupy Labour’s 96 seats that the new leader will need to appease.
“A new leader that wants to establish themselves and make sure they are secure will tack more to the new school of support focussing on issues like affordable housing and social support.”
While developers will no longer enjoy as close a relationship with the council leader, at least not immediately, the corporate team that Leese has built up over his 25-year tenure will ensure that the city’s property and regeneration aims will not fall too far down the authority’s list of priorities.