Tories cling on to power, but for how long?

Reduced to little more than a third of the membership of Walsall Council, one might very well question the audacity of Tory leader Mike Bird in bidding to retain control.

Tories cling on to power, but for how long?

All the numbers were against him. Labour had won a couple more seats in last month's local elections and now held half.

The tragic death of opposition leader Tim Oliver left Labour one more down. But in order for Labour to be defeated it would require every other party and the independents to team up against it.

Somehow, this week, that is exactly what happened.

Mike Bird managed something that many Tories can only dream of - he got UKIP to support him staying in control.

He is adamant that nothing was offered and that no deals were done, which raises a problem for Nigel Farage's Eurosceptics. Can they really claim to be as anti the Tories as they are Labour?

The Lib Dems, of course, have made their bed with the Tories over the past two years and must now lie in it for better or worse.

But Walsall's blue-gold-purple alliance is not in a stable position politically.

There will be a by-election in Birchills Leamore to find a successor for Tim Oliver and I wouldn't bet against Labour keeping the seat.

Somehow, Councillor Bird is going to have to come up with a year of political miracles.

Firstly, he has to keep not only his own party on side but the Lib Dems, UKIP and two independents as well as try to win over the mayor, Democratic Labour's Pete Smith (not to be confused with Labour Classic, New or One Nation).

Some of the councillors elected are new and untested. They all have to be there for every single vote to avoid defeat. And Councillor Bird has no authority over the ones who are not in his party.

Trying to date a penguin or teach a cat to roller skate would probably be easier.

Secondly, he has to get a budget passed.

But then Labour has form for sitting on its hands in Walsall, despite first protesting and posing for pictures with campaigners, amid concerns that had they voted the budget down they would have paralysed the council.

Thirdly, he has to keep a constant watch for a motion of no confidence.

If Labour wins the by-election it will be in a far stronger position. And that will mean it is not just going to be next May that the coalition could face its last stand. It could happen at any full council meeting.

Labour was a gnat's wing away from control. One more seat would have sufficed. In the end, it couldn't quite manage it, despite a rallying visit from party leader Ed Miliband.

This week, the West Bromwich MP Tom Watson put Mr Miliband's spin doctors on warning that they need to cut out the schoolboy errors.

Such errors included the decision to pose with a promotional copy of The Sun and the now infamous pictures of Mr Miliband struggling with a bacon sandwich.

But I'd add to that the decision to bring the leader to Walsall three days before polling day and invite hundreds of party supporters to gather and listen to a speech they would already completely agree with.

While the faithful ('friends', as Ed Miliband repeatedly addressed them) were gathered and hanging on his every word, they were not out knocking doors and winning hearts and minds.

Labour must now work out how and why Mike Bird has somehow snatched a victory not just from the jaws of defeat, but halfway to its belly.

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