by Ian Shires on 21 May, 2018
The state of the parties after all the votes had been counted left the Tories on 30 Tory, Labour on 26, Liberal Democrats 2 and Independents 2.
Cllr Bird, the Tory Leader went to press the day after the election to tell the people of Walsall what the priorities of the new Council which he will lead are to be for the coming year. A bit presumptuous of him to say the least, particularly as he does not have a working majority. Although his party has 30 seats on the 60 seat council, there are 30 other Councillors who have been elected by people who didn’t vote Tory.
No doubt Cllr Bird will argue that as his party won five seats, (three off UKIP and two surprisingly off Labour) he has a political mandate to take control. The overall figures prove him wrong. More people across the borough didn’t vote Tory than those that did.
As has already been pointed out he does not have a working majority. So, like his counterpart in Westminster Theresa May, he has to rely on others if he is to oust the current Labour/Lib Dem alliance administration. Or he could achieve his grab for power through the casting vote of the Mayor. In the event of a tied vote the Mayor can have the final say.
Before we can get to this point there is the little matter of who will be the new Mayor for the forthcoming year. By right of existing protocols, the Mayoralty of Walsall should go to the Councillor who has served longest without previously being Mayor. Both Cllr Ian Shires and Cllr Sean Coughlan, the top two longest serving Councillors who fit that criteria, have waived their rights to be Mayor because of the importance of their current roles. So that makes the Independent Cllr Paul Bott the next one in line to be Mayor.
In addition, Cllr Bott has served loyally as Deputy Mayor for a year as is the practice, awaiting his turn to take on this most prestigious of roles. Given the closeness of the votes who better to have as Mayor than someone who is an Independent?
This is where things get difficult. let me take you back to the day after the elections, to Friday 4th May to be precise. You will recall that Cllr Bird in an interview with the press had outlined some of the things that he was going to do now that he was going to be Leader of the Council. There were articles in the local press in the Friday and the Saturday editions. Now put yourselves in Cllr Bott’s shoes. Doesn’t that sound a little bit like being taken for granted? Particularly as just a couple of months earlier Cllr Paul Bott had complemented the Labour/Lib Dem alliance on the way that they were tackling the inequalities issues that have been a bone of contention for many years.
Cllr Bird began trying to contact Cllrs Paul and Chris Bott who, following the elections were on a short break. This just made matters worse so the Independents asked for a meeting with the Leaders of the Labour and Lib Dem groups for clarification of the planned budget going forward for the next couple of years. Given what was said the Independents agreed that it would be in everyone’s best interests if he were to use his casting vote to enable the current administration to continue for the upcoming year. This did not tie in the Independents, they would use their discretion on a vote by vote basis.
This was the position last Sunday. On the Tuesday Cllr Bird saw Cllr Bott just about to set off on a civic duty and asked if he’d made any decisions. Being an honest person Cllr Paul Bott said they had and that they would be supporting the current administration for the reasons already stated.
The rest as they say is history. Cllr Bird phoned Cllr Bott later on Tuesday to say that his group would not be supporting him in his bid to be mayor, in fact they would break with protocol and use the casting vote of the existing Mayor Cllr Longhi to block Cllr Bot’s appointment by extending Cllr Longhi’s term of office for a further year.
Due to Cllr Bird’s phone call, Cllr Bott has had to write to all the family and friends he had invited to Monday’s Mayor-making, telling them to avoid embarrassment, not to come in case the Tories make real their threat and vote to stop him becoming Mayor. Normally this vote is a formality, but it won’t be on Monday!
If the Tories put in a Conservative mayor in these circumstances, they will be acting both immorally and democratically and Walsall Council is in danger of hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons sending it spiraling back to the bad old days pre 2002.
This could still be prevented. The matter rests with the current Mayor. Will he risk his reputation as until now a fair and just person by politicising the Mayoralty something he vowed not to do just twelve short months ago.