Sir Keir Starmer has paid tribute to Newcastle’s outgoing council leader, after Nick Forbes revealed that he will stand down in May.
After 11 years in the top civic centre post, the 48-year-old will be bowing out from city politics after this year’s local elections – having suffered a shock deselection by Labour Party members in his own Arthur’s Hill ward.
Cllr Forbes announced on Monday evening that he would not seek re-election in another seat in a bid to cling onto power, saying that withdrawing from May’s elections and therefore bringing his tenure as council leader to an end was the “one honourable choice available to me”.
As well as being one of North East politics’ most prominent voices, Cllr Forbes is also a major national figure within the Labour Party and a key moderate ally of Mr Starmer.
The party leader hailed Cllr Forbes as a “constant champion of local government”, tweeting: “He is a great friend and colleague, whose contribution to local government and Labour is deeply valued.”
Defeat two weeks ago to local activist Abdul Samad in a selection meeting to decide Labour’s candidate in Arthur’s Hill this year sent shockwaves through Newcastle’s corridors of power and left Cllr Forbes’ political future in severe doubt.
While he could have been parachuted into another seat elsewhere in the city, there would still have been major doubts about his ability to continue as council leader after such a devastating blow to his authority – a reality he had clearly accepted as he confirmed his future plans at a council cabinet meeting on Monday night.
The shadow levelling up secretary, Lisa Nandy, said: “Not many people can claim to have contributed as much to public life as Nick Forbes. A great champion for Newcastle, the North East, Labour and local government. His knowledge, passion and experience have been invaluable to me. We will miss him.”
Rifts within Newcastle’s Labour establishment are nothing new to Cllr Forbes, who survived a leadership challenge in 2021 by rival Nick Kemp but saw his long-serving deputy ousted in the process.
The centrist council leader has been a target for the left wing of the party and saw his political ambitions scuppered back in 2019 when Corbynite candidate Jamie Driscoll beat him to secure Labour’s nomination for North of Tyne mayor.
Mr Driscoll, who has since worked alongside Cllr Forbes in the North of Tyne Combined Authority’s cabinet, said: “I’ve enjoyed working with Nick at the North of Tyne. He’s been a key part of our programme to create good green jobs and tackle climate change. I’m sure a person of his talents will continue to contribute to making the North East a better place.”
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness, who like Mr Driscoll served as a city councillor under Cllr Forbes’ leadership, said he had “always put his city, and our wider region, first and positioned Newcastle as one of the UK’s leading cities”.
Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell added: “His tireless commitment to public service over decades, bringing both experience and dedication, will be a huge loss to Newcastle City Council. He has made a real difference to people in Newcastle and the North East and I wish him all the best for what comes next.”
Cllr Forbes, Newcastle’s first openly gay council leader, has led the city’s Labour group since 2007 and the council since 2011, while he also serves as Labour’s leader on the Local Government Association (LGA) and is a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee.
He will remain as council leader until his term in office comes to a close after the elections on May 5 – but has asked for a new Labour group leader to be elected in the city before then, in order to give “clarity” to voters about the party’s direction.