This is a political post. Regulars will know the drill – if you don’t like it, or my views, go here instead. Normal service will be resumed soon. If you want to disagree, you’re welcome, of course, and I invite comment.
Last night at an extraordinary meeting of Walsall Council called by the Labour Group, a motion was made to remove the leader Mike ‘Blofeld’ Bird and for Labour to take control of the authority.
The motion succeeded by 31 votes, including 30 from the Labour Group and unexpectedly, 1 from the Mayor, Pete Smith. Perhaps the fence had been hurting his arse.
This means that after 14 years of Conservative control, Labour now govern Walsall council.
Notably, the Conservative/LibDem/UKIP/Independent rainbow coalition formed in May – consisting of the 21 Tories, 3 LibDems, 3 UKIP and 3 independents – could not in any case have won, as they were a councillor down.
The story of this meeting is complicated. Following the sad passing of Labour Group Leader Tim Oliver in May, a by-election was held a couple of weeks ago, which was won by Labour, who called an extraordinary meeting to try and gain control of the council.
Originally called for the 20th August, but cancelled by the mayor following complaints that councillors would be absent, it was rearranged for the 11th August, apparently to the chagrin of Labour.
In the event, the local party paid for 3 of their councillors to fly back from holiday (contrary to the assertions of UKIP supporters on social media, who tried to spread the disinformation that the taxpayer footed the bill), and Councillor Kath Phillips even attendeded despite breaking her leg in Wales the previous day.
This brought Labour up to a full compliment of 30 attending Councillors.
The only member missing was recently elected Brownhills UKIP Councillor Steve Craddock, who was, it is said, on a family holiday somewhat ironically in Europe. Steve’s absence made it impossible for Labour’s motion to be defeated.
It’s things like this that I find to be a true indicator of priorites.
The irony of UKIP causing this situation is not lost on me. I’d use the word Schadenfreude, but that would be too delicious for words. The party that promised change certainly delivered it, but not intentionally. Proving themselves little more than muddled Tories, they propped up Bird after election, and by their actions yesterday evening, have delivered a Labour controlled council for the first time in Walsall for 14 years.
I have to say at this point that I thought calling this meeting was a bad idea, and never in my remotest thoughts imagined Labour pull it off. I was wrong, and my congratulations to all their Councillors. Walsall needs a change from 14 years of the same party rule, but more so from the stale politics of the last five years.
I, for one, will be glad to see the back of Mike Bird and Ian Shires from the council leadership. Presumably Mike will be spending more time at the charm school and Ian will blog even more about how nobody appreciates him.
I’m under no illusions; Labour have a lot to prove. Their often shambolic opposition has been painful to watch at times and I have some reservations – but I wish them well, and these will be very difficult months to come. Huge cuts will still have to be made, and commitments left behind by the Tories as a poisoned chalice have not gone unnoticed.
However, I welcome the change, and wish all the councillors well in guiding Walsall through some very tough decisions ahead.
A vote for UKIP in Walsall has turned into a vote for Labour. That must pain them immensely, and for that I’m glad.
One final point – there’s clearly been some horse trading going on. The revamp of the leisure centres, including Oak Park that had been pushed off the agenda has now been put back in to the 2014-15 budget. I’m unclear why this is, and as soon as I’ll get more info, I’ll share it – I’m pleased to see it back in the offing.