Express & Star

Ex-Tories form new political group for Sedgley and Gornal

A group of former Conservative councillors have formed a breakaway group to fight the spring local elections.

Happier times – Councillor Patrick Harley, leader of Dudley Council, with then-mayor Anne Millward

Anne Millward, the former leader of Dudley Council, will join Councillors Shaun Keasey and Mark Westwood for the launch of the Sedgley & Gornal Independents tomorrow. Brad Simms, who stood as an independent in last year's election, will also be standing for the group.

Councillor Keasey, who now sits as an independent in Sedgley ward after quitting the Tories last year, said there was a need for an alternative voice on Dudley Council.

"We believe it is time for independent local people to have more representation in local councils rather than large political parties," he said.

Councillor Keasey resigned the Conservative whip, saying the party had become 'extreme'.

He was one of the ward's three Conservative councillors, who were all deselected by the party from standing in this year's election.

All 72 seats on the borough council will be up for grabs in this year's election on May 2.

Mrs Millward, who was leader of Dudley Council from 2009 to 2011, was a Tory councillor in Gornal for 16 years in two separate stints. She was also Mayor of Dudley during 2021-2022.

But she was suspended by the party for three weeks in 2021 after criticising the present council leadership over its withdrawal from the Black Country plan.

The plan unsuccessfully stood as an independent in Gornal ward last year after being deselected by the Conservatives.

She was suspended by the party for three weeks after criticising the present leadership of the council. She was unhappy with the decision by council leader Councillor Patrick Harley to withdraw from the Black Country Plan, and was accused of colluding with Labour councillors to overturn the decision.

The Black Country Plan was a partnership between Dudley, Wolverhampton, Walsall and Sandwell councils to co-operate on the designation of land use. Councillor Harley was unhappy with the threat it posed to greenbelt sites within the borough, and decided that the council should draw up its own land-use policy instead.

Councillor Westwood, who represents the Upper Gornal and Woodsetton ward on Dudley Council, publicly withdrew his membership of the Conservative group in May last year.

He told the meeting he was on his 'third warning' from the association for speaking out about bullying. He said his wife, former Sedgley councillor Tina Westwood, had gone through 'three years from hell' at the hands of the association, while Mrs Millward had been banned from Rishi Sunak’s visit to Dudley over fears she would make things 'uncomfortable'.

Councillor Harley said he was disappointed they had decided to take this course of action after serving the party for many years.

He said he was unconcerned about the impact they may have on the outcome of the elections.

"We have had strong independent candidates before, but it in the end it always comes down to the big political parties," he said.