A power struggle within Newcastle’s Labour Party has taken a new twist – with the city’s council leader facing a challenge just a year into his reign.
Nick Kemp will have to fight off competition to keep his place at the head of the local authority after next week’s elections, with confirmation that Kenton councillor Ged Bell has triggered a leadership contest against him.
It is just over 12 months since Cllr Kemp seized power at the civic centre, winning control after former leader and long-time rival Nick Forbes was dramatically deselected.
Cllr Bell was a prominent member of Mr Forbes’ administration and is seen as one of the heavy hitters remaining in that faction of Newcastle’s ruling party.
The retired firefighter told the Local Democracy Reporting Service on Thursday that he had been asked by several other councillors to put himself forward to challenge Cllr Kemp in a leadership election due to be held in May.
He said: “This vote is a process we go through every year to select positions within the group, one of those being leader.
“I have been asked by a number of individuals within the group to offer an alternative. I believe that is something I have got – I have the track record, I have experience leading major projects and delivering for major organisations, and helping run organisations for over two decades.
“I think that I can offer an alternative to the Labour group and we will go through the normal process. Nominations are closed and there will be an election within the Labour group.”
Labour councillors in the city are due to vote in the leadership contest at the group’s annual general meeting, which it is thought will be held on 9 May.
Cllr Bell has sat on Newcastle City Council since 1996 and held responsibility for issues including jobs, investment, and transport during his time in the cabinet.
He was among the long-serving figures shuffled out of the council’s top team after the change of leadership last year.
Cllr Kemp emerged victorious in a tight leadership race in March 2022, in which he defeated Clare Penny-Evans by 27 votes to 24, having also tried to depose Mr Forbes the previous year.
Of the latest leadership battle he now faces, the Byker ward representative said: “Obviously this is disappointing when we’re only a year into the new administration and especially when we’ve achieved a lot in a short time, from our response to the cost of living crisis through to becoming an accredited real living wage employer. We’re moving to a neighbourhood focus for service delivery while at the same time completing on some of the projects we inherited.
“I launched the city’s first Inclusive Economic Strategy and Anti Poverty Strategy this year and I’m focused on delivering for the people of Newcastle, not internal squabbles. However, this is all part of our annual democratic processes and I look forward to the discussion with my Labour group colleagues.”