Race is on to be next Islington Council leader as Catherine West sets sights on Parliament

Cllr Catherine West, leader of Islington Council, hopes to win Lynne Featherstone's Hornsey and Wood

Cllr Catherine West, leader of Islington Council, hopes to win Lynne Featherstone's Hornsey and Wood Green seat for Labour in 2015 - Credit: Archant

The race to become Islington Council’s next leader got underway this week after Catherine West announced her departure in a bid to become MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.

Ms West will battle it out with the Liberal Democrats’ Lynne Featherstone in the 2015 General Election and will not seek re-election in Tollington in the May 2014 local elections.

Only one Islington councillor – Paul Convery – this week boldly voiced their “absolute” intention to compete for the Labour leadership. The other four touted candidates were this week remaining tight-lipped.

Richard Watts – the finance and performance chief – and Paul Smith – who was sacked as executive member for environment – both said “no comment” when asked about their plans.

Meanwhile, James Murray – the housing and development member – and Richard Greening – who was also sacked as finance chief – both failed to respond.

Mr Convery said: “I would like to have a pitch for it, absolutely. Leading a council like Islington would be an incredibly tough but rewarding job. I have lived in the borough for 30 years and I feel up to it.”

Criticism was poured on Ms West’s decision not to step down as leader before May, which will see her juggle her Westminster campaign with leading Islington’s public services.

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However, when asked if she would step down before the local elections, she said: “That’s something that obviously I’m giving a lot of thought to.”

Labour’s 36 councillors will in due course vote for their preferred candidate with the person securing the most votes being installed as leader.

They will also become council leader next year if Labour secures a majority in May’s elections.

Ms West – who lives just off Hornsey Lane – was selected as Labour’s parliamentary prospective candidate at a hustings attended by hundreds of local party members.

She beat off Kirsten Hearn and Mandy Richards, gaining more than 75 per cent of the vote.

But the £51,000 a year leader’s departure has stoked accusations Labour’s “career” politicians continue to “use” Islington residents as a stepping stone for the road to Westminster.

Ms West has become the sixth Islington Labour councillor in just three years to chase Westminster glory.

Lucy Rigby and Jessica Asato resigned their Holloway and St George’s ward seats after being selected as the prospective parliamentary candidates for Lincolnshire and Norwich North respectively.

Mildmay, Highbury West and Caledonian councillors – Kate Groucutt, Andy Hull and Charlynne Pullen – also unsuccessfully campaigned to become parliamentary candidates.

Cllr Paula Belford, Islington Liberal Democrat Whip, said: “Islington is obviously a training ground for wannabe MPs as Catherine West is the sixth Labour councillor to try for Parliament since May 2010.

“Some residents will rightly ask about the impression so many Labour councillors are giving that they are just using residents and Islington as a stepping stone before moving on to what they see as better things as a parliamentary candidate.”