Challenge made to topple Walsall Council leader as Tory divisions appear
A challenge has been made to topple Walsall’s long-standing Conservative council leader Mike Bird less than a week after the local elections.
Conservative councillor Suky Samra has issued a challenge for leadership, claiming Councillor Bird’s "divisive" policies and promotion of some members into the cabinet without the necessary skills had caused discord in the group.
He said he wanted to take Walsall Council and the Tory group in a new direction, and will find out if he is successful at a party meeting on Thursday evening.
Councillor Bird firmly denied there was any discord within the party, which he said was proved by its recent election success, while adding that he appointed people to his cabinet on merit.
He also accused Councillor Samra, who represents Streetly ward, of being the only divisive figure in the group, citing a recent court case taken out against members of the Conservative’s Aldridge Brownhills Association.
Tensions rose after Councillor Samra and member Bobby Bains were originally selected as candidates for Streetly and Aldridge Central and South wards respectively following selection meetings. In Aldridge, this meant long-serving councillor John Murray was ousted.
But when some members of the association tried to reverse that decision and re-run both selection meetings, the pair successfully took out an injunction to ensure they could stand. Both secured their seats following the ballot last week.
Councillor Bird was first elected to Walsall Council in 1980 and has been leader six times but Councillor Samra said it was now time for change.
Councillor Samra said: “I am putting my name in the hat because many members of Walsall Conservative Group have asked me to do so. They have lost faith with Councillor Bird’s leadership.
“The current working culture of the group and how we debate and decide policy decisions is not good for democracy and needs to change.
“His divisive policies and promotion of some people with no requisite skill sets to key positions is doing a great disservice to the residents of Walsall and causes much discord in the group.
“It is now time for him to do the honourable thing and take a step back and let others take the authority forward in a new direction.
“He should welcome the challenge, it is healthy for democracy. There is no entitlement to such an important role."
Councillor Samra added: “Councillor Bird has caused deep divisions in the group, so I am calling on those Conservative councillors who got selected on their pledges to ‘deliver a better deal’ for their residents to step forward and make that change.
“He tried with his fellow colleagues to undermine democracy in the recent local elections by trying to overturn democratic branch selection meetings of myself and Councillor Bobby Bains from Aldridge Central South.
“This led to a High Court injunction and we were duly vindicated and the national party supported us as the official candidates.
“We thank the residents of Streetly and Aldridge Central South for having faith in us and returning us the their local councillors last week.
“If successful, I want to unite the group. Positions of authority should go on merit and skill sets, and the whole group should be involved in delivering for the residents of Walsall and not just a select few as is presently the case.”
But Councillor Bird said: “I’m afraid he must be looking in the mirror. The division within the Conservative group at Walsall Council is of his making.
“I’d remind him he is the one who issued a High Court injunction against Aldridge-Brownhills.
“If he doesn’t like being in the group, he doesn’t have to be – it’s not mandatory. You sign up to a political group and you accept the leadership or you challenge it, which is what he is doing.
“I’ve had no discord and in actual fact I’ve had some very complimentary messages in relation to the cabinet.
“The cabinet last year was the most cohesive and it is proved by the election results. Not only did we defend every seat and win but we took a seat we’ve not won for over 50 years. That shows in my view there is no division
“I’ve always encouraged the new members. I appoint people on merit and the merit I’ve seen is something we should encourage.”
Regarding the high court injunction, Councillor Bird said: “I gave a witness statement which I am entitled to do.
“I was asked to make a statement as the leader of the council in relation to what I understood the situation to be.
“And I did that honestly and genuinely I supported somebody who I’ve known and worked for the party over 50 years.
“I will stand any challenge – and I say this every year – and if somebody can do the job better than me, the group will make that decision. The result tomorrow will tell.
“Over the last five years, the strategy we’ve had is having to save money and protect council services and we’ve done that. I’m proud of the work I have done alongside my cabinet.”