Nick Kemp wins fight to succeed Nick Forbes as Newcastle Council's Labour leader

Credit: Newcastle City Council

Long-serving Byker councillor Nick Kemp has won a close-fought contest and is now set to succeed the outgoing Nick Forbes at the head of the city council.

He defeated Clare Penny-Evans and Irim Ali in the race to replace Councillor Forbes, who confirmed last month that he would be quitting Newcastle politics after being deselected in his Arthur's Hill ward.

Councillor Forbes has been in the Civic Centre's top elected position since 2011 and will remain so until the end of his term in May.

But, after confirming he would not stand at this spring's local elections, he had asked for Newcastle City Council's ruling Labour group to choose a new leader ahead of the May polls in order to offer "clarity" to voters.

He will now be succeeded by one of his biggest rivals, after Councillor Kemp defeated two of the council's current cabinet members in Monday night's vote among city Labour councillors.

Councillor Kemp polled 26 votes in the first round of voting, compared to 22 for Councillor Penny-Evans and four for Councillor Ali, who was then eliminated from the contest.

In the second round, Councillor Kemp polled 27 votes compared to Councillor Penny-Evans' 24.

He immediately becomes Labour group leader and is expected to formally become leader of the council at the local authority's AGM on May 25.

The experienced East End councillor has had his eye on the top for some time, emerging as a major rival and unsuccessfully challenging Councillor Forbes for the leadership last May.

Councillor Kemp had previously quit the council's cabinet in June 2020, claiming he was being undermined by "constant sniping" and "personal animosities" as divisions within the Newcastle Labour group were laid bare.

Nick Forbes

During that bad-tempered split, Councillor Forbes then claimed he had received "a number of complaints about Councillor Kemp's behaviour".

The council leader, who has been Labour's figurehead in the city since 2007, suffered a landslide defeat to local activist Abdul Samad in a selection meeting last month to decide the party's candidate in Arthur's Hill for the upcoming elections.

While the 48-year-old could have sought to cling onto power by being parachuted into another seat, he concluded that stepping aside after such a damaging episode was the "one honourable choice available to me".

He has blamed an "ambush" by members on Labour's left wing for his defeat, saying he was targeted as a moderate ally of Sir Keir Starmer.

While Councillor Kemp is not considered as being from the far left of the party himself, he is thought to have carried the backing of Jeremy Corbyn-supporting councillors in the past as a fellow opponent of the more centrist Councillor Forbes' leadership.

Councillor Kemp, who runs a public relations firm, has served on the council for 20 years and held responsibility for issues such as trading standards and bin collections in his past role as cabinet member for environmental and regulatory services.

He also previously worked for Newcastle East MP Nick Brown, another prominent political figure in the city who is rumoured to have clashed with Councillor Forbes.

Councillor Kemp said it was a "true honour and privilege" to be named leader, adding: "The fact that I have been elected to this role at one of the most challenging moments in the history of local government makes me determined to rise to the challenge.

"I pledge that I will stay true to the wants and needs of the people of our wonderful city and that their interests will always come first."

Had either of the other two candidates on Monday night been successful, they would have become the first female leader of the council.

Councillor Penny-Evans tweeted after the result that it was a "shame we didn't take the opportunity to elect a woman leader".

Councillor Ali, who would have also been the council's first non-white leader, said she "tried and will continue to try to break the glass ceiling", but congratulated Councillor Kemp on his win and added that she had "no doubt that the group is united and we will support the new leader".

Councillor Kemp has been contacted for a comment.