Express & Star

Labour disappointment but joy for Tories as grip holds over Walsall Council

The Conservatives maintained their grip on Walsall Council after successfully defending all their seats leaving Labour disappointed at its lack of any real gains.

Walsall Conservative group leader Mike Bird. PIC: Gurdip Thandi LDR

It was a case of ‘as you were’ in the borough with no shocks emerging at all following the local election count held at the Civic Centre in Darwall Street on Friday.

Tory leader Mike Bird hailed his “hard working” group for helping them buck the national trend and said they would look to build on the work they’ve done in Walsall.

Labour did have a technical gain with Matt Ward taking Darlaston South, which had become an independent seat when Doug James had left the party following his election in 2019.

But group leader Aftab Nawaz was left disappointed at the lack of other gains for his party and cited the lateness in the selection of candidates – which was carried out by the Labour National Executive Committee as a key factor.

Turnout was largely low across the piece with wards mostly getting figures in the 20 and 30 per cent of the available electorate. Paddock saw an impressive 48.2 per cent turnout while Darlaston South only had 18.9 per cent.

The overall make-up of the council now sees 38 Conservatives, 21 Labour and one independent.

Despite the lack of change in numbers, there are a few new faces taking up a seat in the council chamber for 2023/24 after a number chose not to defend their seats.

For the Conservatives, Amanda Parkes replaced Gary Clarke in Aldridge North and Walsall Wood while Poonam Gill represents Short Heath, replacing Sarah-Jane Cooper who herself moved to Streetly to replace the departing Sat Johal.

Labour has new councillors in Emma Morgain in Blakenall, who has replaced Ann Young, and Natalie Latham who takes the Willenhall South seat previously held by Carl Creaney.

Councillor Bird, who successfully defended his Pheasey Park Farm seat, said: “Walsall does tend to buck the national trend and that’s because we have a fantastic Conservative group here.

“The Conservative Party needs to realise that and recognise we have got such a hard working council and, recently, we were judged as one of the best in the country.

“The secret is hard work and credibility. When you are out on the street, it’s to turn the vote from the national picture and say what your council do for you locally.

“It’s a recipie that works and today is another example of that.

“The key priorities will be to continue the work we’ve done to date and build on the success and deliver good services and good value for money.

“Our motto is cleaner, greener, safer, stronger and those are what we will build our trust on for the future.”

Councillor Nawaz said: “It’s disappointing we haven’t taken more seats. Obviously we are happy we’ve got Darlaston South back but we’re disappointed we got very close again to taking some seats.

“Unfortunately candidate selection this year, as it was the previous year, was done very late and by people who aren’t local members and from the NEC.

“I think if we can have the autonomy of choosing our own candidates perhaps we can do better next time but it is what it is. We need to know look where we are and consider how we move forward.

“If you look across several of the wards, we’ve got more votes than we did last year and the gaps got smaller. But any kind of gap against you is not good enough. To win seats is what you are there for and we haven’t won seats and that is not good.

“We look at the turnout which was very low across Walsall and we need to look again at how we fight our campaign.

“We’ve had some good candidates and they’ve tried really hard but again, there was a lateness in them being selected and no input from the local membership and I think that was a factor.

“There’s nothing better than having local people choosing candidates – we know our areas, we know our streets – and if we did we would be in a better position.”