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OLDHAM: ‘Leave the nastiness out of the chamber’

After weeks of fraught meetings, phones ringing off the hook and accusations flying online, Oldham council’s leadership has been decided for the next two years.

Labour leader Arooj Shah clung on to her leadership by one vote at the first council meeting since the local election. 

The Oldham boss faced off a challenge from a ‘rainbow alliance’ of Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and the Oldham Group Independents. They won 28 votes but were outmatched by 29 votes in support of Shah and three abstentions. 

Councillor Shah remains at the helm – but that doesn’t mean nothing has changed. Part of her win is thanks to negotiations with independent councillors, who she says will now have a much bigger say in the council chambers. 

Speaking to the LDRS after the meeting, Coun Shah said she’d taken the last election as a sign to ‘stop, reflect and listen’. 

“There are clearly areas in the borough that Labour don’t represent,” she said.

“And there are elected people who now have a mandate to represent those areas. Having those voices around the table to reach out to those people will be a good opportunity. Because we want to be a council that works for all Oldhamers.” 

She claimed that moving forwards, the cabinet, officer and councillors would seek to work more ‘cooperatively and collaboratively’, to ‘make sure [all councillors] feel genuinely listened to and heard’.

“It’s a really exciting time for more consensus politics,” she said. “I’m welcoming the opportunity for more independent decisions in my leadership team.” 

That includes a much closer working relationship with independents, especially the Shaw and Crompton independents who came out in support of the Labour group during the vote. Shaw councillor Lisa Navesey will take up a position in the cabinet, the group of key decision makers in the council, as the deputy member for children’s safeguarding. 

The independents are ‘free’ to make their own calls at council votes, according to Shah. 

Shah said: “My responsibility is to make sure they have a genuine voice around the table. I’m not asking them to move away from their identity. They are allowed to vote on issues as and when they feel fit.” 

The exception to this is budgets and No Confidence votes, according to Shaw councillor Marc Hince, who told the LDRS he was looking forward to a ‘Labour leadership held accountable by true independents’. 

But the Oldham boss notes that it might not all be plain-sailing after what has been an intense period of politicking in the borough, saying ‘only time will tell’ if the rifts can be mended. 

Shah said: “Now it’s for me to work on those relationships and show them I have an open door. 

“But the plea I made today is that we have to deliver. We have so much to do. We have to focus on what’s important and that’s improving the lives of the people in the borough. …

“People have put their trust in us to do the right things and not bring all the nastiness into the chamber.”

 

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