Dudley Council power battle after Tory councillor defects to Labour
The leadership of Dudley Council hangs in the balance after a Conservative councillor defected to the opposition.
Norton Councillor Mike Attwood made the decision to switch to the Labour group at a meeting on Thursday evening.
His change in allegiance will lead to a power battle at the council.
The move means the Labour group hold the majority with 36 councillors – compared to the Tories' 35 councillors and one independent.
Councillor Attwood said he had been 'disappointed' by the 'poor decisions' the Conservatives had made in Dudley and he encountered problems with the Stourbridge branch of the Conservative group over the last few years.
Conservative group and council leader Councillor Patrick Harley called his decision 'disgraceful'.
He said the decent thing to do would be to call a by-election and stand as a Labour councillor for his ward.
Labour leader Councillor Pete Lowe said his party would be submitting a motion of no confidence against the Tories at the earliest opportunity – October's full council meeting.
Councillor Attwood said: “I’ve seen first-hand what Government cuts are doing to Dudley and my constituents in Norton ward. Conservative-run Dudley Council is doing nothing to stand up for the people I represent.
"Over the last few years I lost the support of my Stourbridge Conservative colleagues, I felt pushed away. I felt the Conservatives were being less community focused.
“I have been left bitterly disappointed in equal measure by the untenable plan and poor decisions Councillor Harley and his team have made in Dudley and Theresa May’s weak and wobbly leadership nationally.
“Dudley is at the heart of the Black Country. As Black Country Day draws closer I have realised that the only way to stand up for my constituents was to join the local Labour party. I felt my colleagues were not supporting my work and my role, so I made the difficult decision to switch.
"Councillor Harley forgets all the work I have put in over the years in the area, which does not seem to be reflected in his own views. I will carry on working with my constituents and I don't see no reason why I should not continue to do that. I reject his statement for a by-election.
“I got into politics to make a difference and only Labour have a plan to build a better, fairer society that works for everyone.”
Councillor Harley said: "I think what he has done is disgraceful. If he had any decency he would call a by-election and stand for election under his new party.
"He has not done the honourable thing and he has behaved disgracefully. We want to call for a by-election.
"We will carry on as we are, nothing can change until October at the earliest. We are confident we can muster enough votes.
"We are still confident of making more gains in next May's elections – Labour have been in decline in the area, they have failed to make significant gains and continue to lose seats to UKIP and Conservative.
"I am confident our independent Councillor Heather Rogers will continue to support the Conservatives.
"I am confident she will support us, she won't want to see Labour take control.
"We have the Mayor's casting vote too, and I am pretty sure he will support his party.
"We have also had several high profile Labour activists come to us – clearly a problem with Labour.
"I think it will all end in tears for Councillor Attwood – he won't get the seat for them in 2020 and he disappear off into political oblivion."
Councillor Lowe hit back at the Tories and said: "Following the local elections in May, Mike has been contemplating whether his community views are best with the Conservatives, or whether they are more closely related with us.
"I have had a number of discussions with him over a number of weeks – and we welcomed him at our group meeting on Thursday night and he has effectively joined our group.
"We recognise that the Dudley Mayor [Conservative Councillor Alan Taylor] has he said he will support the largest group and we now find ourselves in that position.
"At the next opportunity we will be putting a message to the council, a vote of no confidence will be heard at the October full council meeting.
"It would have been too quick to do it for Monday's full council meeting.
"We are extremely pleased that Mike has come on to join the Labour group – he has been encouraged by what we want to achieve for the people of Dudley."