Express & Star

Walsall election: Tories target 'local policies and local issues' to buck national trend

The Conservative administration strengthened its control of Walsall Council after gaining a seat at this year’s local elections.

Conservatives celebrate at the count at Walsall Civic Centre

Twenty-one seats were contested in total, one for each ward and one vacancy in Willenhall South, where two seats were up for grabs.

Aftab Nawaz, leader of Walsall Labour, was happy to retain his seat in St Matthews, but disappointed to lose Blakenall and not to see gains elsewhere.

Izzy Hussain won Blakenall for the Tories, with the result likely to have been influenced by former Labour stalwart Dave Taylor standing against his old party as an independent and taking more than 600 votes.

Walsall Council Leader Mike Bird oversaw proceedings at the count

Walsall Council leader Mike Bird said he was exceptionally pleased with the results, which bucked the national trend.

He said: “When people are forecasting doom and gloom across the country, as always, Walsall goes the other way.

“We have seen a well deserved increase in the Conservative majority, considering the efforts put in over the pandemic and prior to that.

“We gained Blakenall, and that goes down to hard work.

“I have to say, it disappoints me at every election when people judge us by what’s going on in Westminster, if they want to fight each other down there, that’s fine by me.

Conservative Suky Samra for Streetly

“But, we stand on local policies and local issues, and want election campaigns like this one to be decided on local issues and what the council has done for you.”

Mr Bird is expected to be re-elected as leader at a Conservative group meeting next week, despite reports of a challenge from within the party.

He said he was committed to tackling key issues such as fly-tipping, which costs the authority just short of £1 million a year.

Mr Bird added: "Our priorities will always be adult and social care, and we have found during the pandemic that a lot of people are isolated, and we have found just short of 2,000 people we didn't know were there.

"So the pandemic has taught us a lot."

He also thanked Councillor Stephen Craddock, who has stood down, and praised him for his work over the pandemic.

Christopher Towe was elected for the Pheasey Park Farm ward

Councillor Nawaz said he believed his party's chances had been harmed by Labour's NEC taking over the local selection process.

He said: “I am really disappointed with the loss in Blakenall. The late selections did not help.

“A lot of members were dissatisfied that they didn’t have an input in the choice of candidates.

“But we remain positive that, if we had the chance to choose our own candidates with more time on our hands, we could make a lot of changes.

“It is a disappointing day as we thought we could push on in some areas, although we got very close in some areas such as Paddock.

“Primarily, in my view, that was because a lot of our selections happened after the nominations opened up, leaving us on the back foot.

“Hopefully next year we can do selections at an easier time and involve the local party and members.

Shakila Hussain celebrates winning in the Palfrey ward

“There are positives though, we increased our majority in St Matthews, we had two new candidates in Pleck and Palfrey and both of them had good majorities.

“But we need to make more inroads north, because without that we won't take the council.

“Candidates want to embed themselves into the communities they will represent.

“In previous years, we have selected candidates no later than November, and this year we selected in March I believe.

Labour's Simran Cheema was one of two elected to the Willenhall South ward

“That is a four month difference, which becomes difficult for people.”

Willenhall South saw two seats contested following the conviction of disgraced former council leader Sean Coughlan for child sex offences.

Simran Cheema, who was unable to take the Pleck seat she won following a botched by-election in December, took one of the seats.

Councillor Rose Burley for Bentley and Darlaston North ward

The Mayor of Walsall, Rose Burley, managed to hold on to her Bentley and Darlaston North seat.

Meanwhile the Conservatives kept hold of Aldridge Central and South, Aldridge North and Walsall Wood, Bloxwich East, Bloxwich West, Brownhills, Paddock, Pelsall, Pheasey Park Farm, Rushall-Shelfield, Short Heath, Streetly and Willenhall North.

Labour held Birchills-Leamore, Darlaston South, Palfrey and Pleck.

The Conservatives now have a majority of 16.