Ian Shires

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Willenhall North Ward, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Walsall MBC Learn more

Walsall’s night of the long knives

by Ian Shires on 22 May, 2018

For the first time in 70 years Walsall has a Mayor who has served two consecutive terms. Tory Councillor Marco Longhi used his casting vote to wrest the post from next in line on seniority, Cllr Paul Bott at last night’s Annual Council meeting. Even by Walsall standards this was a highly charged meeting.

 

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Proceedings began with the outgoing mayor for 2017/18, Cllr Marco Longhi calling for nominations for Mayor for the forthcoming year 2018/19. Unusually, though not unexpectedly, there were two names put forward, the current Mayor Cllr Marco Longhi and the Mayor elect, Cllr Paul Bott. The usual protocol would be for only one nomination to be put forward that of the Mayor elect having been agreed at a full Council meeting earlier in the year.

The Leader of the Tory group on Walsall Council Cllr Mike Bird gave his reason for proposing Cllr Longhi as that the  Mayor elect, Cllr Paul Bott had had the temerity to critisise the Conservatives in an interview given by BBC WM last week. It was this that Cllr Bird said had been the driver behind the action taken last night to deny Cllr Paul Bott his year as Mayor of Walsall, and this is the bit that I and many others can’t get our heads round, keep Cllr Longhi in post for a further 12 months. A step not taken since 1948.

Cllr Paul Bott has been denied his term of office, which was his of right on the grounds of seniority, a protocol observed by all groups on the council for a number of years, because he was being honest. He could have not said which way he would vote on the issue of who leads the Council until after he had been made Mayor. Then at the Adjourned Annual Council meeting on Wednesday used his casting vote to keep the current Labour/Lib Dem Alliance in power for another year. Forgive me, but I thought that we lived in a country which believed in the freedom of speech.

Obviously I’m wrong, utter words of disagreement of the Tories at your peril. never mind that Cllr Paul Bott was just days away from being elected by his peers as the next Mayor of Walsall. Never mind that Cllr Paul Bott has had to inform over 60 friends and guests not to go to last night’s meeting. Cllr Bott’s only crime if you’d like to call it that was to speak his mind, be his own man. Who would deny him of that basic human right?

There is one phrase that was used last night which seems to have hit home harder than most. One Councillor when speaking about Cllr Longhi’s actions used the words “hero to zero” to describe how he felt about Marco’s actions. That Councillor was me. I used it, not because of Marco using his casting vote. I know he has no choice, by statute he has to. I used it because Marco had agreed to do something which had not been done in Walsall for 70 years. Agree to his name being put forward for a second consecutive term as Mayor. He had no need to do that. He could have said no and insisted that another Tory be installed as mayor, the next Tory in line would have been Cllr Andrew, surely he would have jumped at the chance?

It was for this reason and this reason alone that changed my opinion of Cllr Longhi. I had voted in favour of him being Mayor last may on the grounds of seniority. I didn’t have to.Up till now I’d always respected Marco and to be fair he has lived up to my expectations during his year in office. He has been a great ambassador for Walsall. He and his team have raised a fantastic £70,000 for a local mental health charity.

Unfortunately all that pales into insignificance by that one act so out of character, the act of agreeing to serve a second consecutive year as Mayor of Walsall. At the risk of repeating myself, he didn’t have to do that, I wished that he hadn’t.

So where to now? It is going to be very difficult to put this behind us. Some how we must find a way forward. Respect must be earned and time they say is a great healer. Cllr Longhi has done what he thought to be right, thirty other Councillors thought otherwise. Cllr Longhi is not the villain of this sorry chapter of Walsall’s history. No the real villains stay in the shadows, they know who they are. It is they who should be questioning their actions.

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