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War of words as power hangs in balance at Walsall Council

By David Cosgrove | Walsall | Politics | Published:

A war of words has broken out over the future leadership of Walsall Council.

Tory group leader Mike Bird and Labour leader Sean Coughlan

The council’s Labour group seemed set to retain control after securing backing from two independent councillors and two Lib Dems.

That left a Labour-Lib Dem-independent pact with a combined 30 councillors – the same as the Tories.

And with a deciding vote from prospective incoming mayor Paul Bott – who is one of the independents – Labour would remain in charge.

However, there are fears from the Labour side the Conservatives will use their casting vote from current mayor Marco Longhi to tip the balance of power in their direction.

Voting in another Tory as mayor for the next 12 months would leave a final decision in the Conservatives’ control.

Conservative group leader Mike Bird confirmed his party was considering the plan and shrugged off claims of ‘hypocrisy’ from Paul Bott.

Councillor Bird said: “Paul could’ve come to me at any time before he came out with a public statement saying he had had discussions with Labour and explained what they were going to do.

“He is his own worst enemy and the friendship I’ve had with both him and Councillor Coughlan for a number of years seems like it has just been cast aside. In Councillor Coughlan’s case it is power at any cost.

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“People in Walsall voted overwhelmingly to remove the Labour group from power. We’ve got to decide now what we do as a group and what we do for the people of Walsall.”

Councillor Paul Bott said: “I can’t believe this - if it happens then it is hugely hypocritical from Councillor Bird.

“I am supposed to be made mayor on Monday but Councillor Bird is trying to remove me from the position,” he said.

Labour leader Sean Coughlan claimed Councillor Bird was ‘looking to abuse the mayoral process’ by planning to install another mayor from the Conservative side.

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“If that happens it is really politicising the role of the civic mayor and taking Walsall backwards. And if they sink that low then they’re capable of anything – that’s got to be a worry for people going forward.

“They’ve had a good year, campaigned well and won some seats, but they didn’t do enough. It is a numbers game and if you haven’t got the numbers you can’t take control of the council.

“But Mike is desperate for power for power’s sake,” he claimed.

In the May 3 elections the Conservatives came within one seat of winning overall control of the council after gaining five seats for a total of 30.

Labour appeared to have given up hope, finishing on 26 seats, but has evened the score with support from independent councillors’ Paul Bott and Chris Bott, who used to be Labour, and Lib Dems Ian Shires and Dan Barker.

A new mayor will be sworn in on Monday and will have the deciding vote.

The council’s AGM takes place on Wednesday.

Walsall has now been under no overall control since 2011.

David Cosgrove

By David Cosgrove
Chief Reporter - @davidcosgrove_

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