To the irritation of many Labour Party members, Martin Francis has long enjoyed access to briefings from sources in the Labour Group. In at least one case he was given access to the Council Leader's presentation to a Labour Party meeting before any of the Labour Councillors or members. This has continued more recently with Martin posting a report of the new Executive members on the same evening as the Labour Group AGM, which was punctuated by the Chair repeatedly reminding people that it was a private meeting which should not be reported to outsiders. He also seems to be personally briefed on changes to the Constitution and to Labour Standing Orders before people in the Labour Party itself.
Such care to keep a long standing opponent of Labour who stood against the Party as recently as May 2014 informed may strike many as strange.
However, his sources do not seem to tell him everything.
In his extensive report of the Labour Group meeting, Martin alludes to the proposal to do away with the traditional annual elections for leader. He cites the justification that annual elections force the Leader to constantly look over his/her shoulder. While this was certainly true when Ann John was challenged, it has not been generally the case. The Labour Group Leaders have personally known are: Dorman Long (1987-1994), Paul Daisley (1994-2001), Ann John (2001-1012) and Muhammed Butt (2012 to the present). The only one defeated in a Group challenge was Ann John by her then deputy Muhammed Butt. That hardly strikes me a picture of chronic instability.
The Group is again returning with a slightly modified version of the plan in a few days. The renewed proposal is once again to abolish annual elections for the Leader. There is a safeguard, which I understand was incorporated after the Regional Director objected to the earlier version, that a third of Labour Councillors can trigger an election by writing to the Secretary. That still seems a fairly high threshold. The proposed change also stipulates that their identity remain anonymous, which I take it is intended as a safeguard against them being threatened or intimidated by anyone who does not want an election. I must say I don't have much confidence in that safeguard as my experience of how Groups work is that the names of people quickly leak out.
Together with the changes to the Council Constitution, Brent is suddenly acquiring a governance model based on a directly elected Mayor, like Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets. The difference is that there is no election involved. I still hold by my previous views that this is leading to a significant diminishment in both democracy and the quality of decision making in Brent.